“I have an idea for a startup.”
“Okay great, what is it?”
“Oh I don’t wish to share it at the moment, you know, but I’ll definitely tell you about it.”
How many times have you had an awkward conversation like the above? I’ve had it way too many times and I want to share some thoughts around this. Most people with startup ideas have a notion that their ideas belong to them and that people out there are constantly prying to steal those ideas. Well, the fact is that everyone has numerous ideas and more often than not, numerous people have exactly the same idea, and this is no coincidence. More importantly, people care about their own ideas more than they care about yours.
People tend to get really insecure/angry/jealous/spiteful when they see somebody else working on something similar or exactly the same as what they have in mind. I have personally experienced this so I know the feeling when you see your idea manifest into a product or company that doesn’t belong to you; I know it’s a pretty shitty feeling and it’s disheartening. But I also know the best way to combat the apprehension towards following your dreams or in some cases, to let go of those ideas and move on to new ones.
This is what I tell myself and you should too:
Your ideas are not yours alone, they don’t belong to you or anybody else. Ideas emerge from one’s experiences or those of others. Life experiences, good or bad, are often not unique to an individual and thus hundreds of thousands of people have similar experiences that lead to similar ideas. The ones who end up executing those ideas tend to become the owners, while the others don’t (often due to the lack of skills or resources). Think of ideas like dust particles moving freely all around us. Most of us don’t have the time to stop and stare into the ray of light to catch them. But again, the possibility of multiple individuals catching on the same particles is quite high. Moreover, an idea is usually a solution to a problem or a way of differently doing something that is already done. And since many people experience similar problems, it’s only obvious for many to come up with solutions. Even renowned inventors had competitors and predecessors to learn from and improve upon; we are only using existing inventions and building upon them.
What you must do when you’re down with a feeling of demotivation or threat:
You need to come to terms with the fact that you are not the only one trying to build upon a particular idea, and once you do that, you will see that it all gets clear. You shall overcome the fear of sharing your ideas, which leads do direct feedback from prospective customers, which I think is quintessential. Instead of feeling threatened by competitors, you must try and extract as much as you can from their business model, execution, strategy, user experience, strengths and weaknesses. Think of your competition as free validation and testing of your idea. At no cost, you can see how your actual customers perceive your idea and what the overall sentiment is.
What your options are as your next step:
a) Now that you know what is working for your competitors and what isn’t, you can apply the learning into your own product and hone it till you think it’s ready to go out in the market, and once it is, launch it with a bang. We have enough examples of companies that have improved upon existing products and services and eventually killed them. You can do that too if you believe in yourself and more importantly, your product offering. That said, there’s no fun in cloning a successful company unless there’s a clear differentiator or an element of novelty.
b) If you feel that your idea has been killed, owing to either the success or the failure of your competitor, fret not and move on. There’s really no prize in doing something to please your ego or because you feel obliged to completing what you started, and not because you have a fire raging inside you that wants you to follow your heart. There’s absolutely no harm giving up and acknowledging others’ success (or one’s failure) rather than sluggishly chasing a cause you have lost faith in. Once you decide to move on, you will be able to catch so many more of those ideas flying around you.
What you should take home from this article:
1) Don’t get too attached to your ideas, you don’t own them. You cannot think of something that does not exist and therefore whatever you think of is already out there somewhere (maybe in a parallel reality).
2) Don’t get deterred by competition, learn from it. Look up to your competitors rather than looking down upon them. Appreciate what others have been able to build.
3) Think of (or catch) new ideas everyday. Someone once said that you must think of 10 new ideas everyday, which may not necessarily be ideas for businesses but anything that can enhance one’s existence. I’d say don’t count your ideas, just think of new ones; they are all around you.
4) The final product and its execution speak louder than ideas.
Your idea isn’t yours, your execution is!