concept in the software industry which is often heavily debated is that there are, in fact, no new ideas — rather just products created off existing ideas, which are done — to put it simply — much better. A perfect example would be the social networking phenomenon. There are now so many different social networking sites that they are almost impossible to track. Thus, it begs a very valid question — what is truly different about each of these sites ? The obvious truth is — there isn’t really anything different. Most of these sites are ultimately exactly the same — they are just presented in a different format and appeal to different niche audiences. For example, Myspace is still extremely well known for its Music and Bands — an area Facebook is trying to get into — but just can’t crack. Conversely, Facebook is getting huge adoption rates simply because it has marketed itself as a “safer” site than Myspace, and tends to be predominately used by late teenagers through to late twenty-somethings.
So then you may be asking — why bother creating any new products at all if they are all just going to repeat themselves ? Well, the reasoning behind that is clear — the innovative process always comes from building a product and then changing, altering or narrowing your focus on that product to area’s which appear to be working. Thus, in my opinion, the best way to create a product is to look at what an existing product has — and what it doesn’t have. For example, there are hundreds of companies now producing many very successful applications off social networking sites because they are trying to fill the voids that the site itself has — a very clever strategy. The key is to get a core idea, and build on this idea with a bunch of features that a user will want to use — as opposed to being forced into using. Forcing a user into a product isn’t going to get you anywhere — additionally — attempting to force a user to change from one product to another by producing a bunch of similar features isn’t going to help either. If you were going to do that — just build a clone of Facebook and you should be worth a few billion in a couple of years ? Unlikely.
The key to any application is to centralize your idea around a core concept — then flesh out features from this core concept. You can’t do everything — so focus instead, on things that work and that you truly believe are going to be value adding to your core idea and to your users. Therefore, the most important aspect in any new product chain, in my opinion, is to focus on the core idea — but also accept that you may need to change it in response to what your market — and more importantly — what your users are demanding. It’s important to recognize that if things aren’t working out the way you originally intended them to work, then you need to change your strategy to maximize the value of your brand as well as change what your doing in response to market demands, user requests and what people expect to see from what you are doing.
So if you are going into the start-up world — start with a pen and a piece of paper and write down a whole bunch of features that existing sites/products have, and then correlate these features to a whole bunch of features which are missing. Somewhere during this process — you will hit on a core idea and you may even be ultimately successful with this idea without having to change. However, before you jump out of your chair and start writing — the best piece of advice I can give is that you must recognize and be willing to completely change where you have started, or where you thought you were going if an opportunity presents itself. It’s important to be flexible and dynamic with your code to ensure you can make these changes, otherwise you may trap yourself into one direction and then you may not be able to get out of it. Keep the cash burn rate low, so you have the single most important factor on your side — time.
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