I Have a Great Idea, But It’s Already Been Done

“Most things still remain to be done — a glorious future!” – Ingvar Kamprad

Very rarely am I not fixated on a new idea.

My wife often catches me staring off into space, but I swear my mind is racing a mile a minute.

“What if we could do X with Y? How much more efficient could Z be? If we combined A and B, could we get a C?”

I have a notebook of “Things that Annoy Me” that I keep in my bag for anytime I come across anything in my daily routine that gets on my nerves (credit to Drew Houston @ Dropbox for the idea).

I sit on my bus after work and just think about ways in which I could change a system or procedure and make people’s lives (read: my life) easier.

Not being a particularly good programmer, I try and think of ways that I could break down a problem that is integrated into daily life without much technical requirement for correction. For example, in my walk from bus stop to office (and vice versa), I have algorithmically plotted the stoplights to ensure the least amount of waiting at crosswalks (I really hope I’m not alone in this, because typing it out makes me question my own sanity).

I’ve always got a handful of projects on the side, some are profitable, some are more for fun and personal education (read: not profitable). None of them have made it big time and I don’t expect many of them to be my MVP anytime soon.

But just recently, I thought I had come up with a brilliant idea that I thought could be “the one.” However I’m not sure if I should pursue it.

First, a quick note — I learned pretty quickly years ago that the first thing to do when believing I have “revolutionized a concept” is to poke around and determine if a solution to the problem already exists. For example, a few months after Instagram had come out, I thought “Hey, an app that would let you directly send these photos to friends in a physical manner would be pretty cool!” And to my dismay, after about five minutes of research, realized several of these services already existed and were serving the demand quite well.

And same with this new idea, albeit there is far less competition and it is a bit harder to find, I still quickly learned that there were several people already managing the concept quite well, and for the most part in the same way that I would have pursued the idea myself (perhaps with some room for improving their marketing). In other words, I don’t feel like I would be improving the concept at all. I would just merely be competition. To the outsider, it would really just look like I ripped off their idea.

So with that in mind, do I push forward and compete or keep looking for something more original? At what point am I supposed to throw my hat into the ring versus surrendering to the pursuit of another idea.

My question: how am I supposed to know if an idea is worth the fight? Do I just go for it and see if it pans out?

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  1. Posted November 8, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Permalink


    I think the trick is to actually talk to your market and find their biggest pain.

    Dig deep to find unmet needs and learn what they like, don’t like, or don’t use about the competitive product.

    Competition in a market means that it’s worth spending some effort on. A simple solution could lie in there for someone’s pain, you just have to find it.


    • Rob
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      Good starting point, Lisa — thanks. I suppose the worst that can happen is they say they don’t see room for improvement

  2. Posted November 19, 2012 at 1:28 am | Permalink

    I’d actually never heard of keeping a notebook based on the things that annoy you but the idea is brilliant. I found your blog via HN and think the idea that we can change those things is one of the most valuable principles we can take away from the HN ethos.

    I’ve seen more than a few startups attempt your idea, but I’ve never seen anyone even nearly as excited about those new companies as I was accustomed to seeing when people actually went to the drug store and got their film developed. To me that means there’s room for improvement, but who knows. You’ll never know unless you give it a shot, and I always regret the things I don’t do more than that which I pursue.

    If you go after it, check out wantful.com. It’s not exactly the same space, but they do a great job of the ritual of personalization and the books they print are stunning.

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