Ideas and Validation November 22, 2020

Has anyone had any luck not creating something new and novel, and just replicating something else?

Justin @Harrjm

Basically as the title says. It seems like everyone (including myself) wants to create something ground breaking, the next X of Y, something that will make tech headlines. The trouble with this is of course it’s not validated, there’s no one searching for it, you really have to sell it.

I’m wondering if anyone has had my luck abandoning that concept and just replicating something tried and true. There’s bajillions of potential customers that need uptime monitors, analytics tools, form builders, etc. They are probably very saturated markets but if you can just carve out 1% of the market you’re probably doing alright.

  1. 10

    Replicating is honestly not a bad approach, but if you are bootstrapping you can't compete head on so you'll want to have one of the following:

    1. Unique focus/position - e.g. "we are the best X for Y" when everyone else is going after the broader market and not niching down. And you need to deliver on that positioning.
    2. Unique traffic source - such as ranking high in Google for some key terms.
    3. Lower price - it can work, but be careful with this one. If low price is all you offer it brings higher maintenance and higher churn customers. But if you have a real competitive pricing advantage it can work. Example: your competitors launched years ago so are using physical servers and you can be the first one to use EC2 auto-scaling such that your costs are 1/10th of your competition.

    Without one of the above you become a commodity app fighting against larger competitors with solid brands, and it's hard to get people to choose you over them when there's truly no differentiation. If you are just a copy there is no reason for someone to go with a no-name over a known brand.

    With all that said, if I were to start another SaaS I would enter a large, competitive space where I could either own a traffic source or a position.

    It's what I did with Drip in the email service provider space. It's what Ruben Gamez is doing with Docsketch in e-signature. And what Derrick Reimer is doing with SavvyCal in the online scheduling space.

    But if you've still working on your first success (all 3 founders mentioned above are coming off at least one prior success), I would look in some smaller markets where the marketing is a bit less sophisticated and competition less fierce. Per the Stairstep Approach to Bootstrapping that allows you to learn in a space where it's not so brutal to gain traction.

    This all ties into competitor pain vs. customer pain, which I discussed with Courtland on a recent episode the Indie Hackers Podcast. Briefly: competitor pain is when a market is large and relatively mature (which is good!), but there's a lot of competition.

    Customer pain is when there aren't many solutions built for the space, which in this day and age usually means the customers are difficult to find, sell to, onboard, support, etc (think lawyers or real estate folks vs. having more tech savvy folks as users).

    1. 1

      This is some great information! Since making this post I actually started working on Jamform. I haven’t really figured out my unique selling point yet, I’m sort of just getting the foundation out while I think on it. I have a few features in the works that no one else is doing but nothing that will really set us apart. I’ll look into that Stairstep Approach, I believe there is a good amount of competition but I think there’s still room since JAMstack is still up and coming.

  2. 8

    Frankly I don't really understand the obsession with re-inventing the wheel, especially for indiehackers.

    Our product is a resume builder. This is a VERY saturated market but we still think there is a huge opportunity. This opportunity is partly based on some innovative product features but it's mostly based on out-competing via customer acquisition.

    A unique product requires extensive customer education which is really expensive. We launched our product in July and we'll surpass $1,500 in MRR this month. So we are far from being a success but we've identified and (so far) executed on a customer acquisition channel that can get us to 1,000x that scale if we continue to execute.

    1. 1

      We launched our product in July and we'll surpass $1,500 in MRR this month.

      For me this is success. I'm curious tho, is this the only product you worked on saturated markets? Any fail stories?

      1. 5

        This is our first software product but before this we operated a tech recruiting firm (also a saturated market). We were able to grow that to over $100,000 in revenue in our first calendar year but we considered this a failure because we were absolutely miserable. So we pivoted to building a product that directly helps job seekers and although our revenue hasn't matched what it was, we're much happier.

        Product-founder fit matters!

  3. 4

    If 1% is guaranteed I'm dropping everything I'm working on.

    Something ground-breaking probably sells itself. As a solo-dev it's nearly impossible to come up with it IMHO. Those who did or thinks they did 👏.

    Competing with something already on the market requires more marketing than actually working on a better product. But I've seen worse products sold better due to better marketing. I can't speak about that fine-balance since I couldn't find it yet.

    Wrote this comment to bookmark the post, curious about what'll others say.

    1. 2

      Something ground-breaking probably sells itself.

      How so?

      1. 1

        I couldn't think of something ground-breaking from the recent years. However the close ones just to give an example, I never saw a Tesla ad (you maybe bombarded with them in the US but not here) but I know lots about the company or same goes for Starlink. It's the word of mouth which from a marketer perspective still is a marketing strat. But it also means it sells itself, it makes people talk about the product.

        If you make traveling to Mars possible you don't need to sell it. If you make cars while everyone riding horses you don't need marketing. If you cure Covid 🎉

        Why did you think it's not the case?

        1. 1

          Henry Ford was a legendary marketer and salesman. So is Elon Musk (his stunts and antics are all marketing.

          People still need to know a thing exists, and to believe that it'll give them what they want. That's sales. Even a vaccine doesn't sell itself, massive efforts are put into public health communication.

          1. 1

            People still need to know a thing exists

            This requires the minimum effort. Nothing like a marketing campaign.

            and to believe that it'll give them what they want.

            And yes, marketers makes people believe, even tho it's not true. Which is not necessary for a "ground-breaking" thing IMHO. If something already breaks the ground people already knows that they want it. With marketing you can sell bricks for thousands of dollars just by attaching a red sticker on it.

            They are/were both great engineers as well. Marketer persona only matters for marketers. When Elon smoked on Rogan, was that a great marketing?

            Anyway, I have a thing for marketers so I'm just gonna agree to disagree with all these. Without Elon's antics Tesla might not be a thing, really.

  4. 2

    Solving a problem that people already know they have and that might be already solved is much easier than to do something truly new. It already shows that it is a problem people care about and want a solution for.

    What should be innovative is the solution to that problem. That's where you can innovate the heck out of it by building a solution based on first principles

  5. 2

    Hey Justin, my first SaaS is currently earning $5.5k/mo in 5 months since conception and it's replacing something tried and true.

    1. 2

      That's awesome, any more information on your product would be lovely but I'm already inspired!

      1. 1

        Same! I’d love to hear more about this!!

        1. 1

          If hes found success with a clone, he's not going to give you the information so you (or others) can do the same thing to him, duh.

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      This comment has been voted down. Click to show.

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      This comment was deleted 3 days ago.

  6. 1

    You may find this podcast episode where @csallen talks to @robwalling about the current trends is SAAS really useful. They talk a lot about competitor risk vs customer risk, and I think it might help you work through the differences. I personally think it's a great way to think when working through the problem you're trying to solve.

  7. 1

    Stripe, Facebook, Google, .... all "copycats". Problems remain the same. Novelty is in the solution and the product you build. The more novel the solution (paradigm shift), the riskier it is, but greater the potential rewards. IMO, being a copycat is almost the only option, especially for IHs. Keep the problem (what people already buy?), and build a better solution (perhaps for some of them - niche).

  8. 1

    This is how Google and Facebook started. There are so many successful companies that started this way.

    Google was a better Altavista.

    Facebook was a better MySpace and Friendster

  9. 1

    I mean Rocket Internet is a mutli-billion $$ publicly traded (soon to be private again I've heard) company that has literally made it's wealth and success through this model. Replicate in local markets > Gain dominance in short space of time (6mths - 12mthhs to reach $1bn) > Sell to the Global leader/company they copied.

    To be honest, I find myself looking at some many SaaS platforms and brands here in PL that do this. BUT, they focus on core product development and UX etc, not so much on the PR/Marketing to spin up excessive interest/claims. I honestly think the PL platforms are far better and you can tell that they are focusing more on the product VS promotion.

    It all depends on the execution and ultimately customer base - is it there or not.

    1. 2

      Yup, I thought of the same company, as soon as I read this.

  10. 1

    Me. I found replicating or improving existing products had a better chance of a good return on investment.

    Doka Image Editor is the result of this strategy.

    Six years ago I noticed “edit and upload image” web components were lacking a lot of visual fidelity. Build my own image editor and got quite good traction. Been growing it ever since, currently at around 9K MRR.

  11. 1

    In our country there's a good case study - a few guys build the app called (very similar to, but much more cheaper), and were very successful in getting dozens of users from the beginning.

    There are many great tools that have pricing that's too much for many companies, so there's always some opportunity in doing something better and cheaper.

  12. 1

    Every automobile company after the first one.

    Every soft drinks company after the first one.

    Every social network after the first one.

    Every design agency after the first one.

    Every music streaming service after the first one.

    Every stock image site after the first one.

    Every search engine after the first one.

    Every tech news site after the first one.

    Every analytics company after the first one.

    Every SaaS after the first one.

    Every website template site after the first one.

    I mean... the list goes on.

  13. 1

    Really enjoying the dialogue. Reminds me there are so many ways to entrepreneurial nirvana.

  14. 1

    I feel the same way. I want to make something novel but it doesn't seem like a path to success. The best anecdote I heard is that by starting with something that's done before and getting immersed in that domain ay lead to deeper pain points. Those pain points can then be the basis of something more novel.

  15. 1

    I would say, always focus on the problem you are trying to solve.

    Cloning a currently existing service might not really work, since you would need to basically "steal" customers from existing services. People are not that willing to give up their already stable service.

    But there is always space for improvements, that's why it's imperative to niche yourself, at least for launch.

    Sure, you can create websites like every other service that creates websites. But you can create websites for dentists, double-down on their need, and there you have it! Sure, it's still a website creating service, but it's tailor-made for dentists.

    If you have a persona in mind, an ideal customer, you can tailor your service for them, that's the beauty of indie stuff, you cater to a very specific need, you grow from that.

  16. 1

    Websites...Everyone needs them, anyone can build a crappy one, a lot of people can build pretty ones, only a select few can make them work to maximum efficiency.

    It's not about replicating old success, it's about making a success even better to become an entirely new thing built on an old platform.

  17. 1

    The best way to approach this is to solve a real problem. There are lots of products out there, but they don't solve problems forever.

    Take listening to music on the go.. First there was the Sony Walkman, and we all thought the problem was solved, until quickly searching for your favourite track became a problem and along came the CD walkman, until carrying all your music became the problem and along came the iPod... until managing your collection of 1000's of song became the problem and along came streaming.... you get the point..

    As the late great Clayton Christensen said customers 'hire' your solution to get their job done. The difficulty is not the solution, its deep understanding of the problem and timing your solutions entry into the market at the point existing solutions break, or customers desires change and they start to search for new products to get their existing/new job done.

    Leverage your existing domain expertise, or build up expertise in a domain that you think you would enjoy working in. Speak to customers, understand their problems. You can scour online communities and listen to them talking at great lengths about their problems. This is critical, don't make assumption about customers problems. Only focus on their problems, not any solution you may have as your data will be biased. Customers lie if you ask them 'would you buy my solution?'. They don't want to hurt your feelings.

    Use your creativity to develop solutions to solve those problems. Not all solutions are equal, if you build it, will it make money (VIABILITY)? Will customers buy it (DESIRABILITY)? Can you build it (FEASIBILITY)? And will you enjoy it (ENJOYABILITY)? No point building something you won't enjoy doing, your product and customer relationships will suffer.

    LOVE THE PROBLEM, not the solution!

    If you need any help/advice, please reach out. I help startups, and I'm a part of this community to give back.

  18. 1

    I’m in the process of this right now and have similar questions. Currently, I’m marketing Siterack as an alternative to WP site management software like manageWP or WPremote and having a hard time figuring it out.

    Personally I think my product is better... definitely cooler looking 🤓, but idk if I’ll be able to carve out the 1% . Right now siterack is at $19.00 MRR and I’m struggling to find a real growth channel.

    So, maybe it’s just that I suck at marketing or that the market is too competitive 🤷🏼‍♂️. Still thinking through tall that.

  19. 1

    I'm doing this with information with Zero to Users. It took me 2 years to make/do research and create something new/novel. I could have also done it in 6 months, but was mainly doing this as a side project.

    With my case, this was pretty validated (people are ALWAYS looking for new ways to reach/acquire customers). With something where you're not sure the demand exists, I don't think it's a smart idea. This is why Kickstarter-like sites exist, you can make a video prototype/gauge the interest/start investing in making the real thing if it gets enough interest.

  20. 1

    I'm not sure if I trust myself enough to have guts to try and persist on a venture that's proven and tested to work.

    Jumping on one domain space to another tends to deconstruct people's perception and it will take awhile to rebuild a new one that can be profitable. But it shouldn't stop you to do anything you think you would be passionate to pursue. If it's saving my pain points and I'm truly interested then sure, I'd probably also go for it.

    For now, I've built something novel and need to do extra effort for the market to learn and adapt. I've just started and it might take awhile:

  21. 0

    The only fear I've with trying something new / novel is that, once it gets noticed, some big company would simply copy it and launch it in a much better way. Better to go the try/tested path and once you've have a decent financial cushion, go with innovating/inventing. There's a chance some company might still try to copy you, but i guess they would rather consider buying you out than rebuild the product from scratch (ex: mint)

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