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30 Comments

I've been beaten to the market - what should I do?

The Problem

You've come up with an idea for a product that doesn't exist anywhere in the market.

You conduct some market research and there seems to be great demand for your idea. Naturally, you start no-life coding it.

A year down the road, your beta product is ready and you're about to launch when you see an advert - the market leader has beaten you to it. What should you do?

The Context

For the past year, I've been solo-developing a mobile app which helps users create social media graphics - the app is called huue. The $40bn company, Canva, has had this market locked down for the past few years.

We noticed that their Terms of Service prohibited their users from selling any designs that they made using the platform. Having browsed forums and talked to a number of Canva users, there was a consensus that people wished they could sell their designs and have ownership over their hard work.

This was further supported by the fact that, despite the legal implications and barriers, there were still thousands of Canva designs being sold on 3rd party markets like CreativeMarket.

We hypothesized that if we could develop a product which had a great editor and allowed for this marketplace to be built into the product, we could attract users by giving them autonomy.

At the moment, huue's editor is developed and we are ready to beta test it before we add the complex marketplace feature. But two days ago I saw this:
masmon. on Twitter: "semoga dapet nih jadi canva creator… "

We've been beaten to the market.

I was so disheartened as I knew we'd have little hope in competing against such a large company. However, upon further inspecting their terms, we saw that with their implementation, you need to be approved as a creator, and then each of your designs still need to be individually approved to ensure they adhere to their strict design, usability, and content guidelines.

On the other hand, our idea was to create a free-market, where people can post without design restrictions. We believe this may still be viable, but we've yet to validate the idea in the new market conditions. So these are the options we've come up with:

Our Options

  1. Continue with tweaks - Conduct market research to see if people would still want to use our product, implement it, and then risk getting crushed by competition.
  2. Pivot - Instead of implementing the marketplace feature, we could implement some other USP (we have some potentially good ideas already).
  3. Give up - Ha! Just kidding, never 😠😠😠.

We would really appreciate any thoughts, feedback or advice that you can give!


Final Note

I was given some advice a while ago about attempting to compete with a large incumbent competitor:

"if you launch a competitor, the market leader has two options: let you grow and take their market share, or acquire you".

While I understand and like the sentiment of the message, I'm not sure how true this is, as I think they have a third option; to crush you.

What should we do?
  1. Try and compete
  2. Pivot
  3. Cry in a corner
Vote
  1. 3

    Google was not the first company to develop a search engine. Facebook was not the first to develop a social network. You already have an idea for key feature that Canva does not implement and should run with it.

    1. 1

      Yeah that's good advice, thank you!

      Tbh, most of my hesitation comes from the fact that our competitor is already so big - $40bn big 😬

      It just seems like such a big obstacle :/ But I'll 100% give it a try!

      1. 3

        I believe it was Patrick McKenzie who said that there's a world of opportunities of things that huge companies would not bother doing. Canva may consider something that brings in 1M USD MRR to be small potatoes, but for an indie hacker that would be a great success.

        1. 1

          Yeah, and I think that highlights another one of indie hackers' key advantages - we can take bigger risks.

          Big companies struggle to implement risky features because of investor pressure, risk of losing customers etc. While we, indie hackers, can take these risks with much smaller consequences. And then as you said, the risk only needs to pay off to a relatively small extent for it to be worthwhile.

  2. 3

    If there was no competitor, there was no market. Actually, you should read their move as market validation. I have been on your shoes and let it crush me and give up. Now? Years later, Insee many other players that came after I gave up and are thriving.

    1. 1

      Yeah, I'm definitely starting to see their move more and more as just being market validation. So as @Shaunau so elegantly put it, I'm going to "Double down. Go hard, go all in. Fuck Canva, and their terms." 😉

      And damnnnn, I'm sorry to hear that! That's also a good way to think about it though - I'd definitely be kicking myself in 5 years' time if some other company had persevered and managed to compete successfully.

      I think it would be a good tactical move to be placed and established in the market, even if we have very little traction. Simply because if the competitor's fees are too high for a certain user, or they are missing features, then people tend to look for alternatives - and hopefully that will be us, huue! 😄

  3. 2

    Agree with other statements: "if there are competitors means there are markets for your products."

    Take a look at Bitwarden, they started small as password manager extensions in browsers. In 2016 there are already huge companies like lastpass and 1password. Now, in 2020, they gained many new users because they constantly keeping their unique value which is open source.

    Never give up.

    1. 1

      Yeah, that's a great example, thank you!

      And don't worry, I won't ;)

    1. 2

      Wow, thank you so much for that.

      That's a damn good post and it makes such an important point!

      The crazy thing is that I've actually had that impending feeling of "just ship it" for a while now, because I've been working on this app for a whole year!

      The main thing that's been holding me back is that a friend of mine said it's best not to serve "burnt pizza" (he hadn't seen the app at this point) - meaning, ship a product, but make sure it's at least decent or people will check it out, decide it's bad and leave.

      I think that while that's good advice sometimes, I'm aware that I have perfectionist tendencies and actually I probably could've shipped a good while ago.

      I'm not sure... how do you think you should go about finding the balance between shipping a crappy "burnt pizza" product, and the perfect product?

      1. 2

        Set a reasonably short deadline, and ship by then. The key though is that you must ship by that deadline, in whatever form the product is in.

        1. 2

          Very actionable advice, thank you.

          Based on this comment (and some others in this thread ofc), we've decided to ship the current version of the product (i.e. submit it to android and iOS app stores) on October 22nd, exactly 7 days from now!

          That's our deadline, regardless of the product's form. Fuck it, let's see what happens.

        2. 1

          Good luck with Artemis btw! You've got a new subscriber ;)

  4. 2

    No competition is bad - it means there probably, but not always, a small market. If Canva is in it, the market is probably large. This means you have an opportunity to differentiate your product. Best of luck!

    1. 1

      Ah I see your point!

      In fact, it's probably feasible to see it this way: instead of trying to compete with Canva and their graphics design app, I'm just trying to compete with their graphics design marketplace and that's where I'll differentiate the product.

      Thank you! I'll make sure to post again and update you and the rest of IH on my progress :)

  5. 2

    There is probably enough place for everyone? Voted to continue, esp because you are just before your release?

    1. 1

      Thanks for your vote!

      Can you clarify what you mean by "there is probably enough place for everyone?"

      And yeah, we are just before the beta release of the editor, we're yet to integrate the marketplace features though.

      1. 1

        I meant if there is a market for something, there is room for more players?

        1. 1

          Yeah I would agree with that. I think the main issue for us is that the competitor is such a large company that it's going to be difficult to try and make space for ourselves.

          However, I also think that Canva is so big that they're close to being a monopoly. Which means that if they charge too large of a fee on their marketplace for example, then people may end up looking for cheaper alternatives which is where we would come in!

          1. 2

            Is there maybe a niche that Canva is not really serving well?

            1. 2

              Hmmm, this is exactly what we've been trying to rack our brains on.

              One niche is professional graphic designers. They say that they hate using Canva as it lacks certain tools and because they feel that Canva is ruining their profession/industry.

              Unfortunately, they are often forced to use Canva because they need to be able to make a template/design that their client can edit.

              So, if we can find a balance between ease-of-use for non-designers and the tools/complexity that professional designers need, that's a potential option.

              1. 1

                I am convinced there is space for more players. I mean Canva also has competitors already now.

                But at the same time you need to decide if you are trying to rush through a wall or opening a door ;)

  6. 2

    Canva is a tough competitor to have but keep on rolling! It looks like you see where your service differentiates, now you just have to reach the people that are looking this service. :)

    1. 2

      Yeah, I think that's completely right. That's why we're trying to put such an emphasis on product market fit right now.

      Unfortunately while I believe I'm good at making products, I'm not yet so good at the whole business/marketing side of things haha. Little by little, I'm pushing myself out of my comfort zone though!

      Thanks for your comment!

      1. 2

        You could try partnering up with a marketing focused co-founder! Plenty of good ones here on IH. :)

        1. 2

          Yeah, I think that's a good idea, although I'm considering going down the investor route and hiring a marketer instead.

          Mostly because I already have a co-founder and so the investor route would help me hold onto more equity and control over the business.

          1. 2

            If the equity you'll lose with an investor is less than that, it does make a lot of sense. The right investor can also immensely help with other avenues of the biz.

            1. 1

              I think that's exactly right. Some smart money with some industry connections could be vital for us right now!

  7. 2

    Double down. Go hard, go all in. Fuck Canva, and their terms. They’ve done the validation you wanted and have decided it’s worth investing in a marketplace. I say go for it! 👍

    1. 1

      Haha thanks for the support! Very true words, and yeah, at this point they've validated it more than we ever could :)

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