Ideas and Validation October 28, 2020

My problem has existing solutions; how do I know whether I should bother pursuing it?

Zachary Manesiotis @manesioz

Hey everyone,

First of all, I've been a long-time lurker of IndieHackers and ProductHunt and I've always dreamed of starting my own side-project-turned-profitable-business. I decided to make an account and officially join this great group today!

Personally, I often generate ideas but upon further investigation find that they have preexisting solutions (do to the nature of ideas, usually preexisting apps or SaaS platforms). Previously, I immediately scratched it off my list and kept brain-storming.

On IndieHackers, however, I have read several blogs that mentioned that this is the wrong way of approaching things - in fact, preexisting solutions can be a good sign because they prove that 1) a problem does exist, and 2) that there are people willing to pay to have it fixed.

My question to you all is this: when you discover that your problem has preexisting solutions, how do you decide whether it's still worth pursuing?
It could mean the market is saturated and you're not differentiated enough, or it could mean that there is a market ready for you to enter and thrive in.

Do you try to identify what the current problems are with the preexisting solutions? Any thoughts would be really appreciated, thanks!

  1. 7

    Good question!

    When your market is crowded, all that matters is to know if you can be significantly better than others. Either you're 10x cheaper, 10x higher quality, 10x easier to use... You only need one to thrive. If the answer comes to mind easily, then you should pursue it.

    If you look at my logo generator product: we entered a market that was completely crowded and heavily funded. There were already big players that most people use to get "quick logos", and they have great 5 star ratings everywhere...

    However, we also noticed that all of these "happy customers" weren't so happy after all. We asked them about their feelings towards the logos they made, and 70% said that they weren't proud of it. To us, that was a big signal that our differentiator (10x design quality) was going to succeed.

    So now I'm curious, what could be significantly better about your solution?

    1. 2

      That! Perfect answer and totally agree!

    2. 1

      Thanks! I appreciate your insight. I will definitely approach idea validation with this in mind.

  2. 3

    @manesioz This is a really good question, specially for a community like IndieHackers.

    When I started out building, there were several solutions that existed in the market as well. However, after doing a careful research, I found out that there was no feature to actually edit a website directly (In my product, this feature is called Inspect element)

    So, I think I agree with @dagorenouf. If you can find some place where your product can do exceptionally good, you will be able to penetrate and capture the market.

  3. 3

    The only one who can really answer that is you, perhaps with some research. In my experience, some of the best ideas come from bad solutions to an existing problem where the improvement you have in mind is SUPER obvious to you. Most probably because you have some experience/domain expertise.

    This will give you conviction around the idea and will help with validation. I've built two businesses--one with 7 figure and one with 8 figure annual revenues--on this premise alone.

    If you're merely poking at existing markets and wracking your brain on how you might be able to provide an incremental improvement, though, I'd take a step back. Personal conviction is really important.

    1. 1

      If you're merely poking at existing markets and wracking your brain on how you might be able to provide an incremental improvement, though, I'd take a step back. Personal conviction is really important.

      Interesting. Gives me a lot to think about, thanks!

  4. 2

    Hi Zachary,

    I totally understand your uncertainty. It's easy to be demotivated if every time you have an idea you discover that there are already a few others out there. And they've been running for years, and doing really well!

    What you're not realising is that you have actually found at least one GOOD reason to continue with them: a pre-existing and proven market! You just need to dig a bit deeper to find an angle that's unique to you.

    Here are three areas you can evaluate about your idea further.

    1. The market size: Is this market big enough to support several competing businesses. Is it growing?

    2. The customer niche: Is there a group of people from your target customers that are currently underserved by the incumbents? @dagorenouf's answer is a good example - they found that there's a large group that are looking for high quality logos that are being underserved by the existing solutions.

    3. The product: Can your product be 100x better for the specific problem and niche you're targeting? Like @ryandoom said, can you make it less but better.

    A lot of that ties back to the SPECIFIC problem you're solving and the SPECIFIC people you're solving it for, so be sure to have that clearly defined.

    Then of course, once you are able to confidently answer those questions positively, then you have just a set of assumptions, which you then need to go and validate quickly with real users.

    There are many more criteria you can use for evaluating your idea, of course, but hopefully that answers your question.


    1. 1

      Thanks Farez, this helps a lot. Cheers

  5. 2

    If there are already established feature rich, successful competitors, and assuming you are Indie Hacking and not sitting on tons of coin to throw at it - what can you build that is - LESS BUT BETTER -

    How can you make your solution super simple, maybe it's not customizable, maybe there aren't options, maybe it's just ready to use with zero configuration and will only work for 20% of the people who use your competitors. But you can niche on that 20% and do something simpler, faster, and still solve the pain. Plus, less effort to build.

    1. 1

      Interesting, this is usually the opposite of how I think. I try to fit every use-case and think of the more general solution. This way has less effort but less of a market overall, but I suppose if you optimize for a niche its better than a slightly worse idea that satisfies everyone?

      1. 2

        Most people think that way. Look at all the competitors, who are the top 3, okay I guess I need ALL those features and need to do it better then them. It's just insane and not realistic for a mature market.

        You want to do: LESS BUT BETTER. Simplify and find a nice industry niche where it's tailored just for them and works how they need it to work.

  6. 2

    Hey @manesioz, welcome!

    I can understand you, but I agree with the others. Existing solutions means the market is validated.

    The only way to see whether something is worth pursuing, at least to me, is actually ship something simple out and see the feedback. But before you do that, you should see the reviews from users of existing solutions.

    If those users are complaining about something with the product and it's not yet solved, you could use that to your advantage. Try to reach out to them, talk to them, and solve their problem when building your version of the solution.

    1. 1

      Makes sense, thank you!

  7. 2

    Consider reading some of @Kevcon80’s newsletter Software Ideas: The whole premise is looking at existing solutions in existing markets and seeing how you could offer something that is in the same problem space but differentiated.

    Even if you don’t get an idea you build from the newsletter, it’s worth considering the approach and see if it can help you think about some of your ideas.

    1. 1

      Thanks for the suggestion! I signed up for the free trial and I enjoy looking at how he validates the ideas very thoroughly. Something I will try to emulate myself :)

  8. 1

    Having existing competition is actually a great signal. A great framework to think about ideas is whether you want customer pain or competitor pain. With the former, you're validating whether people want your product, but with the latter you're just competing with someone who already has customers.

    So, if you're pursuing ideas in the second category, all you need to do is determine how you can differentiate yourself. This could be as simple as just building a better product, but it could also be targeting a specific niche within the market.

    Hope this helps!

  9. 1

    Most successful products that we see today had similar existing solutions when they launched (be it Google, MS, Uber, Amazon). The only thing that matters is how you differentiate from existing solutions and what market you target initially. The importance to find the right niche and positioning the product for it is so underrated.

  10. 1

    A lot of folks answering you should make your product better than the others.
    (EDIT: actually, only one person said make it better, the other folks had great takes!)

    I disagree.

    It's a bit of a myth that buyers are looking at all the other solutions. You're mostly competing with people saying "I'll just".

    And want another orthogonal take? Maybe you should make your product "worse" (than what everybody is supposing means "better".

  11. 1

    Drew Houston has a famous story about DropBox. VC's would say, there at 20 solutions for this already. Drew would ask, yes, but do YOU use any of them? "Well, no." "Then why not?". And that provided the answer.

  12. 1

    Adding to the other great comments, I would suggest choosing a topic that passionate you.

    In my early days, I had basically two main ideas : one was helping to show ads on all devices (and break UBlock and other) and another was helping people to book meeting easily.

    I know I was not ethically aligned with the first idea, even if there is a huge potential. And I know that the idea to help people and businesses get organized is something that match my passions and skills.

    So keep that in mind, passion will help on the long run 😀

    Good luck!

  13. 1

    Personally I find the best way to figure out whether you would like to pursue an idea is to test it, or in other words make use of 'mechanical turking'. Give yourself a week to build a rough-and-ready solution using existing apps and tools.

    A good example of this is an app for 'group delivery' from a supermarket to a student accommodation. Instead of building the app, the founders made a facebook group where customers create an order as an fb post, and then other students could add to the order in the comments. Once the students received the food, they paid in cash. Very basic, but quickly demonstrated there was a need and that customers would be willing to pay.

    Once you have built a prototype solution, add a good way of collecting anonymous feedback such as a typeform, and then post it on forums such as IndieHackers, Reddit etc. (Don't send it to your family and friends i.e. Mom Test)

    Voila - you should pretty quickly be able to tell whether the idea is valid or not 🥳

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