First mover advantage is real. While there is no guarantee that the first mover in any industry will win, first movers often build a huge advantage for themselves with the lessons learned from their mistakes, and will be better positioned to win the market than any imitators.
“Many of the applications we get are imitations of some existing company. That’s one source of ideas, but not the best. Instead of copying the Facebook, with some variation that the Facebook rightly ignored, look for ideas from the other direction.”
Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator
Many of the best apps and businesses arise from a desire from founders to solve problems that they themselves have experienced. This personal experience helps to craft better solutions for these problems that they can reliably vet for themselves.
“Y Combinator rejected our original idea and said they’d invest in us as long as we built for the browser (our first pitch was a mobile product, in 2005) and solved a problem we had every morning. Reddit was the result of that — not having one place to find out what was new and interesting about the things we cared about.”
Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit
Building an MVP is the most reliable way to get valuable customer feedback for your idea — you never really know how your app will fare until you observe how your target audience interact with some version of it. It is also the best way to ensure your app doesn’t get caught up in analysis paralysis.
“What is the simplest version of this app that can solve your problem? When you have the simplest version in mind, you build it, and put it out in the world and see what the response is. See what people are using it for, see what they’re not, and start iterating. It’s not easy, but it’s doable and that’s the really exciting thing.”
Alexis Ohanian again
Picking a market you don’t understand is a mistake. It is almost impossible to succeed in a market you don’t know well, especially when existential threats to your business inevitably arise.
“Pick a good market. The idea for approaching that market may change, but find a meaty problem to solve. You can try to attack it a bunch of different ways. Don’t be too narrow.”
Caterina Fake, founder of Flickr
If your app is not a significant improvement on apps that attempt to solve the same of similar problems, you cannot expect to be in business very long. In fact, if you can’t come up with a way to significantly improve a process by making it considerably faster or cheaper, you would be better off pursuing another idea.
”You have a viable business only if your product is either better or cheaper than the alternatives. If it’s not one or the other, you might make some money at first, but it’s not a sustainable business.”
Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Company