OrangeFractal on this post on the r/Entrepreneur subreddit writes:
Well, after prototyping a product for a very long time, I came to find that a very similar one already exists on the market.
It is a bit sad because of the amount of work and thought that I’ve put into this.
I had a brilliant idea. I was so stoked on it until I researched and found a company that’s doing pretty much the same thing. Same. exact. product.
I’m feeling really discouraged, but I want to hold on hope that there’s still a piece of the pie for me. It’s obviously a proven product.
Both start out by sharing the same discouragement. Quickly, they realize that finding a competitor is proof that the market exists.
Still, what to do?
In both threads, people chime in with this advice:
Find Out A Problem With the Competitor And Make Yours Better
Go figure out one main problem that you can solved better than them.
And so that’s what the person in the first thread decided to do. She started to look at the other product in more detail…
I’ve actually read through their reviews, and I believe I can make their product, better, more affordable, and address the critiques they had!
And the person from the second thread concluded:
I’ll have to differentiate on my designs and create a better overall brand.
So Many Betters
Making your own product better seems like a no-brainer, but let’s look closely at those options:
- Making it more affordable (lower the price). As we’ve seen before, a lower price doesn’t always make your product more attractive, a lower price also creates anxiety (“will this product stay around?”). Plus it means it will cut in your profitability. You’ll need it to be a bigger hit to make it profitable.
- Addressing critiques. Yes, and be careful. It will be tempting to take each critique and address each one. That might be a mistake, especially if that will result in you…
- Adding features. What else adds anxieties? Having too many features could also bring anxiety to the buyer (“do I really need to figure out all these features?”)
- Improving the marketing and the design. It would be easy to go all out on this one and it not having any impact at all. It’s also super tempting to fall into perfectionism for this one, so watch out.
So what should we do instead of all those options?
“Underdo your competition”
First popularized by the book Getting Real by the folks at Basecamp, “Underdo your competition” remains good advice. Don’t one-up what others are doing, underdo what they do so that what’s left is remarkable useful.
Reduce the number of features. Make your product do less. Resist the temptation to add.
Choose to cut. Cut features, cut your ambitions, cut the size of the market, cut who you will help with your product.
This will allow you to focus on what matters and make a product that’s decidedly, precisely useful in specific situations.
But how do you decide, with confidence, which of those aspects to cut?
Example: Meeting Scheduling Software
Calendly, Appointlet, Pickatime and YouCanBook.me are all competing in the crowded meeting scheduling space.
All of them are offering pretty much the same thing: they all allow someone to pick a time from your calendar for a phone call or a meeting.
Each of them has a web interface for configuring all the options, a backchannel way into verifying your calendar’s available spots and adding booking to your calendar, and many ways of to choose which time blocks to make available.
To compete, they each had to add features, cut their prices, improve their visual appeal. Every one tries to one-up each other.
But then came a new entrant.
WhenWorks. No web interface to configure, just an app on your phone. Fewer options too. No need to hook with a backchannel calendar API authentication permission thingy. Whatever’s on your phone’s calendar is what WhenWorks will use for your availability.
WhenWorks did less than everyone else, and made the process easier to sign up. It also had a neat URL and a modest booking interface for the people picking a time. It did the job really well.
Is WhenWorks stealing market shares from the other competitors? Surprisingly, WhenWorks might have expanded the market. That’s because despite many competitors being in this market, they’re all competing against one thing.
The Real Competitor: The Situation Preceding the Purchase
In a previous article, we saw how all products have one major, common competitor: non-consumption.
In short: there are probably more people choosing to pick none of the competitors, then there are picking one of the competitors. Most people choose not to buy anything. Most people choose non-consumption.
All of those meeting scheduling products are competiting with what the buyer was using before considering signing up. They’re competing against manually picking a time, back-and-forth by email or text message. And in most cases, that competitor does a fine job.
Your job as a product owner is to find how to compete with not buying anything at all. Viewed through this lens, you just need to find the right configuration of features to nail the job-to-be-done really well. Charge a fair price. Spread the word.
And since the hardest part will be to gain an audience in the first place, make sure you apply the same job-to-be-done thinking to your newsletter or your Instagram or your Twitter feed. Make those feeds address a job too. They too compete with “nothing”.