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Successful Software

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Jonathan Matthews
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BreezeTree Software

Bob Walsh
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Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

Overwhelmed by competition

It happens with me all the time and because of this single reason I've been unable to start off with any product at all (been several years now).

Whenever I think of a product idea and am all excited about it and sometimes even start working on it, I usually end up giving up.

Reason? Once I start looking at the competition, their features and the amount of work that has to be put in to reach their level. I feel overwhelmed. This is the exactly the point where "fear of failure" kicks in, followed by a strong urge to procrastinate.

Do I have to implement every feature that the competition offers? If not, would I be able to sell it well, if at all? What if I puts in all the effort and there's no result?

How do I overcome this problem?

One way would be to totally ignore competition. But is that even practical at all?
Undisclosed Send private email
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
 
 
Well, a couple of options here:

1)  Pick some niche with less competition.

2)  Don't sweat the competition.  I wasn't competitive on a feature for feature basis with my best competitor for about six months, but I still had sales.  I'll never be competitive four of my competitors on price, but since I've offered a better user experience and know how to market better than they do that scarcely worries me.

3)  Focus on what you are rather than what you're not.  "Every feature you could possibly want and then some" was never my key selling point.  "You have a problem, I can fix it within 60 seconds from the time you hit this download button: want to try?" was my selling point.
Patrick McKenzie (Bingo Card Creator) Send private email
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
 
 
Why not go the "trendy" route and make less features then the competition?  When I started selling ChimSoft, it turned out one of our major competitors would be ACT!  If you look at ACT! it's very difficult for a one-man show to top those features.  But it turns out most people who buy ACT! don't use even half of those features, and most people complain about the speed and bugginess.  So just because there's a 10,000 pound gorilla in your market, it doesn't mean everyone likes him.  Start by just trying to take some smaller segment away from your competitors.
Phil Send private email
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
 
 
Bear in mind Google wants a cut of all your software profits by means of Adwords!

First check out the search keywords relevant to your niche are not overpriced.
GoogleTheBloodSuckers
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
 
 
Pick a smaller niche where you *can* compete.
Andy Brice Send private email
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
 
 
Only you and your competitors know exactly where your product stands in terms of features, prices, usability, etc...

You could have a product that do less and is more expensive and still do well if you know how to market it. Or you could have a great product, better and cheaper that anything else on the market, and still not make a sale.

I guess what I'm saying is that you worry about the wrong thing. What the competition offers is somewhat irrelevant. It's a matter of perception, brand, marketing/SEO... Build a great product that fits what your users need and market it with as much dedication.
cedsav Send private email
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
 
 
I get the same feelings every now and again.

1. Isolate the most important feature and make it the best of  any of your competitors. 

2. Ease of use.  Get testers involved and involved early.  Make sure they are people you trust and understand the business of what you are developing.  My competitors have some of the most convoluted code UI structure in the world.

3. World Class UI.  Sounds like a good marketing sound byte, but the reality is you do need a fantastic UI.  Don't use cheap components or only stuff that comes in the standard UI toolbox.    Make sure the UI is responsive and looks and feels good.

4. Formulate a game plan for future releases, but don't look beyond the current release.  I'm working on a project that can develop and grow for years.  It is important to focus on the current stage and don't fixate on the next release or the "what if's".

5. Pick a good development platform that will be around for some time to come.  I've really struggled in this department, but I believe that I've settled on a good, solid performing platform that will be available in the future.
Grinder Send private email
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
 
 
Maybe the OP just isn't cut out for this game. It's one thing to want to run a mISV. It's another thing altogether to actually do it.

Running a mISV is HARD, people. Even if you can make a viable product, you have to market it, then you have to support it, improve it, and there's still no guarantees you will make even a single sale.

There's too much talk round here of starting with no investment capital, spending a few weeks making a product, being able to support a family and comfortable lifestyle, and then you can cash out in a couple of years. This hardly ever happens. You might get one of these goals if you're very lucky, two is virtually unheard of and all four is getting into urban myth territory.

The good thing about this forum is it's not selling a dream - you can find that on other forums and blogs (Paul Graham and Steve Pavlina spring to mind). We should always remind ourselves (and others) that what we do is only successful with lots of hard work, talent, and most of all, luck.
Bubble burster
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
 
 
+1 to Patrick.

Just the other day, I heard someone say she'd pay more for a cell phone that had a reasonable sized number pad, an name/phone number lookup feature and an easy way to import names and numbers from a computer. She basically wanted to put her phone down on the table, press the synch icon on her laptop, and boop-beep, all the names and numbers in the book were on the phone.

Nothing else. She didn't want games, ring tones, text messaging, GPS navigation, MP3s, a camera, wallpaper, smartcard functionality, software bugs, crashes, short battery life, etc etc. She just wanted to be able to make calls, answer calls, and she was willing to go without an answering machine in the phone itself.

She was willing to pay $600 for that phone.

If your competitor has so many features that it's difficult to use their products without training, there may still be an opportunity.
TheDavid
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
 
 
Bubble burster: while I am sympathetic with the broad thrust of your post, which is that folks should be realistic when goal setting, I've got a few niggles:

1)  The features "no investment" and "product ready in a few weeks" are 100% achievable by proper pain/product selection before you so much as open your IDE.

2)  You are vastly overestimating the importance of luck.  Skill(s) counts for much more.  Patience to continue tweak-tweak-tweaking counts for a heck of a lot more than either.
Patrick McKenzie (Bingo Card Creator) Send private email
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
 
 
Find an area where your competitor's are lacking and improve upon it.  I would be more afraid if I had no competitors.  Learn everything you can about them and their products, and what their customers love and hate about them.  Learn about their marketing messages and how they are similar or differ from each other.  Try and identify what market niches they target.  Also, what does the press say about them?  With all that competition, there is lots of info to use to your benefit.
Andre Oporto Send private email
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
 
 
Also, bear in mind the fact that "marketing" existed long before Google, and the magazine advertising sales consultants want a cut of "your" profits, too just because they provide you a service, the unreasonable bastards!

Then grow up and stop being a crybaby.  ;)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007
 
 
I've been in the same boat before.  Right now there are a lot of established competitors in the TV Program Guide area, but I feel I'm able to bring something better to the table.  Having competition means there is a market for what you are trying to do.  I read a this article http://blogs.bnet.com/ceo/?p=319 a while back about me-too companies. It is talking about an online invitation website called mypunchbowl.  The line that stood out to me was "Yes, there are competitors, but nobody has built a product yet that users really like." 

I think it is important to know who the competition is, but don't dwell on their feature set. Instead get something out in front of users. That has been the biggest motivation for me, when Flip.TV went into beta.  Users actually using it and providing feedback.  So go for it.
Chris Exline Send private email
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
 
 
I always felt exactly the same way as the OP.  Then it hit me: Those other products are made by people, many of whom are like my co-workers (not all of whom have my respect).  In other words, my ego helped me overcome that fear of competition because I believe (whether true or not) that I can build better than they can.

Next to marketing and sales:  Since I'm a one man show, my cost structure is (literally) millions of dollars smaller than theirs.  I can survive on their crumbs while I build and grow.

You can do it _IFF_ you're committed to the long term, and constant improving and tweaking (as Patrick mentioned above).
Doug
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
 
 
Tarek Demiati Send private email
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
 
 
Don't try to boil the ocean.  Work on a subset, the core features people really want and need and focus on getting these fundamentals absolutely nailed.  You may have to charge less than your competitors until you build up your product.  However starting small can work in your favour - you're out on the market and making sales and honing your marketing skills, you may find that you have established a niche of customers.  Most of the big companies are like oil tankers, they turn very slowly and getting one new release out there per year is a challenge for them.  You can work on new features virtually every day and catch them slowly as they sleep.  Also build your products based on customer (and potential customer) feedback.  The key to success is give the customer what they want and tell as many of them about it as you can. Simple ;o)
Gz
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
 
 
"You are vastly overestimating the importance of luck."

I disagree. While you can make SOME money with your skills and hard work, making GOOD money often requires a "perfect storm" of occurrences that you can exploit.

In Patrick's case, he was "lucky" he used to be a teacher, and knew the value of bingo cards to his target market (lucky in the sense that it wasn't part of his career plan to be a teacher just to prepare for Bingo Card Creator). He was also "lucky" that there wasn't any credible competition in the marketplace (lucky in the sense that he would be UNlucky if 37Signals brought out a rival product). He used his skills to exploit that luck.

The proof of Patrick's argument will be if he can repeat his success with another product. Because if it's just based on his skills, it'll be a surefire hit.

(btw, Patrick, don't risk making another product JUST to prove me wrong! :) )
Slevin
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
 
 
Undisclosed > Once I start looking at the competition, their features and the amount of work that has to be put in to reach their level. I feel overwhelmed.

Like the others said above: What you should keep in mind, is that people don't use software because they like it: They use software to accomplish tasks. And if this is office software, it's even more important to make the software easy to use and productive, so that people get work done faster and easier, and get to do more important things like chatting at the coffee machine.

Besides choosing a niche that is big enough to let you make a living (a µISV usually doesn't have the financial means to go at bigger markets, at least for a while), the only way to be sure if that market is well served is by asking its users.

As for the example above about buying a really, really basic cellphone: They don't exist, and no one wants to build one because most users don't have the brain to understand that, even if they don't need them, more features means a more complicated machine, which ends up being more difficult to use.

Besides getting to interview actual users, the difficulty will be to market your product by making people realise that it's better to buy a product that has less features but has the really important ones and is easier to learn/use, and that the feature matrix isn't necessarily a good way to judge a product.
ZeFred
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
 
 
Another thing to consider is your fear of failure.  Running a uISV is a learning experience and you have to learn by doing.

If you fail the first time out of the gate, so what?  It will be a valuable learning experience and you will know more the next time.  My first product was a flop in my opinion, and it had no competitors. Now I know more and feel much better about my chances for success, through better product design, marketing and product positioning.  You can read up on this stuff all day, but until you try it yourself it is mostly theoretical.

The most important thing to do if you want to play this game is to get your first product out there. Do not quit!  =)
Andre Oporto Send private email
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
 
 
>>
In Patrick's case, he was "lucky" he used to be a teacher, and knew the value of bingo cards to his target market (lucky in the sense that it wasn't part of his career plan to be a teacher just to prepare for Bingo Card Creator). He was also "lucky" that there wasn't any credible competition in the marketplace (lucky in the sense that he would be UNlucky if 37Signals brought out a rival product). He used his skills to exploit that luck.
>>

These sound a lot less like luck and a lot more like things that were 100% under my control due to product selection.  Is it lucky that my app played to my strengths?  I knew my strengths before I wrote a line of code.  Is it lucky that my app has customers?  I knew sixty people who would use my app before I wrote a line of code.  Is it lucky that my app has little competition?  I had Googled the competition before I wrote a line of code. 

Is it lucky that 37Signals has not killed me with TrailMix, their new RoR&Ajax-enabled bingo card creation suite?  Not really -- they can't write TrailMix because there isn't enough money in it for them and because DHH would burst into flames before dealing with any of my support requests.  (I'm trying to imagine what my core Bingo Card Creator customers would write about a Rails app.  Probably: "help!!!  the internet does not work.")
Patrick McKenzie (Bingo Card Creator) Send private email
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
 
 
Concur on the comment regarding Adword analysis.  This is where we generally start and it can make or break you. Especially if you have a niche that is adjacent to a more popular area with common keywords or you take to long to get to market. 

For example, we have a resume creation product (kineticresume.com) that initially looked great on keywords but after a year of development, we now find ourselves competing with executive resume writing services that have discovered PPC and are willing to pay $$ for clicks.
Brian Briggs [Mission Expert|SWOT Expert] Send private email
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
 
 
"These sound a lot less like luck and a lot more like things that were 100% under my control due to product selection."

That IS luck, Patrick! That sort of thing doesn't happen to everyone, no matter how hard they work or what their skills are.

Your skill was in recognizing a viable niche and exploiting it, nobody's disputing that. Are all failed mISV products due to the developers being lazy or unskilled? I don't think so. Part of everyone's skill set should be to recognize when you get lucky, and to use it to your advantage. And also to know when your luck has turned bad, and to get out of it.
Bubble burster
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
 
 
+1 Patrick, -1 Bubble Buster and Slevin.

I consider your calling Patrick's case "luck" not only misguided, but disrespectful too. Seriously.

Let's see, Patrick had (and has) probably dozens of skills, knew dozens of product areas, had dozens of potential project ideas, knew dozens of people with dozens of different needs, and knew dozens of different marketing techniques.

He carefully chose a product idea that went well with a couple of his skills, in a product area he knew well, for which a lot of people he knew would pay, and chose the marketing techniques he thought would work best for the product.

Two other unmentioned things, he chose a product that would take little time to develop (*not* little time or effort to market), and for which marketing would be cheap.

And, oh well, it's working fine (afaik, not great, he still has a day job, but fine). Frankly, you call that luck? I call it being smart. Part of it is that I think if someone decides and executes equally well, they will find the same kind of result. Part of it is that, when I see someone fail, I can often see the points where they're not deciding or executing well.

I seriously believe the day he focuses in a product with greater appeal the cash will start rolling in. Maybe not with the first chance, because we all make mistakes and gloss over important factors, but for sure on the second or the third.

BTW, believing in luck is a good excuse for one's lack of success too. I believe in learning from failure and keeping on fighting.
Jon Send private email
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
 
 
I'm not trying to disrespect Patrick, not at all.

I'm just highlighting that Patrick was in the right place at the right time and he did the right thing.

Not everyone has that opportunity in their lifetime. Look at the OP for example. How many years has he been looking?
Slevin
Thursday, May 31, 2007
 
 
slevin, my understanding is that the OP hasn't even *tried*. If you don't try, sure you won't succeed. Most probably, one also needs to try several times and fail in the common scenarios before being able to succeed. Talent can save you a few attempts, but not all of them.

People fail because they are insecure and can't bring themselves to appreciate their own ideas, because they deceive themselves for fear of seeing what they're doing wrong, for stubbornly driving down a road that has been telling them for years that it's going nowhere, for randomly jumping from project to project without finishing anything, for not stopping to consider where they are and act accordingly, for not even getting started and finding any stupid excuse, for not wanting to put in the work required (which is indeed a tough challenge), for being comfortable enough in their current situation, for not really wanting success with enough passion, for disregarding smaller but likely-to-work opportunities and pursuing undoable huge goals, for not putting themselves in the user's/customer's shoes, for undervaluing themselves, etc...

I know you weren't trying to be disrespectful. I think your description just doesn't correspond to how the world works (in the overwhelming majority of cases, luck plays a very small role if at all). And I still think it is disrespectful (not that it matters much).
Jon Send private email
Thursday, May 31, 2007
 
 
Jon,

There's a much more focused thread on luck that's been started, and some of the posts there state my case far more eloquently than I ever could. That Times article sums it up well.

As for the OP, he sounds as if he's been smart enough not to waste his time on projects that are doomed to failure, or at least are very high risk. Whether he's too cautious, we'll never know.
Slevin
Thursday, May 31, 2007
 
 
What is the big deal with Bingo Card Creater? He can't be making that much money on it?
anon
Friday, June 01, 2007
 
 
I recommend just getting something to market that's functional, and then listen to your customers and prospects. We have a product that's not unique, and lives in a competitive field. But have been able to carve out a couple of specific professional niches because we do the same things that competition does, but we do it *differently*. An understanding of your users business processes can really help you carve out a niche. But you need to start the dialog, so just get something to market, and then listen hard.
Voltage Spike Send private email
Friday, June 01, 2007
 
 
Anonymous,

The number of responses suggests you've hit a nerve, and I've also been in a similar situation.  Several times I've been disheartened by a huge feature list on a competitor's website.  But when I downloaded the product I often found it was far too difficult to use (what a relief!). 

Just the *look* of the product can be an advantage.  I once showed a friend my application right next to a feature-packed competitor.  Immediately, without seeing any functionality, she said she'd prefer mine because it had the windows-XP look and cute icons, while the other still looked like a Windows 3.1 app.

If you have one useful feature that no-one else has, you have a great chance.  Look at the Nintendo Wii - its unique controller makes up for its low-spec console.

As others have said, get your product to market ASAP and listen to your customers' feedback - it's far more useful than watching the competition.

- Mark
Mark McLaren
Friday, June 01, 2007
 
 
As an owner of a dev shop at the age of 30 (I started my company when I was 27), competing in the financial services arena with little more going for me than consulting experience in that field and a hell of a lot of debt for buying a product which I developed for a previous employer, I can tell you the following:

LUCK does not count for jack diddly. You get out what you put in. The harder you work the smarter you get, which translates into "non-achievers" version of "luck".

When you are willing to take a chance and put you heart and soul into it, because you have almost fanatical belief in what you are trying to do, you will achieve something. You may not make $1Mil in a week, and you may even go out of business, but let me tell you something - no matter what happens; you will be experiencing something which will grow you as an individual like nothing else. You will be empowered forever because of it, and you will succeed eventually because you will get smarter ("luckier"), and all along you will be growing a network which no amount of money can buy.

Luck - BALLS, you get out there and take the risk and put your heart into it. From that perspective you will quite easily see that calling someone that has made it lucky is a grave insult, because you have no idea of what it took to get there.

Stop complaining, stop dreaming and start acting.

To post something relevant to the thread:

When you get that product idea, the first thing you must do is find a champion in the relevant field that your product is targeted at. Don't pretend to know the business as well as your champion does. Let your champion tell you what they want and build it. Negotiate a deal where they will never have to pay and you retain full ownership, and then pump your very solid product into the market with your champion’s full public endorsement. Your champion should be a recognised leader in the market you are targeting.

Unless you can find a champion which is willing to do all this WITH you, don't bother opening your IDE. If you can find your champion, and they are willing to go the distance with you - have faith and never stop believing in your product, because you have just achieved the hardest part. Now get it out there and sell like a champion
QA Shahini Send private email
Saturday, June 09, 2007
 
 

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