[TL;DR: The furnace is within.]
It usually happens a few weeks after you’ve started coding the idea. I’d be happily typing away in Vim, convinced that I’m building The Next Google, and then someone sends me a link.
I open it, and my heart sinks faster than Starship returning to earth. It’s a competitor, a company doing literally exactly what I’m doing.
Well, game over I guess. I wasn’t first to the small flag of innovation I was hoping to capture, so I’ll quit now. Hm. But should you? Here are some names of companies that were first:
Being first doesn’t matter. Being last matters. The existence of competitors should give you strength. It means you’re working on something that other people think is interesting, too. It also means that you’ll move faster; you have a virtual adversary to match with.
The “IP” of a company often isn’t software, it’s process. The brand, people, lingo, sales comp, and channel expertise is often what makes a company. The unwritten rules that make SpaceX employees feel like SpaceX employees. Look at Salesforce: it’s “just a database”. But it’s not. Salesforce has very specific culture that’s more important than it’s ACID model. Just like Brazil breeds good soccer players. Why? Many different reasons, I don’t know why. I’m not a soccer player, nor am I from Brazil. You get the idea.
Repeated failure might mean something. Failed competitors might mean the idea is bad. If you keep on seeing people try to do a thing, and you yourself are doing the same thing, and none of the priors have been successful, well, you could learn something from that. At this point in the puzzle, I often hear folks describe a small reason why they’re different. “They sold pizza with pineapple, we’re doing pepperoni”. Just make sure the difference is powerful and substantial.
More often than not, the difference is the founding team. Many people can build nice landing pages; few can truly create a giant company. It’s possible you’re building the exact same thing as them, but you’ll just be faster and better. In ways that are hard to describe, like our point with GTM above.
So, in closing, it’s not the end of the world. Don’t be first, be last. Be best. Or, in the words of the great Al Davis:
“Just Win Baby”.