I’ve noticed an interesting pattern in software recently which, when analyzed, shows just how much opportunity there actually is out there right now:
Someone writes a piece of software to solve a particular problem.
- If it’s successful, several competing products are released.
- Driven by competition, each version becomes more and more complex and feature rich. Competition tends to be based primarily on features rather than price.
- Eventually one emerges as the winner. Nobody else bothers trying to compete anymore because the idea of implementing so many features is daunting. The victor becomes a de facto standard, and often makes obscene amounts of money.
- Someone eventually gets tired of being locked into a single overly complex solution, and creates a simple and disruptive alternative. It’s usually cheap or free, and it sparks an entirely new wave of innovation.
Several things may happen next, including:
- A lot of internal memos get sent around.
- A lot of people lose their jobs or quit.
- A lot of other people make a lot of money.
- We start using terms like "2.0" and "paradigm shift".
I’m not a venture capitalist, or a rich and successful entrepreneur, but for what it’s worth, here’s my advice:
- If you’re passionate about something, don’t be afraid to reinvent it. A successful idea doesn’t have to be an entirely new idea. It just has to solve a specific problem, and it has to be simple.
- Solve your own problems, and you’ll probably end up solving other peoples’ problems, too. If you find a particular piece of software too complicate, bloated, buggy, expensive, etc., more than likely, so do thousands of others.
- Start simple. Solve one problem, and solve it very efficiently and effectively. Don’t worry about adding all the other features. That happens once you’re successful and competitors start closing in.
- If you’re the one on top and you want to stay that way, try unseating yourself before someone else does it. Hire or assemble a small agile team of visionaries, give them some space, and challenge them with toppling you. If they’re smart, and if they can truly distance themselves from your existing corporate culture, they will tap into the inevitable pent up frustration over your product and create something potentially disruptive, revolutionary, and probably alarmingly simple. You might as well — chances are, someone else out there is already doing the exact same thing.