I spend a lot of time thinking about potential start up ideas. I come up with a couple every now and then, but when I go searching online there is always quite a few competitors. I don't think I've come up with an idea that no one has already thought of. Because of this I've been deterred from starting anything. Now I'm thinking I should look at the competition and decide if it is worth competing in the idea space. What should one look for when trying to determine if it is worth competing in an idea space?
For example, I recently thought of innovative support software, but when I looked around I found that sites like Zendesk and Snap Engage (and probably quite a few more) are already implementing the things I was thinking of doing. Based on the quality of those products, and the amount of competitors, it doesn't seem like a space that is worth trying to compete in.
Well turn the problem around: can you think of a SINGLE startup that became big and that started something no one else was doing before? The goal of entrepreneurship is to build a company that grows so big that at one point it stops being called a startup. And how do you grow to become a large company? By executing in a growing market and doing it better than other competitors, both in terms of the product offered and the distribution strategy.
Besides, if you think of an idea that no one else is doing, that might mean there's no market for it, or that you're too early in the market. Do you want to be the one educating new customers? Here's the Inc. list of the 500 fastest growing companies. The top-ranked company does payment processing: do you think that had never been done before they started? All these companies are operating in fast-moving markets; it's just that they do a better job than others, mostly by innovating. Note that innovating and inventing are two different things: innovating is about taking something that's already been invented, and making it work. Instagram wasn't the first picture-sharing company; it's just that they innovated by allowing users to apply filters to their pictures. Stackoverflow wasn't the first QA site; it's just that they made one that works. Find broken stuff in growing markets, make something that works and then scale it. And while it seems that everything you look at is already fixed, there is and always will be plenty of stuff that sucks; it's just that you never hear about things that suck. Just pick a growing space where you think your expertise will enable you to outperform others and do a better job than they're doing. That's when to compete.
PS: You're not alone: quite a few investors also think like you do.
Frenchie says it well.
Facebook wasn't the first to market in Social Networking, neither is Google for Search, nor Apple for Device maker, nor Microsoft for Operating systems, nor Firefox for browsers, not Starbucks for Coffee, nor Southwest for Airlines, nor Nordstrom for Retail store, you get the idea..
Start up is about getting the right team, and solve a problem, not necessarily THE problem.
First to Market has an additional job of creating the market, which is a heavy Marketing budget initiative, unless you got unlimited cash to throw at educating the customer, you might actually be better off serving the customers, where there are existing products.
World is a large place with a Couple of Billion population, Companies the size of Google Search also share with Equally big competitors like Baidu, and both have a decent sized market for themselves.
Learn to Share the world and Eat your pie.
First and foremost is categorizing the idea into 2 domains - one that no one has already thought of and other is the one a few others are doing but not as good as your supra-intelligent brain can think of.
In the first scenario the road is tougher than it sounds or looks, heck! you don't even know if there is a road or not. Because no one has tried that before. I had an idea about something that will cater to needs of millions, but there is no such product/platform today. So, is this a boon? No. It's a curse, because there is no market for it. I think if you are foraying into a market that doesn't exist then you have 2 tasks to do to make your product successful - 1.Create that market. 2. Build a good product & all the other things you anyway need to make a good venture.
Now thinking about the other option, when you have something in your mind in the space which has been already ventured by someone else, you at least know that the market is right there! There are some people already aware about such products/services and paying for the products/services. All you need to do is to build a better product/service. You essentially eliminate the 1st hurdle and if you ask me that is a tougher one than the 2nd one. When people left Orkut and joined Facebook, they took no time to understand what it is all about. But Orkut and MySpace had a tough time making understand people that you can connect socially over a computer.
Coming back to your question:
What should one look for when trying to determine if it is worth
competing in an idea space?