This is part two of a series. You can read the previous installment here or start at the beginning.

Does your idea exist already?

This sounds obvious, but in fact can be a tricky, and actually very important question. There’s more to it than just seeing if somebody has done exactly what you’re planning. Does something similar exist that can serve the same purpose? If it does, is the audience aware of this other product?

Imagine that your idea is a directory website for everything, where people can post themselves, their businesses, restaurants, maps, anything they want. Not a great idea for a myriad of reasons, but let’s say you did some research on it and found that Google exists. Is Google the same idea? Not exactly, but it serves the same purpose in what is frankly a much better way.

On the other side of the coin, let’s imagine that your idea is for a website to help people keep track of which movies they want to see. Say that doesn’t already exist, but there are a myriad of todo list apps out there. If the people who would use your app are just using a simple todo list for the same purpose, maybe you can offer some unique value that will make it worth it for them to switch. Even if a problem is already ‘mostly solved’, often times you can create something successful by adding your own twist. In that case it might still be worth it to pursue the idea as long as you can target your marketing effectively.

While it’s important to be aware of your competition, an idea is not necessarily bad just because it’s been done already (despite what folks will often tell you). It might be bad if it’s been done already and your take on it doesn’t offer anything unique, but that knowledge can help you to improve your implementation. As long as you’re aware of what else is out there, you can make an informed decision about what will make your version superior. Remember that Facebook came after Myspace and was able to completely take over the market by offering a different take on a similar idea.

On the surface, the ideas for Facebook and Myspace seem quite similar. However, Facebook was able to tweak its concept to such an extent that it became its own distinct, successful product.

On the surface, the ideas for Facebook and Myspace seem quite similar. However, Facebook was able to tweak its concept to such an extent that it became its own distinct, successful product.

Does it have a clear audience?

When it comes down to it, the purpose of any product is for people to use it. While that may seem obvious, we hear pitches all the time for products that we have a hard time imagining who would want to use them.

Knowing who you’re building for can have a huge impact on the product, and this is something we try to be hyper-aware of when developing something new with a client. Approaching from the perspective of your target audience is an excellent way to start fleshing out what truly makes your app great. Going back to our ‘movie tracker’ example from before, you know that there’s a specific group of people who want to use that application.

Simply, “people who like movies” is a very generic description of a potential audience, but we can make assumptions about that audience nonetheless. They probably spend time with other folks who like movies, so maybe the ability to share lists would be valuable. At the very least, we can guess that this is the kind of app that someone might want to be able to quickly add a movie to while on the go. A solid mobile interface is of great importance then and is maybe a feature that can set you apart from the competition.

In short, does the idea fit a specific group of people, or is it just something cool with few real world use cases? Clearly establish who your target audience is–that is, people who would actually want to use your application, and then put yourself in their shoes and look for similar or generic products which could satisfy the same need. If there are no existing products that satisfy the needs of these users, and if it’s a group that you can get the word out to, your product has passed this test. If you can’t point to a specific group of people who would get excited about your app, you should seriously consider if the app is worth building. 

Once you have identified your audience, you need to make sure it’s an audience that it’s possible to market to in a cost-effective way. In part 3 of our series, we’ll discuss what a marketable audience looks like in the software world, and tell you why the effectiveness of social media is totally overblown.

Next: Part 3 – Know Your Market
Previous: Part 1 – Initial Considerations

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