Q&A: Would you start a start up idea/company which is already started by someone?

Would you start a start up idea/company which is already started by someone?

Response by Mohan K, Editor @ MyDigitalStartup.net


Many startups and entrepreneurs struggle with the question you ask. It comes down to what you are trying to do: innovate with a completely new idea or execute really well on an idea that may already be out there.

Many successful businesses have used this approach where the entrepreneur feels s/he can improve and sell a better mousetrap rather than developing a brand-new one from scratch.

The most widely cited example of this approach is the one adopted by Apple and Microsoft!

Windows 1.01 (1985)

In 1981 Xerox introduced a pioneering product, Star, a workstation incorporating many of PARC’s innovations. Although not commercially successful, Star greatly influenced future developments, for example at Apple, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems. According to History of the graphical user interface – Wikipedia

Apple: The comparatively simplified Macintosh, released in 1984 and designed to be lower in cost, was the first commercially successful product to use a multi-panel window interface. A desktop metaphor was used, in which files looked like pieces of paper. File directories looked like file folders.

Microsoft: Because most of the very early IBM PC and compatibles lacked any common true graphical capability (they used the 80-column basic text mode compatible with the original MDA display adapter), a series of file managers arose, including Microsoft’s DOS Shell, which features typical GUI elements as menus, push buttons, lists with scrollbars and mouse pointer.

In 1988, Apple sued Microsoft for copyright infringement of the LISA and Apple Macintosh GUI. The court case lasted 4 years before almost all of Apple’s claims were denied on a contractual technicality. Subsequent appeals by Apple were also denied. Microsoft and Apple apparently entered a final, private settlement of the matter in 1997.

The lessons here is obvious:

  • Developers of an original idea might protect it with patents or trademarks. Prepare yourself accordingly and tread cautiously
  • Know your strength: If your strength as an entrepreneur lies in execution excellence rather than original innovation, focus on your strength!
  • Know your competitors: Regardless of the approach you take, you really should know the market and your competitors

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