Like a sitcom that claims to be the next Friends, any move you make that sets high expectations is likely to lead to a letdown.
The same goes for the hype behind the new entrepreneurism trend and the empty optimism of untested entrepreneurial consultants: Indeed, those people are sending more and more new companies crashing into the abyss.
Take, for example, the perceived brilliance of the Internet of Things. Many companies have copied the success of Nest and Amazon Dash. However, hype dies quickly, and today’s big fad will quickly change, causing a huge misallocation of resources and money.
The idea of cashing in on fads and excitement is alluring, but creating a product that customers love must go deeper than trending topics.
The perks of being a wallflower
Why would someone use your exact clone of Instagram or YikYak when folks can simply join all their friends and contacts on the original product? Trying to fit in with the cool kids makes your company invisible. Creating your own value and staying true to your goals is the only way to make a lasting impact.
Even if you put excess time into building a product inspired by a fad, you can’t simply add one or two new features and call it done. If you do one thing differently from Instagram, what’s to stop the big guys from adding that same feature and making you irrelevant yet again?
The history of the app market is littered with the corpses of apps that wanted to do the “one thing” a market leader didn’t, only to be left in the dust with the leader’s next update.
Creating a standout product
So what’s the answer? Does everything need to be 100 percent original, with no inspiration from what’s hot on the market? Of course not. Because, nothing is new under the sun, right? Here are a few ways to stop following trends — and start leveraging them.
1. Survey the industry landscape.
Take a look at the market around you. What’s working? What’s failing? Get to know the landscape and practice predicting future movements. Over time, you will develop an innate sense of market expectations.
With this insight, you will have the upper hand to drive trends instead of blindly following along. Chatbots may be cool now, but Microsoft shot itself in the foot when its much-hyped bot Tay began spewing racist garbage. Proper research and prep will help you avoid such major pitfalls.
2. Study problems, not solutions.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that apps like Instagram, Twitter or YikYak picked superfluous solutions devoid of real pain points. Look for problems that aren’t being solved, and look for the simplest, most succinct way to solve that problem.
Focus on how you solve the problem — rather than just creating a cool new toy. Instagram solved a problem for the visually inclined and created a community customers loved. It wasn’t copying Facebook; it created a new landscape entirely.
3. Optimize for usefulness.
Be honest with yourself about whether your product is useful. Yes, you can make Instagram for dogs — but is it an app that dog-lovers will feel the need to open every day? Your job is to build a destination product that people go to time and again.
Look at Theranos, the biomedical company that loomed large before a lawsuit left it mired in the muck. The Theranos team placed a higher priority on hype than on its product’s actual viability, allowing a serious lawsuit to kill it before it ever hit the market.
When you find that spark of usefulness yourself, don’t waste your time creating a fancy business plan or bloated PR pitch. Stick with documenting the most basic and essential elements of your business: the problem you’re solving, the solution, the market and your goals. Then get to work.
4. Scratch an itch for a niche.
If you’re going after a specific market segment, make sure that niche isn’t already served by the market leader. Instagram for dog photos isn’t really helpful when millions of people use Instagram to look at photos of dogs.
Find an interesting angle on the subject, whether conceptually or interface-wise. Tinder was like any other dating application but created a ground-breaking, simple interface that users loved. Never rely on a “unique brand” to set your product apart. That strategy takes years — and millions of dollars — to pan out.
Becoming the next Steve Jobs would be awesome. Who doesn’t look good in a black turtleneck? What’s more, a world of Jobs-like leaders would be a sad world indeed. Stop cashing in on trends, and focus on bringing your unique skills, insight and solutions to the game. You can always go buy that black turtleneck later.