”Everybody is doing it” is a bad reason

People worry about starting projects in crowded spaces. Peter Thiel says competition is for losers($). Kevin Kelly, the founder of Wired magazine, says you should work on something nobody has a name for. Everybody wants to work on a new thing or do something that has never been done. 

However, for every company that created a category, there are more that entered crowded markets. Facebook was not the first social network, and Google was not the first search engine. This is as true for individual creators as it is for businesses. 

When does it make sense to go where others rush in? 

People have been concerned about crowded markets for centuries. Everybody was printing books after Gutenberg’s invention1. I’ve read that reducing the cost to create content reduces the value of all content created. By this logic, the mobile phone, which makes it easy to record audio and video, reduces the value of all created content. 

This isn’t true. In fact, the opposite happens. The more people can create content, the better the best content becomes. For example, it’s trivial to write and share a newsletter, but few do this as well as Byrne Hobartor Packy McCormick. Something else is happening. 

The lower barrier to entry creates new opportunities. It allows creators to differentiate themselves. Some do by finding a niche. For example, the most popular newsletters create content for a narrow niche, or 1000 true fans. At least they start there; Matt Levine’s newsletter is for finance nerds but has gone mainstream

There is also the opportunity to differentiate by providing higher quality or a different approach to solving the problem. Google developed a better way to search by analyzing the relationship between websites. Facebook took advantage of network density and engagement in US college campuses. 

The next time you walk away from something because “many people are doing it”, remind yourself that is not a good enough reason. There is second order question to ask about if you can differentiate yourself in this space

  1. Fifteen million books were printed in the first 42 years of the movable printing press, more than have been printed in the preceding 1000 years. https://www.uh.edu/engines/indiana.htm ↩︎

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