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Strategic insights
Success part 2

Written by on November 10, 2008

One of the main reasons why I don't like open-source is that it tries to compete in an already saturated market. It is like trying to make "an alternative to wine" in the wine districts of southern France. It is not going to work.

Note: While I am against much of the reasoning of open-source, I do approve the use of open-standards and open specifications.

We see the same with all these new search engines that are being made. People are trying to make "an alternative to Google", and guess what - they all fail. Being the "alternative" means that you will always end up in second place. The winner will always be the real deal.

Change the rules

If you want to be successful you need to dominate the market. You have to be the one who makes the product that other people tries to mimick.

Look at Apple and the iPhone. 3 years ago the mobile market was incredible saturated, and all the mobile manufacturers were struggling to bring out new fantastic phones with cool colors and shapes. It was probably the most difficult market to compete in.

So did Apple decide to create an alternative to this already saturated market? No of course not. They decided to change to rules. Instead of making the same type of phones that everyone else was making, they created a completely new type of mobile phone. Every other phone had keys, so Apple made one with none. They didn't try to create an alternative. They created a phone for which there was no competition. No other manufacturer made one like it.

...and yet, it was a mobile phone.

You have to do the same. Don't try to "copy" the concept and ideas of other people. If you want to create a site like Engadget, trying to be just like them isn't going to work. You have to change the rules, which, in turn, creates a new market.

When I first started to write articles here on, I did pretty much the same as most other people did. I wrote about usability, web standards and AJAX - just as most other sites. And, I was getting nowhere.

So I decided to change the rules. I decided that should not be "just another site about usability". I decided to write about "why you should create great products". I completely dropped doing what other people did.

That decision also comes with a risk, because I dropped the topics which, at the time, accounted for 75% of my traffic. But it is a risk that is worth taking.

Success takes a lot of time

There is another problem that stops most people from being successful and that is "time". Nothing happens overnight.

If you read the popular press, you might think that success happens instantly. You just need to have the good idea. And in a few, and very isolated cases, it does happen that way.

Remember They came online a few years ago, and instantly, in a few weeks time, went from zero to being in the top 50,000 on Alexa. They easily surpassed most other freelance sites in the world. It was one of these onetime wonders that we all talk about. Today, that same site has dropped considerably.

Another example. Remember the girl that got a record label contract with Justin Timberlake's company after singing on YouTube (via her webcam). It was really amazing. Where is that same girl today?

This is the problem with one-time wonders. They get a lot of press and we all notice them. Most of us think that we want to be just like them, and we start to dream for that seemingly effortless path to success.

But success doesn't really work that way. It is not like winning the lottery.

Google didn't make it overnight. They had to work in the garage for a few years, not earning that much money. It took them 3 years just to get started.

Or look at "President" Barack Obama. It took 21 months of hard dedicated work, not for one person but for millions of people, to get elected for President of the United States. And it took even longer to get to that point.

Success takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of work and dedication. It is rare that anyone gets anywhere, within the first year of doing something new. In fact it is rare that you will reach the point of success within the first three years.

If you are planning to be successful in order to be able to buy a new house next month... well... then you are probably looking to get very disappointed.

If you stick it out. If you are persistent, if you have a plan and are working on a concept that "feels right", then you can make a difference.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.


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