Do “Original” Business Ideas Really Exist?

For most people making the decision to start a business, one of the key considerations of the type of business they should open is whether there is a gap in the market. The mantra is continual; you have to find an original business idea. You have to do something that no one has ever done before. You have to find your USP and capitalise on it.

These pieces of advice seem to make sense, or at least, they may superficially make sense. Starting a business that is little more than a clone of an existing business is not a good idea. This is even truer if you would be cloning a business that is bigger, more powerful, and more established than your startup could ever be.

Or at least, that’s the accepted idea… but what if the truth is far murkier?

The question of originality

This basic rule of business — do something different — is actually rather restrictive. In business, originality is nice, but it’s far from something that is easily achieved. There is a finite supply of good business ideas; many businesses take what others have done before them, refine the process, and profit.

This might sound surprising, but it’s a simple fact of business: original ideas don’t really exist. If a company is truly unique and innovative, then someone else will come along and duplicate what they can to try and capture some of that success for themselves. Take, for example, how Instagram launched its “Stories” feature, which is little more than a direct rip-off of Snapchat. Did Instagram care that their idea wasn’t original? No; they cared about increasing their user base— and their ruthlessness bore fruit.

Business models aren’t original either

The same is true of an entire business model. Amazon, for example, were not the first ever ecommerce store— they aren’t the originator of the idea that you can sell goods and services online. Instead, Amazon took the basic idea of ecommerce and improved it.

When they did, Amazon improved their own business, but they also began to define the entire industry. Other ecommerce stores learned from Amazon’s success and sought to emulate it for themselves. This is a trend that continues today; if you want to be ecommerce retailer, then you can click here to learn from the biggest in the business, and adopt the same techniques for your own ecommerce efforts. This kind of sharing, of “copying” popular ideas, is actually just part and parcel of business. It’s why companies analyse their competition; not because they’re curious or they particularly care how much their competitors are making, but because they want to know if there’s anything they can copy!

So where does this leave originality?

Frankly, originality doesn’t do too well when measured against the reality of the business world. Sure, there may be some businesses that are totally unique, but these are few and far between. The rest are just versions of one another; the same basic principle fine-tuned for a specific market or niche.

As a result, if you’re struggling for a USP, stop struggling. Instead, ask yourself what you can do well. If that’s the same thing that other businesses are already doing, that’s okay— as long as you don’t infringe intellectual property, there’s nothing to stop you offering the same services or product in a different way. Instead, focus on producing the best version of the business that you can. When it comes to business, originality — surprisingly enough — is often overrated.


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