With over 7 billion people on this planet today (not to mention their predecessors) -- there just aren't that many original ideas any more. Maybe there never were-Marconi and Tesla both claimed to independently invent the radio over a hundred years ago, and debate still rages today over which man can claim the actual honor.
But even knowing this, there's nothing worse than the sinking feeling that comes when you realize someone else has built what you felt was your idea. Unless there's a clear case of corporate espionage, there's not much you can do about it (and even then you may be out of luck)-but that doesn't mean you have to give up and go home. Here are a few ways to cope when someone else makes your dream a reality.
1. Remember that ideas are generally worth nothing without execution. After all, Facebook wasn't the first social network-you can trace the concept back through MySpace, Friendster, Makeout Club, and all the way to clunky chat rooms in the eighties and nineties. Mark Zuckerberg didn't do anything new, at least on the macro level-he just did it better than everyone else, and also wasn't burdened with pre-existing corporate bloat.
Even if someone else has launched your idea, it doesn't mean they've launched it well. No product is perfect, and if you can quickly figure out your competitor's weaknesses, you can put yourself in a stronger position. Remember that being too early in a market can be just as bad as being too late-location-based social app Foursquare's original product, Dodgeball, was well designed and built, but released before everyone had a smartphone and could check in easily. Being a later player can often be an asset, if the timing is right, as it can give people the chance to get comfortable with the idea of your product, and start seeing flaws in earlier apps-you can slide in with something familiar that also improves on things that already exist.
If you're strategic, you can also leverage the momentum your competition brings to the space and ride the wave yourself (without spending your own money!).
2. Define what differentiates you. At its core, Dash Radio is a platform for listening to music online, just like hundreds of others out there already. When we created Dash, we made sure to include elements that would set it apart: it's curated by trusted sources, not machines; it's not snobby or too-cool-for-school; it's not owned by a gigantic corporation with obligations to major labels and doesn't have any ulterior motives or goals. We believe there's a huge audience out there for people who just want to discover great music without feeling lame for not loving some obscure Shoreditch grime act's new side project.
3. Keep moving forward-and know when to pivot. The worst thing you can do is simply throw in the towel and shuffle back to the cubicle with your tail between your legs. Maybe you need to pivot and rethink your concept, and that's fine.
Chances are you don't remember Odeo, a podcast app that faced near-certain death when Apple announced it was including a podcasting platform in the iPod. Rather than give up, Odeo's team began brainstorming and holding hackathons to see what they could come up with, and eventually an idea began to take shape. Odeo pivoted into a little product called Twitter, and the rest is 140 characters of history.
Look, watching others claim your great idea is their invention is never fun. But keep in mind that it can be a blessing in disguise, and more importantly, don't give up. Everything always works itself out in the end.