Lessons I learned from my competition

Sep 27 2013

One of the first things I do when researching solutions at the Reese News Lab is to check if it’s been tried before. Especially when you’re working within restraints like, say, “relevant to the journalism industry,” it’s likely that someone else has tried to solve that problem, too.

When I first started working here, this seemed utterly discouraging. “Oh,” I’d think, “It’s already been done.” And I’d move on to the next idea. However, I’ve come to realize that discovering your competitors can be just the beginning.

In fact, finding out that your idea has competitors can be a good thing. Analyzing competitors can show you new opportunities for your idea. You may find competitors with ideas nearly identical to your own, or you might find that they’ve attacked the problem from a different direction altogether. Either way, you can learn from their approaches.

Here’s an example. This semester, I’m working with a group on what is essentially a job-search website with a twist: Our website will work exclusively with graphic design students and the employers who want to hire them. To get an idea of the market for this idea, I looked for any type of service that might work with the same groups.

These competitors ranged from general freelance job websites, to freelance job sites for graphic designers, to one job site that also specifically targets students. Then, I looked at their websites and tried to understand every step of the process involved in using these services, and how that would look through the eyes of our target market. To supplement my own perusal, I looked up any reviews or reports about these services to see what actual user experiences were like. What was missing? What was helpful?

Looking at these currently available services helped us realize that users, both employers and freelancers, were often overwhelmed by the number of listings on general purpose websites. Additionally, many of the filter options were too technical and confusing for employers who may not know the exact type of graphic they might want. These are important factors that may prevent people from using our competitors’ services, and thus they are also important to us as we continue developing our product.

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