It’s perfectly fine for teams – and a whole lot of them to start off with the same, and familar starting point. The key is to ensure you have an original path beyond that. That burden, is no one’s but that of the founding team.
I imagine that a few centuries ago, before we learnt how to document things, or copy en masse, innovation and inventions were at the peak. Heck, its even fair to say that inventions and the spirit of it, is what drove the industrial revolution, and gave it, its steam (pun intended).
I wonder, if some of this was possible because early ideas didn’t get shot down by someone who thought they were similar. Its perhaps the reason why we have parogies, momos and samosas (all of which, in essence are very similar). I strongly believe that the connected world, has, and does hinder the nurturing of many ideas – either everyone starts chasing the same duck, or people start giving up on problems even before they are solved because they think someone else with better access to capital and resources is on it and they don’t stand a chance, only to realize that that team didn’t get to it either.
What I often notice when entrepreneurs pitch a solution, is how the audience judges the problem and moreso the solution and compares it to the first thing on their mind and asks if its similar. Truth is, it is, and its not. These are also not solutions which have attained critical mass (building a search engine to take on google right now, would be a silly endeavor), but shutting down a thought process, because there is another spark out there, makes no sense.
We need to cultivate many sparks. And as long as one hasn’t turned into a wildfire, there still is an opportunity to cater to the market. The creative mind needs space to breathe and to think through a problem, and evolve – and the starting point in most cases is a place where the mind is familiar with, and oft times the starting point will look familiar. Things that are out of the world – aren’t starting points – they are usually milestones of a much older thought process, and such ideas also run the risk of being ahead of time, or being repulsed.
So if you want to be useful, hear out the problem statement – if its valid, then give the solution a try. Just as we tried google despite there being altavista and yahoo and dogpile, just as we tried facebook despite there being orkut, friendster and meebo, just as we tried flipkart despite there being a thousand other clones, what you can do as someone *constructive* is to focus on the problem being solved, validate, and give it a try. Give yourself a chance to be pleasantly surprised.
If you are an entrepreneur, remember that you get leeway as long as it is a familiar starting point. But be original and while a “fast follow” is a strategy of its own, you want to be focused in solving the problem in your own way. Be a bit reclusive in your thoughts, and be different. Ensure that you leave behind something that is uniquely you in this world – its a journey of a lifetime, and take your time.