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61 Comments

Why are we all reinventing wheels?

I feel like every founder these days is just adding minor tweaks to products that already exist. It feels pointless.

I'm not pointing fingers — I do the same thing. Waiting for a truly unique idea might be a long, long wait.

So, serious question, what's the point? Why do we keep reinventing wheels?

Is it just about making some money and having freedom? Or do you actually feel that these tweaks will make life easier for users?

  1. 1

    It's like Moore's Law. We/consumers expect services and products' capability to increase and improve every couple of years.

    Think about BlackBerry Messenger and Whatsapp. BlackBerry Messager was exclusive only for BlackBerry users then Whatsapp came with precisely the same technology and product only diffrent Whatsapp was supporting all devices (iOS, Android, and BB). One of the main reasons to buy BlackBerry was not there anymore. Then BlackBerry users started to use Whatsapp as well to connect with their friends and family who had other devices. After Whatsapp have won the messenger war they started looking into something big like free calls, group chat, and Whatsapp Businesses.

    In short, it's more than a unique idea comparison, other reasons to make your idea unique are price, user experience, service, brand, industry-focused, etc.

  2. 15

    It's not reinventing if we are just adding minor tweaks, is it?

    As Fleur mentioned, that's how things evolve and get better in time.

    There is demand and the supply adjusts accordingly. Market is huge and getting a fraction from the pie is more than enough in many cases.

    These tweaks can work for both, making some money while improving user experience. Without making their life easier, there won't be any money to be made.

  3. 11

    This is how products/services/technologies/etc. evolve. I get that it feels pointless, but it's actually a necessary part of the process.

  4. 1

    I think a huge component in this is the education that you gain even if you are reinventing the wheel as you say. There are absolutely other factors at play and I would argue that the primary motive (at least for myself) is to gain more control over my time. But that requires an understanding of how to bring a product into the world that creates value for users. And that requires a significant amount of personal investment into building things that may turn out to be reinventing the wheel.

    Yet, the fact of the matter is that by doing so, you are putting yourself into the arena. To many that's more valuable than opting out of doing something just because it's a better mousetrap.

  5. 5

    I think you're looking at it a little wrong.
    All inventions made in the past have been based on what existed before.

    Take a car as an example.
    Before there were cars, people drove around in carriages and if you look at the first cars, they were nothing more than carriages with an engine.
    The engine of a car is also not an invention that came "out of nowhere".

    Everything we have today and call a new invention is built on the knowledge of previous inventions. So one is always reinventing the wheel.

    1. 2

      Completely agree. You will always find something that came before.

    2. 1

      That's true for sure... but for the sake of argument, I'd say that carriages to cars is a little different than, say, Buffer to Hootsuite.

      1. 3

        Comparing Buffer to Hootsuite is the same as comparing BMW to Audi.

        Both are companies that basically sell the same product, but with different requirements that the customer wants to be served.

        I think from your post that you are not really motivated to work on a project because everything you come up with always seems like it is unnecessary because there are already dozens of solutions for the problem.

        That's exactly the problem I've had for at least the last few years.
        I was always looking for an idea that was new and not just something of the same.

        Believe me, you won't find it.

        Real new inventions come from working on already known solutions and as unsatisfying as it sounds, it's the only way to really create something new.

        It's like a painter standing in front of a blank canvas.
        No matter what he thinks about, everything has already been painted. So what's the point of painting a new picture at all?

        Think about it.

        1. 1

          I totally resonate with this. I guess that's one of the things that stops me from thinking of an idea and taking action on it.

          How did you overcome this though? @ChristianLutz

          1. 1

            Just try to keep your focus on the things you can influence.

            It doesn't make sense to create a product for a market that doesn't exist anyway.

        2. 1

          I like what you said about the painting... perhaps framing it as art is the secret. If I'm building a product that already exists, it feels pointless. But if I'm creating a piece of art, then the fact that it has my own brush strokes might be enough, even if it's similar to someone else's painting.

  6. 4

    I like to think of it as evolution.

    It's just tiny changes over time that make a more robust system.

  7. 4

    To make it easier for users. Uber did nothing than reinventing Taxis, but with a minor tweak: an app that can be used anywhere in the world! Same goes for DeliveryHero for instance - You could have just called at any restaurant and get your food delivered. They reinvented that with a minor tweak: An app.

    So, it does pay off reinventing the wheel and adding minor tweaks sometimes. (Of course it heavily depends on the scope of such things, for taxis and food deliveries, this minor tweak made a very big difference)

    1. 1

      Yeah, but those are big jumps. Taxi vs Uber makes sense. But what's the point of Uber vs Lyft, for example? Is either one really adding that much value?

      1. 1

        If it wasn't, they wouldn't have so many users.

        What's the difference between Netflix (which is crashing) and it's competitors. Sometimes the answer is as simple as pricing, and yes pricing matters a lot! If you can provide a service with similar quality but at a lower price, it's an achievement.

  8. 4

    Just trying to make a living on my own schedule. I'll reinvent wheels all day long if I have to!

  9. 3

    Pretty much everything is a re-invented wheel.

    • Look at all the different car companies making pretty much the same thing.
    • Look at Nike, Adidas, Under Armour etc
    • Look at all the drinks companies all making again, effectively the same thing

    To answer your question, in my opinion, the reason we're all re-inventing wheels is because thats what consumers want.

    • Can you imagine there was only one project management SaaS?
    • Can you imagine there was only one social network?
    • Can you imagine there was only one video editing platform?

    Etc etc etc ad infinitum

    1. 1

      Totally agree that everything is a re-invented wheel. That's kinda my point... why are there so many freakin wheels?

      But yeah, I think you're right that consumers want to be able to choose between very similar things.

  10. 3

    I don't remember who said this, but 99% of tech products were tried in the dot.com bubble.

    Pure innovation and novelty are astonishingly hard and rare, but progressive improvements are much easier.

  11. 2

    Everything is a Remix

    Even if there is something similar you can always improve it by: quality, price, niche, and design.
    Also something that didn't work 5 years ago. Could now, and so on.

    My side project is a remix of @harrydry Marketing Example, @andreboso Zero to Marketing and @brettwill1025 DesignJoy.
    And IMO it's totally fine.

    Conversion Design

  12. 2

    That is actually how evolution works. Nothing is perfect once created initially, so it requires continuous effort to feedback <-> action loop to live. IMO that process is unavoidable.
    And regarding "pointless" I feel it depends on how you look at it. An awareness that you improve stuff that matters for you and for others doesn't sound pointless to me.

    1. 1

      Yeah, it doesn't have to feel that way, you're right.

  13. 1

    Good question. I started thinking about this when I saw a premium juice dispenser hit the market a few years ago (it's since gone bust). Just some ridiculous marginal products.
    I think it depends on two things.
    The first is the line that we draw between ideas that aren't worth pursuing and ideas that are. The reduction in entry barriers for businesses has drastically fallen over the last 10-15 years, which means the level of risk taken when starting a business falls. This lower risk makes it more appealing for entrepreneurs (or pseudo-entrepreneurs) to pursue a business idea with the intention of taking it all the way only if it's successful.
    The second is the level of entrepreneurial motivation that the overall population has. Entrepreneurship has become more romanticized over the last 5-10 years, especially with the rise of celebrity entrepreneurs, and it makes it more appealing for non-entrepreneurs to try their hand at starting a company. As you said, waiting for a truly unique idea takes a long time—so it's easier to build a product that boasts a marginal advantage against the status quo rather than innovate something completely new.

  14. 1

    Well, making something completely new and revolutionary is near-impossible nowadays for so many of us to do, since everything we need basically exists, but it just needs to be perfected.
    As a human race, we are never satisfied, so there is always more to improve and make. If you are making the process of something easier, faster, more accessible, or more efficient than you are essentially doing the best that anybody can ask for.
    Think of how many times the wheel's been modified and perfected for different situations?

    1. 1

      I don't disagree with that.

  15. 1

    I agree, recommended reading:

    • Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

    Are you making something better, faster, cheaper? What is your competitive advantage? What is hard or impossible for others to copy? What’s your niche?

    Being a copycat isn’t cool. What’s your differentiator? Anyway…

    1. 1

      I just wish the "differentiators" were a little more "different". They tend to be so minor and/or non-existent.

    2. 1

      Just finished reading chapter 6 and I have already learned a ton.

      1. 2

        Awesome! Recommended reading after that is http://momtestbook.com/

  16. 1

    I imagine re-inventing the wheel can be a good baby step towards creating something truly innovative because you're going back to the fundamentals and have a chance to catch something others have missed which can evolve into something greater down the line.

    It's probably quite risky doing something really new as there's a lot of "uncertains" stacked on-top of one another (uncertain market, uncertain technology, uncertain problems etc.)

    1. 1

      Yep, that's definitely true.

  17. 1

    It is not about features, it is about execution!

  18. 1

    I just want to say from the developer perspective that reinventing wheels is not a problem.

    The problem is the tools that we use for this and stack what we use. The same product developed with different tools (frameworks, templates, UI libs and so on) can looks and feels different.

    And from companies perspective, we must do it fast and quality - productive they said.

    So here no time and place for creativity. A bit of founders want to wait years while creative developers will make product from scratch with no templates and frameworks.

    I even do not talk about no-code...

    So, we lost authenticity and uniqueness. The most looks the same... No wow effect when visiting site...

  19. 1

    I think it's sometimes only the title of the products which sounds like something is being repeated.

    For example I'm building and alternative for Heroku on AWS. It might sound like the same thing but it's rally far from that.

  20. 1

    We always need alternatives.
    If not us, it could be someone else.

  21. 1

    I think all the wheels you mention are a direct result of everyone having their own perspective. Wheels look different and therefore different wheels are derived as they're 'cloned' from one creator to the next.

  22. 1

    I disagree. On the outside, it might seem like a small tweak to you but on the inside it might be something that's really meaningful to the target marketing. Seen many cases where I've been like: Only if they do X thing in a slightly different way, I'd definitely use them.

  23. 1

    I guess real, game-changing innovation is pretty rare. There can only be certain moments when you can make a product that changes everything. Think about the last three decades. Right at the start of the Internet there was huge opportunity for doing something big. Even ten years ago, you might argue, things were still fluid. Now - it's settled down. The internet has a very clear structure (to me) which seems hard to disrupt. Maybe a new technology is invented tomorrow which changes that, and THERE is it the chance for a truly unique idea.

    Otherwise, like everybody else has rightly said, tweaking is evolution. Perfecting products.

  24. 1

    For someone who created yet another SEO tool in a market with 200 competitors (literally) I feel that pain.

    Especially since I love creativity.

    What I found though, is that there is sooo much room to stand out because 90% of those 200 competitors are just trying to copy each other. At least it looks like that with all due respect.

    So even if I am reinventing the SEO wheel I made the choice to at least actually reinvent it, and not just copy competitors. And that feels good.

    Even if I am not currently inventing a reusable rocket.

    1. 2

      What makes you think you're not reinventing the wheel instead of just copying + adding something? What makes you think a big % of those competitor didn't think the same you did?

      1. 2

        Are you actually curious or do you feel like I am being arrogant and now challenge my beliefs? Because I can see how what I wrote comes across as arrogant or even douchy. I was a bit fast there!

        I could write up an answer but I would like to understand your motivation for asking those questions first.

        1. 1

          Nice reflection from your side actually that got me to stop🌟 , I personally didn't see get you as arrogant but I would challenge your stance here, how do you go about reinventing SEO?

          1. 2

            OK :) I do feel a bit ashamed of my own comment though. I don't like to talk the other nice SEO tools down, and I kinda did that here.

            We gamified SEO. You get XP and level up by completing automatically suggested tasks. We call those missions. They are semi-intelligent and based on deep data. Soon they will be fully intelligent ;)

            As you level up you will also be awarded free physical stuff like free T-shirts and a spacesuit (our theme is space farming - longer story) - just for lulz but also to build a community.

            Our health section in the tool is like a to-do list where you can scan single problems or pages you fixed and get that instant green checkmark. This created some "addiction" among our users that I am actually not too proud of.

            It's not a revolution, but in my view, a clear evolution. Many of our customers never touched SEO and got amazing results by just following the Missions and health guides in our tool.

            SEO experts also use our tool because they are hooked on how it's fun to use and like to be part of our small (800 customers) but growing community.

            Sorry if this became a bit salesy. It was a bit hard to stop myself :D

            1. 1

              That sounds interesting, so you are actually reinventing the user experience around SEO as far as I can tell. Btw, It's not salesy, we are here to support and learn from each other .. best of luck

              1. 1

                Cool that you think that and thanks :)

                I see you are based in Amsterdam. Me too (I just moved here)! Any tips on a good physical startup/growth network or meetup?

    2. 1

      So even if I am reinventing the SEO wheel I made the choice to at least actually reinvent it, and not just copy competitors. And that feels good

      That's interesting, thanks for sharing!

  25. 1

    To have new things, there need to be 9 failed projects for every one that succeeds.

    Sure, 90% of what's going on right now might seem like needlessly reinventing the wheel. But 10% (or maybe even less) will give you a slightly improved wheel. And that's how progress works.

  26. 1

    For devs, rebuilding the wheel is oftentimes more fun than building the actual product.

    1. 1

      I do not agree. Maybe for juniors, it is true, but for engineers with 15+ years in the tech, rebuilding makes them grind their teeth.

      1. 1

        I'd agree if one is working for a company where they have to rebuild from scratch, but indie hackers I know, even devs with many years of experience, find more fun in the building the wheel side than the actual product side.

  27. 1

    I like to think I am adding value, by organizing all the chemical data we collected so far so we can analyze it.

    https://github.com/Sulstice/global-chem

    I was actually going to file my software code as a non-profit organization so the data and analysis is open to the public.

  28. 1

    Do you have examples? Like maybe S2? or D1? Is that what you mean? Or how like there is GCP, AWS, and Azure? Do you only like the "new" things? Few things really are both horizontal markets and low competition -- which is to say land grabs.

  29. 1

    You stand a much better chance with something already proven useful than creating something new. Not super romantic but shit.

    1. 1

      Hah, yeah that's true.

  30. 1

    The biggest challenge when building as an indie hacker is getting paying users, so if you have a couple of examples that work I guess people just try to replicate it

  31. 1

    The iterative approach is useful and revolutionary

    1. Facebook came after Myspace (Facebook was only marginally better, with Myspace experiencing lots of issues with downtime and fake accounts)
    2. Tesla (a "tweak" to conventional ICE cars)
    3. SpaceX (a "tweak" in process to conventional, large aerospace giants that decreased cost and increased rapid reusability)
    4. iPhone (a tweak to terrible BlackBerry's)
    5. Google (a tweak and improvement over Google)
    6. AirBnb (a tweak and business model improvement to the conventional hotel space)
    1. 1

      Did you mean to say Yahoo in #5? Btw valid points and I agree. We increment our way to innovation, we rarely do it exponentially without stepping. This is in Peter Thiels book zero to one.

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