In the last decade or so we’ve seen some phenomenal businesses and fortunes created on the Internet. But despite the opportunities, a lot of us have been standing on the sidelines, watching the online world pass us by.
Just like sports fans that go to football games wearing their favorite teams jerseys, sometimes we harbor the fantasy that we might actually get a chance to play. After all, who among us couldn’t have thought of Facebook? Besides the fact that it was a blatant rip off of MySpace, it’s really just the online version of those slam books we all passed around in junior high school. We’d fold back the pages and scribble in who we liked, whom we wanted to kiss and who our friends were. The only thing missing was the Internet. And Farmville.
How about eBay? Its founders took the concept of the flea market or the bazaar, the world’s oldest business (okay, the world’s second oldest business) and combined it with the power of the Internet. And Google? The original company was just a digital version of Mrs. Kradish, my elementary school librarian, who knew where absolutely everything was kept.
Maybe I’m thinking too big. Maybe the idea of creating the next Facebook, eBay, Google, Twitter or Foursquare is too daunting. Well then, what about Words With Friends? This is the totally addicting mobile application that lets you play a Scrabble-like game (“Scrabble-like” is the creators’ description) with friends or strangers around the world. The game’s popularity took off on 10/5/09 when John Mayer tweeted that Words With Friends “is the new Twitter.” Significantly, the game was created by Paul and David Bettner, entrepreneurial brothers who have nothing to do with the original Scrabble folks, Milton Bradley (hence the “Scrabble-like” description).
Could you have thought of putting Scrabble on an iPhone? Of course you could.
But maybe I’m still thinking too big. In that case, look at QAT. Here’s an iPhone app Josh Snyder created for Words With Friends players (cheaters?) that allows users to look up two and three letter words such as AA, BA, FA, QI, XI, SUQ, TEG and SHH. In this case, the creator simply took information available from any Scrabble dictionary and repurposed it as an iPhone app that sells for $0.99. Creating the app wasn’t the trick, seeing the need for it was.
C’mon, we both know you could have thought of QAT. And you’ve probably got a Scrabble dictionary on your bookshelf. Maybe you couldn’t have programmed the application to run on an iPhone, but you know it wouldn’t have taken much to get it done.
But that’s the way it is with good ideas. We’ve all got them but few of us have the time, guts, resources or plain old gumption to see them through to fruition. And all too often, even though the great idea is kicking us in the shins, we just don’t look down long enough to see it. Or as Marshall McLuhan wrote, “I don’t know who discovered water but it certainly wasn’t a fish.”
Technology has flattened the playing field, democratized distribution and created room for each great new idea you can think of. So take a hint from Volkswagen’s iconic ad and Think Small. If there’s something you want or need, chances are others want it too. And like planting an oak tree, the best time to do it is 10 years ago. Or today.