I'm really enjoying Andrew Razeghi's new blog. He's one of my favorite professors from Kellogg. One of the top five things I remember from Kellogg is his phrase, "Good ideas are never lonely." What he means is that having the idea is one thing, but executing is what set's you apart. I talk to a lot of people with great ideas and then they say something like, "but XYZ company is already doing it...oh well." That's when I bust out his phrase. Razeghi writes an excellent post on the subject here.
You shouldn't be deterred if someone else is doing what you are doing. Odds are you have a different way of executing on it and if you're right, you'll be successful. When we started Ben's Friends, there were at least 5 companies doing what we planned. However we soon found two huge advantages, 1) Those people had to make money to pay the bills, and 2) We could activate an army of volunteers.
The first issue may seem counter-intuitive but my logic was that I didn't think there was a sustainable revenue model in support networks for rare diseases. But if you are a venture backed company with a high burn rate, you have to find that revenue somewhere. Your investors will push for it and it's the agreement you made when you took their money. That means you have 12 months or so to figure out a revenue model and show some traction. That's a short fuse. Because Ben's Friends is our side project, we didn't need to ring the register. Time was on our side because as all those others bang their head against the wall, we just keep growing organically, with a tiny cost structure.
Of course, we've grown so much that we had to figure out another trick and that is where #2 comes in. Turns out people were so inspired by what we were doing, they volunteered their time and money. We have over 60 volunteer moderators now that administer the sites and countless other people who help out in less official ways. People also volunteer their money. We've been fortunate to receive over $10k in donations to date. Along with Ben and my contributions, this pays for our expenses and allows us to exist. If we were venture funded or looking to make a profit, the dynamic would be different and I don't think we could get this level of help.
It's a magical thing to build something that people use and love. Don't let, "XYZ is already doing it" deter you. There are always ways around funding restrictions and better ways to execute. Sometimes constraints help. Do it anyways and you and the world will be better for it.