Playboy recently published the whole story of SnapChat (yes, some people even read articles in Playboy). It's a long interesting article that gives you some insights about Silicon Valley, Stanford, startup life, personalities, and lot more, well worth reading. Obviously one of the most interesting parts is how the idea was born:
One afternoon in April 2011, Brown was hanging out in a Kimball dorm room with two frat brothers. The three were watching television when Brown began to lament that he had sent a provocative photo of himself to a female acquaintance and now wished he could somehow unsend it. In fact, he observed, it would be awesome if you could do that with photos and sexy text messages. Or how about making any message or photo disappear?
“That could be a cool app,” Brown said.
This section gives the founders' point of view on what made SnapChat so successful:
Although tech writers initially dismissed Snapchat as a “sexting app,” it is actually the first application to exploit what Spiegel calls the “value of the ephemeral.” Why, Spiegel has asked, should everything on the internet be around forever? “Data permanence is a big issue,” he says. “We were the first to understand that.”
A few days later Business Insider published a brief article on Secret, another much-hyped silicon valley app, although much smaller (yet?). The interesting part is that the founders initially came up basically with SnapChat:
The first product they launched wasn't an app that needed to be downloaded. Instead, it was a one-to-one text messaging tool that let users send anonymous secrets to each other. The text messages disappeared after they were read, like Snapchat or another anonymous app, Confide.
Byttow says the disappearing text message idea was rejected by investors.
It is not exactly the same thing as SnapChat, but the main principle is the same – that one that SnapChat founders consider crucial, saying “we were the first to understand that”.
But what's obvious is it's not just about the idea. They were probably not 'the first ones to understand that', maybe nor the Secret guys were. And it's not just about the execution, as you often hear. Relatively tiny details that will decide on success vs. failure – but what's worst, they are largely out of your control or consciousness, they might well often be pure luck.
It could have been that SnapChat wouldn't be so successful, were launched half year sooner, or half year later, or the messages would disappear after 8 seconds instead of 10, or whatever else. Nobody really knows what will make an idea, app or business successful, and even the successful ones often don't see it correctly in hindsight.
So no matter what your business idea is, it basically doesn't matter if there's someone already doing 'almost the same'. There's a great chance you will make it slightly different (actually there's zero chance you will manage to make it 100% same), you're in different community, location, stage of career, etc., and those tiny details you don't even realize might lead to a big success. Or failure. Good luck :-)