The Kebab Conundrum
Probably the biggest learning for me personally this year, trying to bootstrap a business, was the realization that it makes sense not to invent something new.
I don't think people should copy an existing product but I think there's an advantage in seeing similar products succeeding, because you know there is real demand and people are spending money on the problem you're trying to solve. It comes down to building for an existing market, instead of trying to create one – Which can certainly be done but is a lot harder, building a busniess on your own and without much money.
They didn't invent the kebab
In a weird way this whole concept is also what I see in the street I live in every day – I just didn't realize it. The street isn't particularly big, yet there are five kebab restaurants and two of them even as close as ~50m from each other. Maybe even more surprising though, they're all earning money and have been around for a couple of years now.
Neither of them invented the kebab and when you order some to take away, they even wrap it in the same paper with the same imprint and all.
Why does this work? How can they all survive so close to each other selling the same thing?
As a customer (and somebody who likes kebab) I tried all of them and decided to stick with one of the restaurants based on the sauce they put on the dish. It's homemade and I think it tastes better than in any of the other places. Some of my friends disagree and when I order at this place, they walk across the street and order one over there. You can't sit down in all of the places and some offer complete menus, while others don't. One of them makes the spieciest kebab, another restaurant always puts more meat on the kebab than the others. They all have some seemingly small things going for them that distinguish them enough from the other restaurants, so that they each were able to build a solid customer base.
They also have different prices, especially those where you can order a whole menu. For a single kebab though, they almost charge the same.
People just love kebab (enough)
While I was first wondering how so many kebab restaurants can survive so close to each other, it makes perfect sense if you think about it through the lense of a bootstrapper. The first place had a good start because they were the only one selling it. The second restaurant knew there was demand, because the first place was always crowded. The third place was the first to offer menus. You get the point. There was an existing market, because there was demand and enough people love kebab enough to spend money on it. And because not everybody likes their kebab the same and because of different takes on what the best kebab (place) means, it totally works to have five of them in the same street.