Run it back: project management is the janitorial service of SaaS. It is also similar to paving driveways and collecting sewage from Port-a-Potties. It’s relatively boring, but people need it. It’s not a sexy business to be in, but there is definitely a business there. I have admired unsexy business ideas ever since I read The Millionaire Next Door. Those guys spent a lifetime studying American millionaires. It turns out that most of them are first generation American, they spend little, and run their own boring businesses.
I think there is worthy strategic thinking in picking something undesirable to pursue. In some cases, boring but profitable enterprises have little competition. I’ve known people that drove private waste collection trucks and those businesses grew into a fleet of such trucks. Amazon started as a relatively boring business idea: sell books. There is software to guide heavy construction equipment and farm equipment. Project management isn’t the only example of this kind of business in the software world, but it might be the most famous. Project management has a lot of competition because it touches most other businesses. The market is too large and the work isn’t that objectionable. There are big examples like Basecamp. There are smaller examples like MyClientSpot and Moraware. There are big enterprise examples. It’s a good business.
Google will tell you that project management related keywords are some of the most hotly contested out there. I think one reason is because people searching for these things are looking to have a real problem solved and are willing to pay money for it. Real money. Right now. Competition is often a validation for a business model and a market. It’s probably not a great strategy to try to compete directly with 37signals, but there are plenty of niche opportunities if you can gain some contacts or learn a domain well.
One troubling question starting in a small niche is how to grow out of that niche if you decide you need to. Dave Churchville at MyClientSpot talked about that problem and it sounds to me like Rob Walling has had some similar experiences with DotNetInvoice. Growing beyond a niche is, for most people, one of those good problems to have.
There will always be room for the big visionaries. The world changers. And the exciting social/mobile cutting edge new new thing. I think people should do what makes them happy. Me? I’m happy to work on things others might eschew. I like solving people’s everyday problems. There is a real impact there as well. There are interesting problems to solve that do not involve code. I welcome discussion on this topic.