Too many toys to choose from! (Ethan in a shop in Shibuya, Tokyo)
Hit by a flash of inspiration, you decided one day to pursue your dream.
You are all fired up and raring to go. After slaving away for goodness knows how long, you have perfected your recipe for world domination.You got it all worked out – product range, features, price point, packaging, advertising campaign, suppliers, distributors, retail outlets. The works.
Your Dream Product
Nobody knows this product as well as you do. After all, you ate, breathed and lived this idea for the past few years.
You have participated in all the courses, received all the certificates, and heck, was even rewarded with a generous prize for being the best _____ in a recent contest.
All this while, you have kept your dream alive while enduring the demands and rigours of a nine to five job.
The stars are aligned. Your product is a work of art. Nothing can possibly go wrong.
It is time for you to break free and be an entrepreneur!
But wait! Chotto matte!
There is one missing piece that you haven’t quite figured out. It is the most important reason for anybody to go into a business of his or her own.
One which determines the survival (or death) of a million small businesses.
Do You Have a Market?
Yep, is there a market for what you are offering?
In other words, is there a critical gap, common frustration, unfulfilled dream, or hidden opportunity that you are resolving?
Is there a niche that you (and hopefully only you) can meet – one that is ignored by the current marketplace?
After all, the world doesn’t really need yet another boutique, bakery, buffet line, or brass band. Well, at least one that tastes, looks and sounds just like the rest.
You Are Not Steve Jobs
Unfortunately, the challenge lies in discerning those latent and unspoken needs, wants and desires.
Just look at Apple. Nobody could articulate that they wanted a mobile phone with a screen that functioned like an iPod.
Yet, when the iPhone was launched, its sales broke all previous records.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
However, not all of us can be like Steve Jobs. Few can discern the hidden potential of new products as accurately as that giant of a man (may he rest in peace).
What should one do then?
Study Your Customers
For a start, make it a point to talk to people, particularly those whom you see as your potential customers.
Prompt them to share what their problems, challenges, and issues are.
Is there something that they wished they could do but couldn’t find the wherewithal to accomplish? What are their most common pain points or their greatest complaints?
Alternatively, you can build your business around the wishes and desires of others. Encourage your potential customers to imagine what they would dearly love to have.
How would their ideal world look like? What services or products would such an utopian society have?
In doing so, use a mixture of qualitative and quantitative market research techniques. These can range from surveys and questionnaires (online and offline) to focus group discussions and ethnographic studies of your target custmers’ behaviours.
Develop a Unique Value Proposition
Once you have collected enough data, develop a unique value proposition for your business that can accomplish two things:
- Solve the greatest nagging ills or fulfill the most desired dreams of your target customers; and
- Match your interests, resources, competencies and aptitudes. While a cure for AIDS is probably one of the world’s most pressing need, few have the means or know how to launch a business in that area.
Of course, starting a business also requires multiple other factors to be considered. These include funding, manpower, distribution networks, shop locations, and so on and so forth.
There are also government regulations to consider, suppliers to negotiate with, distributors to please, and technical specifications to meet.
However, the first and perhaps most important step in entrepreneurship is to meet a latent customer demand with a differentiated product, service or experience that provides exceptional utility.
Carve out a niche that is unique and valued by your customers. Ensure that it fits your interests and passions to a T. Study the marketplace to see that this need is poorly met or unmet by incumbent players or competitors.
Do you agree that you should establish your market before developing your product? I’d love to hear your views.