Your best chance of success as an entrepreneur is to offer a product
or service that’s unique to a marketplace that needs what you and your
business have to offer.
Finding that niche, or creating
it, clears the field of competition and gives your startup business a
path to takeoff. Filling exactly the right position in the marketplace
can create an overwhelming advantage that gives your new business a
“Your business has to find its unique and authentic proposition and voice,” says Kevin Carroll, author of Rules of the Red Rubber Ball: Find and Sustain Your Life’s Work. “What
makes and differentiates you? What are you doing better, or more of, or
amplifying more, than any competition? And don’t worry so much about
the competition as about doing what you want to do, well.”
Start with your interests and passions
best businesses stem from someone’s passions, interests and background.
Your efforts to find the right niche should begin with an assessment of
what kind of product or service you could get excited about providing,
what market you would be enthusiastic about serving, and what skills
and aptitudes you have that could make it all work.
Warner, for example, has been a lifelong comedy fan. He retired as a
marketing vice-president for America Online and wanted to start his own
enterprise. So the New York City resident launched DailyComedy.com,
which provides users with new comedic material every day, including
videos designed specifically for the internet, and allows users to
create a comedy “stage” where they can post their own jokes and videos.
Search for needy spots in the marketplace
an employee, consumer, family member, hobbyist or any of your other
life roles, you constantly notice things that could be done better, or
holes in the marketplace that just shouldn’t exist. Now is the time to
start looking at those gaps as business opportunities and figuring out
what it would take to fill them.
Rich Bianchi, for one,
was an executive at Honeywell, the computer company, and noticed that
no tools existed to help the employees on his project teams answer the
basic question: what are the most important things I’m supposed to be
doing today? So he founded Alexsys and came up with a
project-management software package called Team Pro, which now is used
by hundreds of organizations around the world.
Come up with a new take on an old category
ranks of successful startups are teeming with this approach. Cranium
founders Richard Tait and Whit Alexander were working at Microsoft nine
years ago when they thought up a new kind of board game, one in which
no one loses and everyone has heroic moments. Artuzzi’s Italian Kitchen
in Roswell, Ga., has succeeded with a casual-Italian theme without the
high prices of, say, an Olive Garden. And Ryan Black went one better
than Red Bull by creating an all-natural energy drink, using the
super-nutritious juice of the Brazilian acai berry as the basis for his
Sambazon line, now for sale nationwide.
and critical thinking are the keys to figuring out how to come up with
a fruitful new take on what’s already out there. “You need to do
typical market research – online, talking with people, going into
stores to see what’s out there,” says Farhana Huq, founder of CEOWomen,
a not-for-profit outfit in Oakland, Calif., that helps immigrant women
find their entrepreneurial niches.
Pick up where a previous niche occupant has left off
filling the niche you want to occupy is a matter of finding someone
else who’s already in that business but dropping out. If you like how
that company has defined and filled the niche before you, buying an
existing business is one way to land in the space you want.
Warren, her son, Chris, and her brother, Thom Warren, wanted to get
into a niche service business together in Atlanta. They focused on the
possibilities in the cleaning, repair and maintenance of fine rugs, an
industry filled with family-run companies. At a national industry
convention several years ago, they learned about an Atlanta-area
rug-cleaning company that was going out of business. They bought its
equipment, were able to tap into its client base – and Cristomar got
off to a flying start.
Our Bottom Line
no better place for your startup business to be than alone in a
promising business niche. A lot of upfront searching and thinking can
help you discover, and perhaps create, just the space in the
marketplace that will separate your company from the pack.