Truth bomb: Businesses only succeed if there’s a market for them. It’s a comforting but also slightly terrifying reality. Oprah once said ‘If a man wants you, nothing will keep him away. If he doesn’t want you, nothing will make him stay.’ This advice is specifically crafted for Bridget Jones-esque ladies burying their sorrows in buckets of Haagen-Dazs, but the same can be applied to the customers of any business, anywhere. If your customers want what you’re selling, they’ll buy it. If they don’t, they won’t. The good news is that lil’ equation is binary. You have to find something people want to buy, which isn’t as difficult as you think.
Much like snaffling yourself the ideal life partner (Channing Tatum is single now FYI. Reach for the stars!) crafting your business idea around your ideal customer is the only way to go, however, you do need to consider a few pitfalls in this plan.
Let’s look at some of the problems that can arise in finding the right market for your business idea.
If there are already too many people executing your business idea, the market might be useless to you. Unless you can provide a point of difference in quality, price, engineering or design it might be better choose a different product or service. Say you want to sell sneakers – You’ve got Nike, Adidas, Reebok and countless others to compete against. Unless you’re offering something unique or solving a problem the other big guns haven’t solved yet, it’s pretty risky trying to take them on. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, it just means you need to look at the over-saturation of the market and figure out how to work around that problem. For example, if you see Jennifer Lawrence sniffing around Channing Tatum. It doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause, it just means you need to acknowledge the challenge of stealing him away from a high-profile, land-goddess. Not impossible, but certainly not easy. Like taking on a giant sports brand.
2. Over-estimating the market
Many entrepreneurs ask their four closest friends if they’d buy their theoretical product. To which those four friends, usually a few drinks in on a Friday night say ‘OH MY GOD! That’s the best idea EVER! Shut up and take my money!’. Friends and family are usually way more supportive of an idea when it’s theoretical and when you launch that product, the four friends who said they’d buy it? Newsflash: They rarely buy it. What you need to do is market research outside of your friendship and family circle. Research competitors in your industry, research the sector itself and create a proper report on the potential need for your product or service. The sloppy, drunken approval of your best mates is not the stuff good businesses are built on.
3. Creating a problem that’s not a problem
In the early 00s, there were a few companies that popped up with a bizarre idea that never really took off. Outfits for your takeaway coffee cup. A few entrepreneurs jumped on the bandwagon of the newly popular BYO coffee cup craze and created these fashion ‘sleeves’ for reusable coffee cups so you could change it every day and have it match your outfit. You can see how someone thought that would take off in a Beanie Babies/Loom Bands/Pandora charm bracelet kind of way but it just fell flat. The issue is that it was hard enough to remember to take your reusable coffee cup with you in the morning anyway, let alone think about which ‘outfit’ to dress it in. The overestimation of how much people cared about their coffee cups matching their outfits was also a big mistake. It turns out people don’t care about that at all. Before you go solving a problem, make sure it’s an actual problem.
Some genuinely bizarre businesses have reached unprecedented levels of success all because they fill a gap in the market and satisfy a demand for that market. Here are a few very weird, very fresh and very successful businesses that cornered the market for their business idea.
In 2015, Alex Craig started a business in his Dallas home. He’d buy a bag of potatoes from the local supermarket and then sell potato ‘greeting cards’ to his customers. His girlfriend reportedly said it was the ‘stupidest idea ever’, but it made $2000 in its first two days. The company has since been bought an entrepreneur who made back his investment within months. It turns out there’s a massive market for quirky, inexpensive, hilarious and weirdly environmentally friendly greeting cards.
Jafflechutes started in Melbourne when three friends decided to create the first ‘snacks from the sky’ business idea. Basically you pay for a jaffle (for anyone outside Australia who is reading this a jaffle is kind of like a toasted sandwich, but it’s sealed around the edges, so it’s puffy in the middle and crispy around the edges), stand in the designated spot and a jaffle will float down from the sky for you to snack on. Genius.
It started as a joke when a Canadian company decided to sell bottle air from the Rocky Mountains for $17 per bottle, but the business took off, particularly in China where the air quality is so low. The most popular cities for buying this product are Beijing and Shanghai.
Dirty Rotten Flowers charges $33 per bouquet of decaying flowers that you can send to someone you’re not super pleased with. It’s not the most joyful business, but it gives dead bouquets a second life and sends an obvious message to the guy who broke with you on your birthday.
After losing one too many socks, entrepreneur Edwin Heaven came with the idea of selling socks in sets of three, not two. Genius. The perfect way to combat the Bermuda Triangle of Lost Socks that lives in every washing machine.
Short answers to your questions;
IS there a market for my business idea?
Almost definitely – it’s just about confirming the potential customer base.
Is my idea too weird?
Weirder than dead flowers or potato-grams? Strange ideas are great, just make sure you do your research and figure out if people want to buy it.
Is Channing Tatum actually single?
Yes. It’s a Christmas Miracle.
Further reading for the keen beans;