It’s a bird...
It’s a plane...
No, it’s a drone that is designed to look like a plane, have eyes like a hawk, and sing like a nightingale!
This is exactly what is happening these days.
People are trying to make products do too many things, trying to make software and mobile apps solve too many problems, and trying to sell a little of everything. Basically, new business founders are trying to corner too many markets at once.
The rationale behind this is very simple – businesses don’t want to miss out on opportunities by having a very narrow focus. However, this can be a recipe for disaster - especially for startups - because they are at risk of spreading themselves too thin.
Sure, gigantic businesses like Amazon and eBay are good at all things most of the time, but many times all that’s needed is a personalized, customized business model that caters to our most fervent, singular wishes.
Where is a good old fashioned apothecary when we need one?
For instance, a brother-sister duo started a business that offered home-cooked meal subscription services for dogs. Just see how many levels deep that business niche is:
- Meat eating (in a predominantly vegetarian country) dogs
- Fussy (prefers home-cooked meals), meat eating dogs
- Fussy meat eating dogs with owners who don’t have time to cook
The meal subscription market for people is already saturated, but a meal subscription plan for pets is relatively new.
Naturally, startups that solve pain points instead of running after successful business models have a greater chance of establishing themselves. But that is not all; there are many more advantages of going after a narrow market with your business, so let’s examine some of the most remarkable benefits of niche commerce.
Rise Above Competition
At first glance, it would appear most retail markets are choking with competition. Even some established businesses are struggling to stay afloat. Why would anyone want to enter such a competitive market?
But one look at Black Milk Clothing and my perspective changed completely.
There are so many niches that one can still explore. While apparel is one of the most overcrowded eCommerce spaces, Black Milk started off with leggings and swimsuits, developing a loyal fandom across the world. Based in Australia, the company has some crazy ideas for stretchy clothes inspired by Star Wars, Harry Potter, Halloween, cats, coffee (and probably soon, unicorns!).
The first real orders for Black Milk clothing came through their blog, so they decided to build an online-only business. Their website boasts various collections and, apart from a few Chinese knockoffs, you can’t find anything on the market that can compete with Black Milk.
If you think their niche is a bit too narrow, consider this – they sell about 1,000 pieces a day across the world and the average cost of their product is $80. Not bad at all for a company that started in a kitchen!
The lesson here is that despite tasting success, Black Milk hasn’t gone mainstream, doesn’t compete with mass retailers, or use usual marketing gimmicks. They have managed to attain cult-like status simply by perfecting their expertise in their niche. They spent money on sewing machines, fabrics, R&D, and hiring good people instead of competing with Macy’s or Gap. Despite that, their business became a hit in the west and they started receiving orders from North America and Europe.
Get Off the Ground Quickly
Just like time, attention is a finite resource. No matter how good you are at multitasking, the mental efforts of taking too much on your plate can weigh you down, negatively impacting your productivity.
The ability to keep climbing higher is one of the key differentiators between startups that take off and startups that remain mediocre or die. Startup fatigue and burnout are real possibilities and you can avoid them by setting strong boundaries for your business and product models.
This is perhaps one of the biggest reasons you should choose niche commerce over other business ideas. The clarity in vision allows you to be methodical and persistent without wearing you out. Product development takes less time and you can improvise as you go.
Take the case of Airbnb. When they launched, they offered travelers nothing more than a stranger’s bunk. Indeed, their tagline was “Better than a cheap hotel.” Once they built a strong customer base and community around the idea, they expanded to serve related business areas, such as “sublets by the night.” Today, that includes “vacation rentals, homes, apartments, and rooms for rent.” I doubt Airbnb would have gone far, had they launched with all of that.
When your business scales up worldwide, you usually hire more designers and developers, get an office or move to a bigger one, and so on. But what is easy to overlook is the eCommerce platforms your site runs on. Make sure you get a cloud-based eCommerce platform that can handle high volume of sales coming from different parts of the world, and doesn’t cause you any bandwidth, hosting, security, payment processing, customization, or reporting headaches. Black Milk, for their part, switched to SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) eCommerce major Shopify (who’s also integrates with Stitch Labs). The result, in their own words, was, “The website didn’t even blink.”
Make Your Runway Capital Work for You
One of the most common problems with startups is running out of capital.
“Boo.com spent too much on advertising and promotions and failed to keep pushing forward on technology innovations.”
– eCommerce Times
“Akimbo needed $8 to 10 million for its new white-label strategy but - “there wasn’t enough runway to execute the plan.”
The phrase “come to a screeching halt” comes to mind.
Trunki, a UK-based retailer, sells funky luggage for children. Founder Rob Law was at a department store looking at what luggage was on sale, got bored, and walked into the toys section. One look at the ride-on toys prompted him to do the same with luggage for bored kids at the airport.
He took his idea to everyone from Argos to Dragons’ Den and ended up getting not only rejected for funding, but also humiliated by successful businesspeople. Eventually, he secured a £4,000 loan and £500 grant from Prince’s Trust. He used this money to get a global licensing deal.
Today, Trunki is a ‘Made in Britain’ success story. It generates over £8 million in revenue. It employs over 60 employees and manufactures, as well as recycles its own suitcases.
Trunki has won over 100 design awards. And to mark their two million sales milestone, they produced two special suitcases with gold horns.
Focusing on one niche allows you funnel all your available capital into your core product line.
The Last Word
For years, we’ve been wary of Jacks of all Trades and Masters of None. There’s a reason behind it. Not everyone is good at multitasking or managing the stress that comes from trying to fight a hundred fires.
In the same way, few businesses can excel at manufacturing, stocking, selling, and distributing a wide range of products. Apart from operational challenges, it is very difficult to build an authoritative brand, because you end up competing with masters of various trades. Further, you end up spreading your money thin across various departments, sticking your fingers in so many proverbial pies, that you’re in danger of exhausting your financial resources.
Finally, the most serious of all the pitfalls is, you don’t achieve cult status – ever.