People hate change. Whether it’s your kid sister rebelling against her new curfew or your hipster friend refusing to buy suits for his new corporate job, few people find comfort in the new and unknown. The marketplace is no different – since it’s made up of people, it’s just as resistant to the unproven as anything else. If you’re an entrepreneur seeking a new niche, this attitude can be as deflating as finding out that your favorite restaurant’s no longer making your treasured double-chili cheeseburger.
I was a lone ranger when I decided to launch my first eBook-based company. The concept of an eBook was still pretty foreign to most people when the venture was coming together. One guy told me he was going to line his birdcage with eBooks. (Like I said, the idea of an eBook wasn’t very clear to the general population yet, but touché, buddy.) Whenever an entrepreneur attempts to introduce something new, there will be people who are quick to point out the downsides. But these change-avoidant people can be overcome.
When my company launched, several people questioned our purpose. Who would want to read a book on a computer? Who would want to read something without a bookmark? Who would have ever finished War and Peace in eBook format, for Pete’s sake?! These people, of course, didn’t have the foresight to anticipate eReaders and tablets. Our job, as a company that could see the future, was to educate our audience.
Just like anyone else who’s introducing something new, we had to show prospective clients the benefits of our new product, particularly the advantages the new version had over old technology. It was easy to show how we beat paper books on most counts (although we couldn’t save your computer from a bad coffee spill, either). We then made a point to hear them out about their concerns, and we endeavored to alleviate their worries as much as possible. Whether this required an easier registration process or simply an explanation of how the downloads would work, we tried to answer each and every question. Simply demonstrating our ability to provide a good service and anticipate our clients’ needs increased the interest people had in our company.
Developing Your Business
Getting in on an industry early has its rewards, but it’s obviously risky as well. Launching early gives you a footing before others have caught on to how useful your product or service is – but the catch is that your product has to actually become popular. Once eBooks starting taking off, for example, we were one of the few resources people could easily find – and one of the few quality sites the media could point to. Entering the game at this stage has become incredibly difficult for new ventures, and we’ve received interest from quite a few people who want to acquire us. As Wayne Gretzky said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” Any entrepreneur can predict the future, but it takes diligence, perseverance, and luck.
Here are three ways mavericks can find success:
- Split test everything. It’s simply not smart to take guesses with your strategy, unless the new thing you’re wanting to try out is failure. It’s also dangerous to put all your egg in one basket. To avoid either of these scenarios, split test everything. Decisions should be calculated, so make sure everything you invest in (design, copy, marketing) is tested to be optimized. Even established companies should do this – it’s not a sign of strategic weakness, but an indicator of good decision-making.
- Establish yourself on search engines. Not only does search engine optimization take time, but with limited competition early, you can “mark your territory.” You should mark what you can before others, ahem, come sniffing around – SEO is your best friend in these situations.
- Get people to subscribe. Although our company’s content was (and continues to be) free, we required people to register in order to use our site. This allowed us to build our list for email marketing and sponsorships. We also convinced people to spread the word by offering them freebies if they did so. Subscriptions instill loyalty and make your list more robust. (Just like those double-chili cheeseburgers were making your waistline more robust.)
The bottom line for anyone striking out on his own is to make sure there’s deep internal motivation. If the product or service itself doesn’t rev your engine, then you need another project, or this project needs another leader. Being an entrepreneur is hard enough. If you don’t have complete faith in yourself and your project, the uphill battle is a lot steeper.
Startup ventures are rollercoasters. Everyone goes through ups and downs, and those peaks and valleys will be even more extreme for people exploring new niches. There will be days when even the most maverick entrepreneur, who claims to not care about success or popularity, will want to throw in the towel. But if you do your research, consider the future, and listen to your gut more than you listen to anyone else, you’ll be fine. Change may not be well-liked by the general public, but that doesn’t mean your company won’t be. Remember: for every guy planning to line his birdcage with your product, there’s another guy willing to invest in it.