Small market: curse or opportunity?
In my opinion, frequent mistake for founders is aim for very big market immediately. While prominent tech figures champion approach "go big or fail", I argue that each startup has some growth stages which it needs to complete before it can proceed to the another step.
Your goal should be to become monopoly, as otherwise it is a very tough space to be as startup and become 10x better than other existing solutions. Therefore, initially you should define your market as narrow as possible - the strategy which may sound counterintuitive.
For example, our product CityNow.org - real estate map - quickly became a leading platform to find new construction home in Vilnius. The market is restrained, since 30% of transactions are in new primary market (new construction) and 80% in Lithuanian sales in its capital, Vilnius. Such strategy allowed us to win and we can now expand to other markets.
So many startups tried to compete with major listing real estate portal and failed, since they were doing exactly the same thing for same large market.
When you are a monopoly, good things start to happen - word of mouth, referals, negotiating and pricing power. My advice to all other founders would be to redefine and narrow your market until you become a monopoly and stay here as long as possible. Good luck :)
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Justas from Qoorio asks:
“How does the life of a founder differ from an engineer’s life?”
Given that my role was highly specialized at Facebook, I would say the biggest change is the range of responsibilities: as a founder you need to to wear multiple hats - coder, sales rep, content writer, recruiter. It is sometimes tricky to prioritize on what things will actually move a needle. My first focus is helping clients, improving product and collecting customer feedback.
One other practical aspect is motivation. At Facebook, It was healthy mix of internal and external motivation, such as salary. As a startup founder, you are mostly accountable to yourself for your decisions and results, while the rocket growth phase usually does not come in first few years of startup. Thus you need to find your way to feel motivated: whether its celebrating milestones, appreciating positive feedback from customers, inspirational podcasts or smth else - whatever works for you.
Finally, after getting used to cozy comfortable life at Facebook with all benefits, now I am back to making down to earth decisions - what do I eat today (no Facebook cafeteria)? Where is the closest gym? Where do I pay my phone utility bill? Can I drop off my laundry and pick up tomorrow? These small things add up and take my time, and I didn’t appreciate enough when I had this taken care of.
Passion, commitment and stamina.
I am always open to meet new talents who I may ultimately want to see working with me. But often i fail to see these traits: desire to succeed and willingness to do whatever it takes to solve particular problem. For me, this is very important aspect to be in startup and may be dealbreaker to become a team member.
For example, few people i met talk about doing multiple “projects” at the same time. I just dont think how it works in startup world - to begin with, how can you communicate to others that the problem you are trying to solve is most important for you at this time, if tomorrow you will talk about another problem?
Others talk about attracted investment deals, startups they sold as an ultimate goal and success metric. I care more about this: did you create value with your last venture abd solved some problem nobody solved well before?
Justas from Qoorio asked:
“Vilius, you were a very successful engineer, had a great position at Facebook. What made you come back to Lithuania and start your own company in real estate?”
In short, when my qooriosity to approach some problems in real estate industry became bigger than excitement to work on solutions at my organization at Facebook that was the moment when I decided to quit and start my own business.
First, I am not outsider in real estate business. Back in 2006, I was market analyst for the biggest real estate development company in Lithuania. I knew what are the biggest pain-points (not vitamins) while working on my daily tasks. For example, one of the challenges is to collect market intelligence efficiently: track your competitors, their sales, determine market trends. When I started my business in 2018, I knew exactly what needs to be built and the journey was much straighter. Today the business is growing, adding new customers every month an expanding range of services. For almost 10 years I thought spending so much time in unrelated industry (I am software engineer) was wasteful, but now I find it super valuable.
Second, throughout 7 years of career at Facebook, I gathered enough experience which I need to build new product. I grew up corporate ladder to become senior engineer and also tried management role. I took advantage of many training programs - one of key advantages of big-tech to get new skills. I worked with some of the most talented data scientists, product designers, researchers in the world and learned from them. I also have adapted culture from Facebook - good things take stamina and time to build. CityNow, new construction map I currently work, will take years to perfect - but I am commited to work it out :)
Last, It felt that its time to give back to community where I grew up - starting from Vilnius, my hometown. It felt that I was net gainer from growing here (free education, medical insurance, no student debts, etc) and decided to contribute back by sharing my knowledge of building products, helping other to choose their dream home, and maybe - inspire someone else to go back to Lithuania and make impact.