In 2015, I attended a conference for software entrepreneurs called Microconf (www.microconf.com). One of the speakers, Patrick McKenzie (www.kalzumeus.com), told the story about how he launched his online scheduling business, Appointment Reminder (www.appointmentreminder.org). Massage therapists, hair salons, healthcare facilities and client services businesses are based entirely on taking appointments with customers. If the customer doesn’t show up to their appointment, the business loses money. McKenzie knew that if he were to create a piece of software that reminded customers of their appointments, no-show rates would go down and his clients would make more money. When McKenzie announced the business in 2010 (http://www.kalzumeus.com/2010/05/14/unveiling-my-second-product-demo-included/), his pitch for the product was based entirely on the business need for the service and his ability to create software to address the market’s need. He had nothing to say about his personal excitement or passion for his business.
During his 2015 Microconf presentation, McKenzie said that “the most important piece of advice that I have ever ignored” was that you have to love what you do. He recalled a conversation that he had with his friend Peldi Guilizzoni when he first launched his business. Guilizzoni asked him, “will you really get up in the morning thinking I will love if I spend today optimizing the schedules of dentist offices?” McKenzie responded, “God no! Of course not! Who would want that? But it’s a great business. [Appointment Reminder] will clearly work well.” Guilizzoni replied, “Stop! Don’t do it! You’re going to spend the next five years of your life working on this thing. If you don’t bounce up out of bed with excitement for it every morning, you’re not going to do the work to push it forward and you’re going to be miserable with yourself.” McKenzie said that choosing a business that he wasn’t passionate about was the worst mistake he had made during the last ten years.
McKenzie closed by saying that one of the biggest unfair advantages that you can have in business is product-market-founder fit. If you are working in an industry that you actually care about, are solving a problem that you actually care about and you are the right person to build that product, you will have an incredible advantage over people that don’t share your enthusiasm and interest for your industry. You can view the entire video of McKenzie’s Microconf presentation on Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/129913527.
You will be operating your business for the next five to ten years should you be successful. You are playing a long term game. Choose a niche that excites you and you can see yourself working on for the next several years. Don’t choose a topic area because you feel like you can make a lot of money with it or because you feel like it would be an easy market to attack. You should only choose a niche because you are genuinely excited about the space and want to become a leading expert in it. While your personal passion shouldn’t be the only criteria you use to select a niche, it should be at the top of the list.
Let Personal Experience Guide You
You should have some level of first-hand experience or interest in the niche you select. It will be much easier to create content, products and services for a market that you already understand than one that you don’t. If you are choosing a niche that you have no personal experience with or knowledge of, you will be facing an uphill battle because you will both have to learn the market you’re entering and then somehow create differentiated products and services that people in your market will want to buy. If you already know the market you’re entering, you likely already know what the people in your market need and what weaknesses there are with existing products and services in the space.
You will ideally be part of your target market and experience the needs and wants of your market first hand, but that’s not always possible. Your target market does not necessarily need to be other people that are exactly like you, but you should have a close personal relationship with someone that is in your target market. Maybe your mom, one of your siblings or a close personal friend is part of the target market you are hoping to serve. By having someone close to you that is part of your target market, you can bounce ideas off of them and get feedback about your content.
For example, GoGo Photo Contest (www.gogophotocontest.com) helps animal welfare groups raise money through online photo contest fundraisers. Neither I or the other two co-founders of the business have ever worked at an animal shelter. However, we are incredibly passionate about the work that we do and are able to bounce ideas off of the people at our local humane society where one of our founders is a board member. While we don’t have first-hand experience running an animal shelter, we are close enough to the market and know enough people in the market that we understand the market and can effectively serve its needs.