Category Archives: Startups

wall niche

The Niche Myth


Small Holes

When you think of a niche, an image of a penguin might come to mind. Penguins have mastered their frigid environment, huddling together in the cold, and sliding on their bellies doing badass backflips off of glaciers. An ecological niche is when an organism is well adapted for its environment.

“If you put a gun to my head and said, ‘You have to come up with a story for Happy Feet Three,’ I’d say shoot me.” – George Miller

Or, for you architecture buffs out there, you may think of niches’ second, and less commonly used definition, a shallow recess in a wall. I don’t know how frequently this applies to anyone, tbh.

Today however, we will be discussing the third definition of niche:

(n.) a comfortable or suitable position in life of employment

** N.B.: the English language loves to overload definitions

Comfortable or Suitable Position? The Heck?

To be fair, that definition is pretty sucky.

Organisms in general, prefer comfort over conflict. People are no different. So, let’s just define comfort as being in a comfortable state most of the time.

Ok, how about suitable? That word is well…suitable. It acknowledges that no situation will ever be entirely ideal, but it can be suitable. In other words, “Meh, I’m ok right now.”

this is fine

Environment Envy

Arguably, one of the reasons the human species is so successful on Earth is how quickly we adapt to new environments. Hot, cold, mountainous, desert, or rainforest, you will find people all over the surface of the planet.

According to natural selection, success is determined by survival and continuation of the genes of an organism.

In business, success is defined as making more money than you’re losing. Whether you sell shoes, technology, or insurance, the goal is survival and growth.

The environment is an always changing system. The larger the environment, the harder it is to predict change.

Big businesses are harder to operate because they are less adaptive. For a real life example of this, decide what you’re going to have for dinner tonight. Now, ask a friend and decide together. Now, ask another. For every friend you add, the more complex the decision becomes.

Much like an environment, the market must be worked with, not against.

Success in a market is a combination of timing, a solid product, and the ability to sell. Without all three of these being present in some shape or form, a venture will be dead in the water. For a real life example of this, try to open a lemonade stand in December.

The Common Advice

People argue the importance of finding a niche, a hyper-specific use case for your skills/product/juggling talent. This advice is well founded. Many successful businesses we see in our day to day lives do something well enough to get people to part with their money. Even in a sea of competition, they continue to generate value and capture a percentage of that value.

However, I’d argue that the way most people go about finding their niche is flawed.

Better Advice

When choosing a niche to work in, set out to find your particular competitive advantage. If you don’t think you’re good at anything, what do you suck the least at?

Competition

Examine the competition. Monitor what makes the Taco Bell franchise successful, or why Apple has so many raving fans.

After you examine businesses you admire, throw out your findings. You are not Taco Bell. You are not Apple. Imitation will only get you so far.

Great artists steal, but their personality isn’t run over by the stuff they stole.

The Benefit of Staying Small

The smaller the better! Right? Well, kinda. Being small can actually be a bad thing, if you’re small in the wrong thing. For example, if your niche is making boots that are for moon walking, your audience is going to be pretty small, if not zero. Not that many people have been to the moon.

So I should go broad?

On the other hand, if your audience is too broad, it’s likely that your product won’t be good enough at solving a specific problem and you’ll disappear into the noise. For a real life example, look at most YouTube channels.

“WHAT IS UP YOU GUYS THIS IS ** insert channel name here ** !”

Strike a balance. Build something brand new, but make sure it’s something people actually want. People may say they want a live-action remake of Hey Arnold, but they probably don’t need it.

How do I find my niche?

Unfortunately, I haven’t found one answer. I spent weeks trying to narrow down into a niche for my YouTube Channel. I’ve tried podcasts, comedy styles, how-tos, video diaries and more.

I do have tips to share though.

The first thing is to make content that you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy the process, you’ll eventually burn out.

The second thing is that the content worth creating will signal back to you. People will come up to you and ask you about it. They love your neon chair lights, or your charisma on stage, or the way you make that dank soufflé. This shows genuine interest, and is a sign from “nature” that you’re on the right path.

Specialize in Adaptation

If you must specialize, specialize in adaptation. The environment isn’t static, so specializing in the traditional sense can cause more harm than good! If your soufflé business is going under, utilize your baking skills and pivot to the hot new dessert!

Handedness

When I first wrote this article, I wanted to examine the relationship between niche and handedness. It didn’t end up fitting the vibe, but damn it, I’m gonna address it anyway!

I’m left-handed. About ~10% of the human population are left handed.

Why is this important? Well, almost by definition, left handed people are more adaptive to the environment. We have to be. Tools, cars, written language; are all made for right handed people.

For a real life example of this, ask a left-hander to write anything with a pencil and have their hand not look like this when they finish.

the struggle is real

Unfortunately, we also don’t get to complain about it. The environment very clearly signals that righties are dominant. Lefties must find their small hole as it was. Sitting on the left side of dinner tables as to not bump any elbows. Using notebooks with rings on top, etc.

Embrace your inner lefty. Adapt and utilize your strengths in any environment.

Accelerating Your Potential

Great news! MassChallenge has agreed to share their thoughts on helping individuals create startups and to teach us (myself included) about startup accelerators. Thank you MassChallenge!

MassChallenge is a non-profit startup accelerator that has raised over $4 billion dollars! for startups. That’s a lotta dough! If you’d like to see my thoughts on whether or not an idea is worth pursuing, you can check out my post on “Million Dollar App Ideas” here.

Full post after the break:


Are you interested in setting up your own startup company? I am pleased to tell you that these days, there are a number of paths you can take to ensure that your startup gains the support and indeed the investment it requires to thrive. One of these options is a startup accelerator.

What Are Startup Accelerator Programs?

Startup accelerator programs provide support to growth-driven, early-stage companies. They do this by offering education, mentorship and of course, financing.

Startups do not remain in accelerators. Instead, they enter them for a fixed period and are joined by a group of other companies that share the same or similar characteristics that match the investment thesis. Experience within the accelerator is both invigorating and intense. Rapid learning is designed to speed up the life cycle of these young, innovative companies. Essentially, years of learning will be compressed into perhaps several months.

I am sure you are aware of other similar options such as incubators, seed stage venture capitalists or angel investors. While these can be effective they do not have the collective elements of the startup accelerator. This is a fixed term mentorship-driven program which will ultimately conclude with a ‘demo day.’

A typical accelerator will last between three and six months compared to an ongoing angel investment or an incubator that can continue for up to five years.

The First US Accelerators

The first noted accelerator in America was Y Combinator. This launched in Boston in 2005 and was known as a seed accelerator program. TechStars was then founded in 2006 in Colorado. Since then, these two have become two of the top accelerator programs on a global level.

Between 2008 and 20014, these accelerators were increasing at a rate of 50 percent every year.

Today, there are nearly 200 accelerators throughout the US and Canada and over $100 million has been invested in these programs in total. The average investment can be anywhere between twenty and fifty thousand.

The Application Process

As you might expect, these accelerator programs are competitive due to the benefits that they could provide a company. Of 3000 applicants, a system will select 150 teams. They will ensure that these teams match the investment verticals and the requirements of the thesis before accepting between 45 and 90 applicants.

Applicants are required to show why their startup is different from the rest and why it will thrive on the market. They will also need to have a full team and strategy in place to ensure success in both product development and success with a target customer base.

Benefits Of Startup Accelerator Programs

The main benefit is that the founders of the startup will be able to learn and develop their company at a rapid pace that exceeds other opportunities on the market. In learning by doing ventures can be scaled in a matter of months. The main value of these programs comes from the intensive learning environment that is created and may help the company attract seed as well as early-stage financing.

If you are keen to learn more about the staggering impact of accelerator programs on startups today and the process required to apply, I encourage you to check out the infographic below.

Infographic Courtesy of MassChallenge

The Road to Startup Acceleration