Many entrepreneurs fail to do "customer discovery" -- figuring out...

Many entrepreneurs fail to do "customer discovery" -- figuring out who their customer is, says Aaron Foss, founder of Mount Sinai-based Nomorobo. Credit: Steve Pfost

Every business starts with a seemingly great idea, but oftentimes that idea loses its fizzle when actually brought to market.

In fact, 42 percent of startups fail because they don’t meet a market need, according to Manhattan’s 2018 Small Business Toolkit.

Too often, entrepreneurs are so invested in their idea that they fail to take the basic steps to see if it’s something the market wants or needs.

“A big part of a great idea is getting all the key elements to work together,” says Bryan Mattimore, co-founder and president of The Growth Engine Co. in Norwalk, Connecticut, and author of “21 Days to a Big Idea: Creating Breakthrough Business Concepts” (Diversion Books; $12.99).

This includes meeting a true customer need, the correct positioning to relay your product or service’s most important benefit, and a reasonable price point, he says.

“We find with entrepreneurs they may have one idea, and chances are that idea is no good,” says Mattimore. As part of a brainstorming session with a client, he may generate 200 ideas in a day, and of those, perhaps 10 percent to 15 percent are original and unique, he says. Of those, they might pare it down to one or two ideas that actually make it to market.

“It’s a number game,” he says, noting your initial idea may need to be tweaked, and getting feedback from as many people as you can ask helps.

According to Manhattan's 2018 Small Business Toolkit, 42 percent...

According to Manhattan's 2018 Small Business Toolkit, 42 percent of startups fail because they don't meet a market need. Credit: iStock

Trend-forecasting resources such as TrendHunter, Cassandra and sparks & honey could trigger new ideas or help validate current ideas, he says.

The Small Business Development Centers at Farmingdale State College and Stony Brook University can also provide assistance with market research for free.

They can conduct a market analysis, looking at factors including whether the market is crowded, what the percentage growth in an industry has been over the last few years and how much it’s predicted to grow, says Erica Chase-Gregory, regional director of the SBDC at Farmingdale.

Just because it’s a crowded market doesn’t automatically mean you shouldn’t enter it, she says.

“Look at the competition, and you either need to be cheaper or better,” says Chase-Gregory. “You need to differentiate yourself somehow.”

One of the biggest mistakes she sees from entrepreneurs is they hold onto their initial vision and they don’t change that vision to meet the customer’s needs.

Beyond that, many entrepreneurs fail to do “customer discovery” -- figuring out who their customer is and talking to them -- because they think the best use of their time is to continue to develop their product or they’re afraid of people stealing their ideas, says Aaron Foss, founder of Mount Sinai-based Nomorobo, a robocall blocking service and an entrepreneur-in-residence at Hofstra University in Hempstead assisting students with their business ideas.

If you’re concerned about someone stealing your idea, but want feedback, ask people about the problem that you’re trying to solve rather than your product specifics, he says.

Before launching Nomorobo, Foss competed in the Federal Trade Commission’s Robocall Challenge, where he gathered feedback. He also found it helpful to set up a basic landing page where people could enter their email address if they wanted to learn more.

That landing page went active in April 2013, and by the time he launched that October, he had over 35,000 email addresses, a strong indicator of the market’s interest.

“Bottom line is you need to know your target audience and how to reach them,” says Rob Marchese, founder of Zippboxx, a Hauppauge-based on-demand storage company that allows customers to schedule pick-ups, view a photo inventory of their stored items and request delivery, all online.

He and partner Rick Stark literally took to the streets, asking passersby if they saw a need for a service like theirs, noting that they wanted a concept that was different than traditional self-storage and traditional moving services.

“You have to differentiate yourself,” says Marchese.


Looking for a quick way to come up with a business idea in 30 seconds? Putting “smart” in front of a passion or hobby or anything you’re interested in is a great way to trigger an original idea for a new invention, product, business or service.

SOURCE: Bryan Mattimore, The Growth Engine Co.

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