The most successful brands and products aren’t often the copycats. They’re the originals that bring something new to the market. Even if your idea isn’t a completely unique, never-before-heard-of concept, there’s no denying that if you want to make an impact and grow a sizable business along the way, you need to be disruptive.
The importance of this concept really hit home during an interviewI recently had with Justin Kwong, founder of ISM, a maker of high-quality bags, backpacks and other lifestyle goods here in San Francisco. Kwong’s disruptive approach to creating stylish men’s backpacks and other products helped his company go from prototyping to a $1 million run rate in less than a year.
Pulling from lessons learned along the way, here’s how you can discover your own disruptive niche business ideas that’ll help you find similar levels of success.
1. Focus On Solving Your Own Problems
I’ve long written about the importance of using your own experiences to find the right business ideas before, and Kwong serves as another great example of how important this concept is when looking for disruptive product ideas.
For Kwong, his initial idea for an entrepreneur-friendly bag, “Stemmed from a problem and an opportunity I saw while I was working as a freelancer. I really saw this need for a backpack I could carry around with me, that would look professional enough for a client meeting, and could also carry my laptop without being a hassle.”
What was the niche problem Kwong identified?
He couldn’t find fashionable bags that also had functional laptop compartments and came at a halfway reasonable price here in the United States. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this led Kwong to think, “Maybe there’s an opportunity here to create a really high-quality bag that looks great, is stylish to other young professionals, and still functional because it’s going to serve as a work bag rather than a fashion bag.”
2. Identify Competitor Weaknesses
For Kwong, a major opportunity that he discovered when initially conducting research for his product was the price point—his closest competitors were typically selling their products for several hundreds of dollars. They were the types of products that a well-established, middle-aged businessperson might use during their travels, but not something the average young professional would be able to splurge on.
Business bags aren’t a new concept, nor is the idea of offering stylish backpacks. But what Kwong identified was the fact that nobody else in his niche was selling bags that combined style, functionality and affordability. Thus, he had the perfect opportunity to offer a new, disruptive product that met a previously unfulfilled need.
The same concept is just as applicable in other industries, too.
Take some time to research other brands in your niche—both the major market leaders and the smaller, newer brands. As you evaluate their products and services, you’ll likely be able to identify gaps where they don’t quite meet what a segment of their target audience is actually looking for. Positioning your brand as one that can deliver where others fall short, could prove to be key in disrupting your niche.
3. Look For ‘Third Places’
Wondering where to find new customers so you can gather novel insights about how to disrupt your industry? Start by examining the “third places” where your customers congregate those locations where they choose to spend their time outside of home, work or school.
To learn more about this concept, I reached out to Esther Crawford, CEO of Squad, a disruptive mobile app that allows users to screen share from their smartphone with friends.
“You have to be mindful of where your audience is spending its time and what they’re doing when they get there,” Crawford explains.“Teens today spend much of their free hangout time in digital spaces rather than physical places. Apps are to Gen Z what the mall was to Gen X—they’re places to have shared experiences with friends.”
“Entrepreneurs need to actively look for ways to become integrated into these new third places so they can better understand their consumers and make a stronger impression,” Crawford adds.
If you already have an idea of who you wish to target for a new business idea, try learning more about how they spend their free time first. This could open up new approaches to how you can further differentiate your product and get an edge over existing players in the market.
4. Be Willing To Iterate
“You don’t need to have a perfect product from day one or day ten. Make something and get it out there, then make the second version a little bit better, and the third version a bit better than the previous one,” Kwong advises, noting that this is just as applicable when you’re creating a physical product, as it is to building a digital product business.
While you obviously shouldn’t rush a low-quality product to market, you also can’t afford to wait around and tinker with it until you achieve perfection. You don’t know how long your window of opportunity will last, so timing is always of the essence—even if you’re starting your business on the side of your day job.
“The longer you wait, the more likely it is that other entrepreneurs are going to recognize the same issues you did and try to take action themselves,” Crawford adds. “Even if you came up with the idea first, if you let others beat you to market, you’ll be viewed as a copycat. Use customer feedback from your initial launch to fine-tune and reiterate things so you can maintain your position when other brands arrive in your space.”
If we’ve learned anything in today’s age with companies like Uber, Tesla and Airbnb, it’s that long-established industry norms don’t need to stay entrenched forever.
As you think outside the box and look for niche business ideas that others aren’t yet addressing, you’ll be better positioned to introduce the products and services your target audience is searching for. Disruption is possible in practically every industry.
When you’re the one leading the charge, you’ll be well on your way to entrepreneurial success.