How to find a gap in the market for startups. Photo by Robert S. Donovan

How to Find & Exploit a Gap in the Market (for Small Business Startups)

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Being an entrepreneur is one of the best vocations in the world because it encourages you to view everything as an opportunity for innovation.

Once you have an idea, challenge it. Break it down. Make it better. Throw it away. Start again. Fail. Fail. Fail.

Until you succeed.

What Entrepreneurs are Reading Now

Whatever you can imagine, you can do. Provided you have the drive and determination to see it through.

In the spirit of exploring side hustles and business ideas, I recently had the pleasure of being introduced to over 50 new startups that have isolated a 'gap in the market' and gone for it. I thought I'd share a few of my favourites here.

Definition: Gap in the Market Idea

A gap in the market idea can have one or more of three attributes. Namely,

  1. It is something new and original.
  2. It improves on something that already exists.
  3. It takes something that exists and finds it a new market.

Research a Potential Gap in the Market

Quickly find out if your gap in the market business idea is viable and worth investing in.

Use Google search to find existing players in that niche. If so, use SEMRush to research and understand how well they're established and what their online network looks like (SEMRush has a limited free plan). Get an idea of the potential size of the existing market (if any) using Google's Keyword Planner and compile all that data into a working business plan using LivePlan.

Where to Look for Gaps

There are a few strategies you can use to help spark ideas that can leverage gaps in the market that no-one else has discovered. It does mean immersing yourself in news (especially if it's related to your niche), so don't expect this to be a passive process. It takes a bit of time and effort to explore, learn, research and eventually, discover.

1. Trends & New Technology

Technology & trends are moving so quickly that new opportunities are popping up on a daily basis. Keep an eye on new trends (what I call, rising columns) and think about how they might impact the way in which society works.

Right now AI technology and machine learning is creating new business opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Take drones, for example. There are so many uses for drones that individuals and companies are investing in them heavily and sales are skyrocketing. What business opportunities does this create? Well, for a start, someone is going to have to maintain and repair these machines because they are prone to damage. Setting up an online drone repair business now might allow you to capture and ride the wave of drone technology growth.

2. Make the World Local

There are hubs of creativity around the world. Silicon valley is famous for tech startups and innovation. Stuff happens here before it happens anywhere else. Watching what happens in these centers of creativity means that you might be able to bring new products and services to your region before the original company can expand there.

3. Creative Combinations

Blockbuster video is essentially dead. Killed by DVD rentals that leveraged streaming technology, which meant video rentals could be accomplished without driving to the store. New technologies don't always have immediately obvious benefits, but try combining something new with something that exists to come up with creative solutions that can make life easier or streamline businesses.

For example, solar panels aren't particularly new. Shaded parking lots aren't new either. But, combining them into solar powered parking lots means that malls could offer shaded parking with electric vehicle recharges, power themselves and earn additional revenue by putting power back into the grid. All they need is a plucky entrepreneur to sell the concept and system in a way that makes it profitable and easy for them.

4. Hidden Industry Opportunities

Many gaps are not obvious to anyone but industry insiders.

Take the mining industry, for example. Every time the government changes regulations, mining companies have to alter the way in which they comply. Some companies are still performing compliance tasks using hard-copy paper (i.e. a compliance officer physically ticks off a box, with a pen or pencil, after inspection and hands that paper in). This means there is great opportunity to add existing technology to the process to allow them to capture compliance data more efficiently (using a mobile site/app) and then use it better (well, anything's better than having piles of paper that no-one will ever read).

Looking for gaps is about gathering information and knowledge about the state of an industry. The more you know, the more likely you are to realise what's missing, or what can be improved. That's why curiosity and creativity are such important characteristics of successful entrepreneurs.

How to Identify a Gap

Gaps exist everywhere. The trick is to find one that you can take advantage of given your skill set and resources. There's probably a big gap in the market for wormhole tech, but none of us can take advantage of it yet.

There is one sure fire way to improve your chances of finding a great gap in the market that, reasonably speaking, you are also able to do something about.

Expose yourself to as many new and interesting experiences, ideas and people so that your brain can make new and creative associations and innovations.

It's very hard to find a gap in the market without getting out there and meeting people. Challenge yourself to do new things. Explore. Be curious. Make new connections. Make it a habit to draw in as much information as you can and use it like jigsaw pieces in a puzzle.

I wrote an article entitled how to come up with good business ideas that will definitely help with this strategy if you are looking.

Spotted a Potential Gap?

If you have already spotted a great gap and are wondering how to go from an initial idea to a business, here's what I recommend.

Work out a way to get to market and make money as quickly as possible.

For now, let's take a look at some of the companies turning their gap in the market into innovative startups.

BlurtBox

Valuable customer feedback with Blurtbox

I can't remember the number of times where I have been at dinner and either been unhappy with something (but not wanting to cause a scene and ruin everyone's night), or seeing someone else at the table in the same position.

Complaining is an important part of helping restaurants maintain high standards. Managers can't act on something if they don't know what is wrong.

As a business owner myself, I go to great lengths to ensure that customers who complain are treated like gold... because I want them to give us a chance to fix things. Otherwise they might simply take their business elsewhere, or worse, not recommend us on to their friends and colleagues.

Blurtbox gives you a discreet way to complain. It also helps lower the barriers for obtaining customer feedback from the business' perspective.

What they say:

If you're at a coffee shop and get a cup of cold coffee, then you can 'blurt' your complaint within the app (without any of your personal info) and it pops up on the manager's device instantly, just like a text message would.

You get a hot cup of coffee and the business avoids negative online reviews. Think of it as the opposite of Yelp.

Julien started BlurtBox after years in the hospitality industry, and noticing the roundabout ways guests try to communicate with businesses they patron (Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc.) and the obsolete and inefficient ways businesses try to capture feedback (long surveys, comment boxes, etc).

trip4real

Tours and activities guided by locals

I love this idea. I can only imagine the millions of people travelling around the world wishing there was a way to break the ice and find an in with the locals - as opposed to passing silently amongst the tourist traps without making real, human connections.

I've been on trips to give talks or for business in the past and been thoroughly miserable. Not because there was anything wrong with the places I visited, but because I didn't know where to go or who to hang out with.

For me, trip4real offers a fantastic way to change this reality for lots of people.

What they say:

By creating trip4real, we connect travellers with locals, and change the travel experience from being touristy to being an authentic cultural experience.

Bare baby bottle

Air free baby bottle

Ok, so this idea is pretty far out of my personal sphere of experience, but I am aware that bottle feeding comes fraught with many issues. Seems to me like helping to prevent babies taking in a lot of air when they feed from a bottle is something a lot of new moms (and pops) could use... especially if it means baby is happy and they get a bit more sleep.

What they say:

Bare is the world’s first baby bottle that feeds baby Air-free milk. With a sliding air-plug, it allows the user to expel all the air out of the bottle, like a syringe, and automatically moves towards the nipple as baby feeds. The milk chamber is always air free to dramatically reduce air ingestion while feeding to help prevent gas and colic.

Bare works with suction, allowing baby to feed in a natural, upright position, which is recommended by Paediatricians to prevent ear infections, painful gas, acid reflux symptoms and over-eating, promotes self-feeding, bottle weaning and easier transition to cups.

Del Viejo (Datil Pepper Sauce)

Unique region specific food product (datil peppers)

We all agree that salsa is not something new. So why do I think that the Datil pepper sauce is worthy of mention in a list like this?

Simple. Imagine what a wonderful time us foodies would have if every town decided to come up with a foodstuff and make it their own? Well, we'd have a lot more variety to explore in our foods. Neighbouring towns could compete in local food markets, bringing more vibrancy and choice to the locals.

In my area there is wine, wine, and more wine. And olives. But mainly wine. It's great, but monoculture can become monotonous.

If every town in this region had their own 'Datil pepper sauce' (or whatever), instead of only wine, I guarantee we would be attracting more than the 1 million annual tourists who come already.

What they say:

Very few outside of St. Augustine have ever heard of the Datil Pepper, which gives our company, Del Viejo Gourmet, a large competitive advantage to bring to market an incredible new taste profile that will solve every foodie's palate fatigue.

The Datil Pepper has a slight fruitiness with a latent heat, and when used in the proper proportions, it marries well with so many dishes (including dark chocolate with sea salt!).

Gone

Selling on demand with the gone app

We recently moved apartments and ended up not being able to fit everything into the new space. We had a bunch of things to either donate or sell. Some of the larger items were worth a bit of cash so we decided to sell them by listing them in the local Gumtree directory.

It works. It's fine. But it's a real pain. You have to let people come and take a look. They 'conveniently' only bring half of the asking price in cash, and so on. Basically, listing in a directory functions, but, more often than not, you end up having to work for the sale.

The Gone app solves this issue by handling the sale and the delivery on your behalf. Meaning that you can get rid of unwanted items at the click of a button. Saves time and effort, which is a win in my book.

What they say:

In the time it takes you to list something online, the Gone app has already made you an offer and scheduled a free pickup.

So that's all I have time for now, but there are stacks of creative, vibrant and awesome people doing great things in the startup world. Hopefully the above businesses might spark inspiration for your own ideas.

What are some of the coolest companies and ideas you have come across in recent times? What makes them a real 'gap in the market' idea? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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There's a stack of really mediocre instructional clips on everything from writing a business plan, understanding the science of marketing, or improving SEO and ranking higher in Google.

You could probably spend weeks combing through everything, but like most entrepreneurs you probably don't have the time.

That's why I've collected five of the most useful and important YouTube clips to help you get the basics right - especially when it comes to ensuring your business and website get the most from the Internet.

drop shipping introduction

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This article will list two of the most interesting entrepreneurial ideas that I came up with (some of these businesses have been done with success in other parts of the world).

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