n DC there was a company called Speek. They were one of many companies looking to unseat the entrenched large incumbent companies in the highly price-competitive world of conference calls. In DC startupland, when you said the word Speek, every founder, tech entrepreneur, wantrepreneur knew the company of whom you Spook. With very little money, minimal effort, and minimal resource, in the DC Tech scene Speek made themselves a household name. In DC Tech when you said conference calling, DC Techians thought Speek.
If you went to Omaha Nebraska and asked about Speek, and they’d say huh? Glen, you say Speek? Is this one of your famously frequent, bonehead, spelling errors?
If you asked someone in Columbus what company they think of when they think about conference calling they would have replied with a long list of companies of which none would be Speek. In the startup community in Silicon Valley, they would reply UberConference, or Skype (owned by Microsoft), or Google Voice or Hangouts, or Cisco’s Webex, or Citrix’s GoToMeeting.
My point? Speek has been incredibly efficient in generating buzz by targeting its glitter-traction engine in a highly focused market. Imagine your business, and imagine your target market as ten bowling pins. You can aim your buzz machine at all 10 pins, but you don’t have the mass, the energy, or the resources to knock down all 10 pins. Yet if you focus all your energy on one pin, perhaps the first pin, there is a high likelihood that you would have the energy to knock that pin down. And if you knock that pin down in the right direction? It can take down the other 10 pins.
If you throw a brick in the ocean, it sinks to the bottom with nary splash. If you throw that same brick in a small pond it will make some waves, it will make a big splash, and it will create ripples felt across the pond. Sunlight on a dry leaf warms the leaf. When that sunlight is focused and amplified to a small point with a magnifying glass it will start a fire.
You can’t expect to capture an entire large market by spreading your energy to every possible customer. You must pick a strategic first bowling pin, the first pin. The pin that when you knock it down, will take out the next pin and the pin behind that until you bowl a strike. You must pick the right small pond. To start a wave, you must focus your sunlight on one small point on the right leaf.
Your Total Addressable Market (TAM) is 10 pins. So what’s the single pin on which you should focus your energy? Where will you apply the heat? Which small niche is worth owning? Which small niche will get you the rest of the market?
Facebook, whether by design or by just blind luck, went after what turned out to be the exact right strategic pin. First, they took Harvard, then they parlayed that to make a name for themselves in the Ivy’s, moved to all colleges, then high schools until nerds like me and your grandma hopped aboard and they captured the world. You can’t boil the ocean with a match, but you can boil a thimbleful of water with one. Choose a small niche.
Pick the right niche. if you think that DC Tech is your best first pin, make a big splash in a small, parochial, hometown pond. Be sure you pick the right first pin. If your TAM is global SMBs and Enterprises and you think that DC Tech is a likely credible market maker then go for it. If you believe that the risk-tolerant, empty walleted hometown fans may not knock down the next strategic bowling pins… you might want to expend your limited marketing resources on some other highly focused targeted pond.
Don’t make the mistake of focusing your energy on some random senseless market. Don’t wind up as a Speek-like cautionary tale. Speek was “sold” for what amounted to an acquihire for 2 or three of the employees. The investors didn’t receive a dime and the majority of the employees went looking for work. Also, the co-founder and one of the first investors are now in Federal prison, convicted on multiple fraud charges.