Dominate the small pond

Most founders I know are ambitious, big dreamers. Go Big or Go Home. All or nothing.

They also tend to be big-picture, expansive thinkers, the details and nuances are not something they are overly concerned with, it’ll solve itself out on its own.

And generally thats what makes founder pioneers and able to break new grounds. But, it leaves a gap. How do you even start?

When your goal is as lofty and ambitious as capturing 30% of a market or being the leading product for X industry… Where do you even begin? scaling with a good product is generally straightforward, but starting? Thats a whole other ballgame.

I spent most of my childhood skateboarding, then i got into nerdy tabletop wargames, and at one point i was really into lego minifigures, and had that largest minifigure blog in the world (that website is still going strong under someone else’s ownership). I think I’m lucky as i’ve always been into fringe interests.

What this has taught me, is that its easier to become a big fish in a small pond, and its easier to aim to maintain being the big fish as the pond gets larger. Its far harder to grow into a big fish in an already big pond, the odd are stacked against you.

Startups tend to favour monopolistic companies, Peter Thiel dedicated a whole section of his book Zero to One to this concept. The fact is, its easier to be a monopoly of a niche.

So the goal of any startup should be to find the lost highly engaged, growing niche they can, and double down on capturing the lions share of that niche.

Instead of going for Travel, go for Adventure travel, if you find thats still to large, go for Travel climbers, it’s far easier to tailor your business, product, service offering and unit economics, not to mention increase the efficiency of your marketing spend to Travel Climbers, than it would be to all people who travel. You’ll find that theres generally going to be less competition too.

When you focus on a niche, such as travel climbers, you want to look for a niche where there’s very high engagement, network effect, you then want to participate and engage with that community, making sure that you’re not trying to dominate and impose yourself, but rather add value, exchange ideas and be part of the community, if you go in projecting you’re the expert or trying to be too salesy, or not engage in community, you’ll alienate the network. Your goal should always to be to add real value to the network and really support the community.

Eventually, your standing in the community will increase, others will see you as a source of information and differ to you, this is a good signal that you’ve been accepted and are now a key node in the network, its a signal that you can start to introduce new concepts (such as your product) to the network, again, you want to avoid being too salesy.

Once you’ve reached this point you can start to replicate the same ‘inception’ into adjacent niche communities if you’re a leading voice in the travel climbing community, its likely that trying to expand to the travel camping, or travel hang gliding community will have sufficient cross-over and similarities to justify expanding your influence into.

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