Some folks misunderstand me when I say:
"Go after a market with strong demand."
Here's what I'm not saying:
✘ "Build a product in a popular market."
✘ "Build a product in a market with lots of competitors."
✘ "Build a copycat when you notice a product doing well."
When I talk about a "market" I'm describing the sum of demand for a particular thing:
Building a new product is an enormous risk. You're risking your time and energy (which you'll never get back), the investment of your own capital, and potentially lost wages.
So before you build a product, you want to see some evidence of demand. Essentially, you need to know:
"Is there a strong desire by a group of people for this product to exist?"
Often, you'll notice opportunities in existing categories. There's evidence that folks are already buying, but they're itching for a better solution.
However, sometimes, the category doesn't exist yet! In these cases, you might notice a group putting considerable effort into hacking together their own solution. (Feedback Panda is a good example of this).
In the past, I've used examples to illustrate this concept. For example, in my town, you can see evidence of "demand for coffee" because there are lineups outside many of the coffee shops.
Compared to alternatives (tea and milkshakes) there is more demand for coffee.
However, my point isn't that you should start a coffee shop. No!
My examples are illustrative, not prescriptive.
Likewise, when I use examples of successful companies it's for context. I'm not advising that you go and try to start a similar product in a similar market just because it worked for them!
Don't ride their wave, find your own.
Successful founders saw an opportunity at the right time and had the skills, connections, and resources to take advantage of it.
Most good opportunities are not obvious (especially to outsiders). It's unlikely that you'll spot an opportunity in a space you're not familiar with. You're looking for evidence of unmet demand in a category that you understand.
Characteristics of a good opportunity:
If customers already have multiple options (that they're happy with) it's most likely a low-demand opportunity.
This is why bootstrappers probably shouldn't build another to-do app or project management app too. Those categories are saturated, highly competitive, with well-funded incumbents. (unless you've truly noticed some untapped demand).
Without a wave, a surfer's skill is worthless.
However, when a surfer spots an oncoming wave, their ability to ride a swell depends on their skill, their position in the water, and their strength.
Likewise, the skills, network, timing, and execution of the founding team do matter.
This is why developing your fundamentals is so important:
These attributes become your "unfair advantage;" especially if you target an existing category.
Don't go head-to-head with existing incumbents unless you feel you have the chops!
Beginner surfers shouldn't compete with Kelly Slater. But Italo Ferreira can because he's also a pro surfer.
Likewise, Ruben Gamez can go head-to-head with Docusign because he has a major strength (SEO). DocuSign is massive and dominates the digital signature market, but Ruben feels like he's got a chance.
You might notice a good opportunity and have the skills to execute on it, but if there's no efficient way to reach the market, you'll be in trouble.
Building something people want is not enough. You need reliable channels for connecting with customers. And, those channels can't cost you too much (in money, or time).
For Transistor, my personal network allowed me to reach beta users, and my audience helped us make a big splash when we launched.
But it wasn't until we found good marketing channels that we hit traction. For us, and our market, SEO, referrals, and PR have been helpful. For you, and your market, it might be something different.
Ultimately, none of this is easy. There are a lot of questions you'll need to ask yourself before you start pursuing an idea:
As you can imagine, it's unlikely that the first idea you have for a business will be "a winner."
Josh Pigford famously went through over 50 ideas before he arrived on the idea for Baremetrics. Adam Wathan was working on a SaaS idea (which he abandoned) before he stumbled on the idea for Tailwind.
It's that characteristic, that drive, that seems to distinguish successful bootstrappers. They'll paddle out, get crushed by a swell, and paddle out to try it again. And they'll keep trying until they catch a good wave.
Hope this helps clarify a few things,