This is like a Hans Christian Anderson parable, but aimed at you and your business… There are big fish and small fish, potential customers, all swimming in the sea that is your potential marketplace. You, the lonely fisherman, have to weave a net to catch your fish. Should your net be large and bulky, requiring more effort and expense to weave? Or should it be small and delicate, to catch those fish that would otherwise fall through the net?
The size of your market may well define the ultimate size of your dream. You can be the most successful coffee house owner in a city of ten thousand, or the founding CEO of the largest chain of coffee shops on the continent. Defining your market in a limiting way reduces the opportunity to exploit the larger potential that may be available to you.
If you attempt to create a manufacturing business where the total available market for your products is only $30 million, even success leading to a dominant share of the market would not allow your company to scale it to a size of great interest to investors.
[Email readers, continue here…] This lesson is important. Companies grow proportional to the size of the market, and success cannot turn a limited market opportunity into a grand enterprise.
When we investors look at a business plan, we look immediately to see if there is research to support the claim of a large enough market to expect the candidate company to grow into the size projected. And we look to see if the size projected is large enough to interest us as investors, since that is directly proportional to the ultimate value of the company in a liquidity event.
To the point of the headline above, sometimes an entrepreneur claims that there is a large market, and attempts to make the case for growth into a grand scale company, sharing only a relatively small portion of that market. If the market claimed to be of a large size has no current, fast growing competitors, we must guess at the accuracy of the claim – something very unscientific. But if there are entrants already scaling, often we then can focus upon the differences and advantages our candidate entrepreneur brings to the market, a much more comfortable piece of work for the investors.
The size of your dream must be scaled to fit into the size of your marketplace. Be sure you can back up your claim with some form of research, then work to perfect the differentiation you offer against the competition.
And if your market truly is large but of unknown size, and if there are no competitors growing in the market, you must work doubly hard to convince investors of your dream. Yet, there are wonderful cases where entrepreneurs created and grew vast enterprises in new markets which could not be measured when their journey began. Think of FedEx, AOL, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Facebook, YouTube, and tens of other billion dollar or larger players in markets that did not exist or were in their infancy when those entrepreneurs cast their nets.