As technology enthusiasts, entrepreneurs or developers in the African tech space, one of the most important judgment calls to make when launching a new venture or doing due diligence on a given sector online is on determining if the market is indeed ready for the product. Is the opportunity ahead of its time? Will consumers “get” the product? Will one be able to find a “product market fit?” Is it “too early?”
Whether or not an opportunity is too early takes a significant amount of insight to make and only very few are genuinely capable of making this judgment call and even they may be wrong. When coupled with the fact that how early an opportunity is or isn’t might be muddled up with how well a startup can execute an idea, being able to come up with the right perception of the market becomes even trickier.
The truth is that even in mature markets, the first few months or even years are often the most painful. Gaining an audience, customers and fans takes time and patience to build. If this process is not going as quickly as anticipated, it is not always a sign of the market being “too early.” Sometimes it is just the natural evolution of things.
Customers need to know why they should pay attention to your product or switch from an existing brand to yours. Customers need to be convinced that you are in the business for the long haul and not just a casual market tester. Customers need to know that you are committed to providing value even when pay offs don’t seem anywhere in sight.
This is why first movers in the supposedly “too early” stage often get the advantage that latter entrants struggle to acquire. First movers have paid their dues, earned the trust of customers and learned the hard way of what it takes to acquire, nurture and retain consumers. First movers who believe in a given tech segment or sector are also privy to outside knowledge that those who did not deem it attractive enough to venture into might not be aware of. Perhaps the space has unbelievably high conversion rates that may not be visible to the casual industry analyst. Perhaps the spate of growth in the space is exponential but is easily overlooked by an observer who is merely looking at the absolute industry numbers but not its growth rate. Perhaps larger industry players are looking to venture into the space and are looking to acquire local targets who have cut their teeth and mastered the art of quietly and steadily acquiring users and delivering value. Depending on your goals for building your startup, you may find that to the casual by stander, the opportunity is “too early” but to the seasoned industry player, this in fact is the right time to pitch one’s tent…
Ultimately, the trick is understanding the industry fundamentals enough to bid one’s time and not mind the initial setbacks of the early days. Only disciplined and focused players are able to do this. Then when the industry fundamentals start to manifest to even casual observers, act nimbly and build out your product to what you envisioned it to be.
“On Startups” is a brand new series on CP-Africa focused on Africa’s fast growing tech startup space. On Startups publishes insights on the growing trends in the space including opinion pieces and industry briefs. See some of our previous posts in the series below: