What’s your killer vertical? What’s the market you’re going to launch your product/service into and the type of customers you will be trying to win over in the early days? These are vital questions for any scrappy startup to ask themselves and questions that if you don’t have the answer to yet – don’t fret- but read on…
What’s a vertical?
I has taken probably 6 months for us to find what I think is our truly killer vertical – a slice of the market that we will start with and expand in time from there. Too many young startups fail because they think the whole world is their target market and that’s just never the case – even if you’re WalMart or Oracle.
I’m not knocking Walmart – I have spent many a late college night racing shopping carts down those surprisingly white floors, buying 30 rolls of toilet paper for $4.50 all while munching on off brand Fritos . Even today knowing that no matter where I am – a WalMart is nearby – comforts me in some sick, giant-conglomerate-is-there-for-you way.
But remember WalMart started with a killer vertical and grew into the mainstream from there. Even today you normally don’t see Maseratis and Porsches filling the parking lot and WalMart is fine with that. There’s way more money to me made my catering to the budget conscious majority than the filthy rich minority and no one knows that better than Wally World.
Choosing a vertical
The best verticals are the ones that contain people desperate for a solution to their problem, willing to spend money to solve it and that are specific enough to matter.
Women (for instance), is not a killer vertical – it’s half of the world. Married women is still a little too broad, but married women who suffer from postpartum depression is a specific vertical – with a desperate need just waiting for a solution.
To narrow down our target market we started looking at our offering (a virtual assistant finder service) and looking at our unique differentiators (we offer a very concierge service and focus on educating the customer so they can get the most out of their virtual assistant relationship).
From there I started asking myself “Could they use Zirtual?” each time I saw, met or heard of a person from different corners of life. If I answered “yes” to the first question I’d immediately follow up with a “Would they get an insane amount of value from Zirtual’s service and from having a virtual assistant”. The answer had to be yes to both to be in the running as our killer vertical.
I asked this question of everyone from soccer moms to bigwig professionals to college students to scrappy entrepreneurs. In the end I had three verticals that survived my mental scrutiny:
- Startup entrepreneurs
- Small business owners (1-3 employees)
- Non-brick and mortar business owners
How a specific vertical will effect your business
- Website content
- Marketing copy
- Advertising copy
- Promotional information
- Your pitch
- Your mission statement
- Your business plan
All of the above will now focus on a small segment of the World who is highly likely to get a LOT out of your offering. Meaning everything you do from now on will be exponentially more valuable. ]
Look at Vibram shoes, they are weird looking and most people would think the idea of 5 toed shoes was down right creepy but they choose a very specific vertical and talked directly at them and only them. Now you see Vibram’s catching on like wild fire because the brand chose a specific vertical and well all out to provide crazy value to them.
How it looks
Our vertical before this was “entrepreneurs” and just like targeting women as your target market it was just too darn broad. The term entrepreneur covers people like Steve Jobs, people that run a hotel chain, people that own a restaurant and people like me – all vastly different types of business people, in vastly different types of business, at vastly different times in their growth.
Zirtual helps startup entrepreneurs increase their productivity and focus on the big picture within their small business by delegating tasks that sap their time and energy to a virtual assistant. Zirtual does this by focusing on educating our customers on delegation, recruiting quality virtual assistants tailored to the employer’s needs and providing a platform for assistant and entrepreneur to seamlessly interact on.
The most important lesson
Is that this is all a work in progress. A month from now or a year from now we may have gone through experiences that show us that X isn’t our target market or killer vertical but Y is. It’s vital as a startup you keep your mind and heart open to the constant possibility of change instead of letting it completely derail you.
So if you don’t have a killer vertical for your startup I suggest you start brainstorming it as soon as possible. If you have a business idea or product ready start by asking yourself the question “are you my target market” everytime you meet someone new or interact with a separate business – this is a simple way to help you narrow down who exactly is your target customer and which vertical they fit into.
If you’re really serious about it I suggest you read through The Four Steps to the Ephiphany – a difficult book to get through but Steve Blank is a genius and it will rock your world when it comes to picking a vertical and going to market the right way. You can get his book here or at your local library.