If you want to become an entrepreneur but don’t know where to start, relax. It’s not about ideas, it’s about understanding and researching current industries that have not innovated their products or services and have a large customer market. If you think about what Netflix, Amazon, Uber and AirBnb did, you can clearly see, they created nothing new in terms of products. So, what did they do? They changed the “game” in an industry that was not being innovative and was ripe for disruption. In other words, they headed for a “blue ocean” made famous by management thought leaders W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne in their perennial bestseller, Blue Ocean Strategy.
Blue Ocean Strategy is an approach that challenges everything that you thought you knew about the requirements for entrepreneurial success. Blue Ocean Strategy can be summarized in a nutshell: the best way to beat the competition is to make the competition irrelevant. Imagine that the marketplace is comprised of two sorts of oceans: red oceans and blue oceans.
To discover an elusive blue ocean, Kim and Mauborgne recommend that businesses consider what they call the Four Actions Framework to reconstruct buyer value elements in crafting a new innovation wave. The framework poses four key questions:
- Raise: What factors should be raised well above the industry’s standard?
- Reduce: What factors were a result of competing against other industries and can be reduced?
- Eliminate: Which factors that the industry has long competed on should be eliminated?
- Create: Which factors should be created that the industry has never offered?
If you think about it, lets review what these market leaders did with Blue Ocean Strategy in mind. Amazon did not build bookstores but built an enterprise infrastructure to have access to one million book titles and competed well with Borders and Barnes & Noble. Netflix did not use stores in their business model to compete with Blockbuster; instead they focused on customer service. Uber did not even try to buy cars and compete with the independent taxi companies, they created a mobile app. AirBnb does not own homes or hotels, instead they redefined the travel experience by uniting existing property owners onto a common easy-to-use platform.
Existing marketplaces with lots of competitors live in crowded, shark-ridden red oceans. Red oceans are characterized by multiple firms offering similar products competing mostly on price. Think Target versus Wal-Mart, Sony versus Samsung. Meanwhile, blue oceans are characterized by untapped market space, demand creation, and the opportunity for highly profitable growth.
In recent years, Dollar Shave Club took on Gillette by offering subscription-based access to razors at a better cost and service. As a potential entrepreneur, just examine large industries or product lines and see if customers are happy with their current choices. Wherever you find customers are not ecstatic, dig deeper. A few years back, Chobani did the same thing to yogurt by offering Greek yogurt, more protein and less sugar. None of these examples showcase a completely new, never heard of before product. But all these companies either innovated the current product in the marketplace or they offered a simple innovation or twist to the business model for their company. In almost every case, the customer is happier with the new company or product. That means they were dissatisfied before these companies came along.
If you want to get a jumpstart on surfacing an opportunity, pay attention to something new you see (craft beer, organic pet food, cloud storage, etc.) and do some research. Or go to places where you can observe people: malls, airports, universities and just walk around. See what people are doing and not doing. Don’t look for anything in particular, just observe. Another option is to walk through Target or Wal-Mart and slowly walk up and down the aisles. Look for current products that seem over priced or they don’t exactly make the customer ecstatic. Then research how big that industry category actually is. If it’s billions, keep going. Run a few of your best “opportunities” through the Blue Ocean Strategy framework of raise, reduce, eliminate and create.
The founders of Skullcandy did something similar by walking through Target to spot their earphone opportunity. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to solve a problem in a big marketplace. To spot a problem, go looking. Once you find some problems, use Blue Ocean Strategy to innovate a solution and perhaps you will create a billion dollar company.