Markets are important. They have an outsize impact on a company’s trajectory. A small but growing market with the potential to be large is great. And rapidly growing markets can be good, but only absent cutthroat competition that erodes margins.
When founders are looking in established or growing markets, they should think about white space. In a market that isn’t new and that’s dominated by legacy companies, there may be a segment of the market that the incumbents aren’t worried about. It could be too small, perceived as having too-low margins, etc. Whatever the reason, the incumbents are happy to let smaller start-ups take the business. The flaw in the incumbents’ approach is the failure to realize what’s possible. Can this small white space become massive? Can a growing trend overtake and upend the legacy businesses? By the time the possibilities play out, it can be too late for the incumbents. The once-small start-up has become a force to be reckoned with, forever changing the industry and taking incumbent market share.
Scrappy founders who see a problem they’d like to solve in a market with incumbents shouldn’t let the thought of competing with incumbents immediately deter them. Instead, they should consider whether there’s a white space that could serve as a noncompetitive beachhead. If you find one of these in a great market, you may have found a great entrepreneurial opportunity.