Seeing Business Opportunities in Marketplace Gaps

Would you be happy if someone came to your door with a warm, late-night cookie? A Portland couple thought so, which is why they created After Dark Cookies (and Bryce the cookieman) to fill a cookie-craving gap.

Would you be happy if someone came to your door with a warm, late-night cookie? A Portland couple thought so, which is why they created After Dark Cookies (and Bryce the cookieman) to fill a cookie-craving gap.

One of the best new business strategies is filling a gap – real or perceived.

Portlanders who develop a late-night craving for something sweet can now call After Dark Cookies to order made-from-scratch cookies delivered to their door. That beats slipping on jeans over your pajamas and driving to the nearest convenience store.

Drivers who want to make sure they get good insurance at the best price can go to EverQuote™ and compare prices and discounts online. This avoids hopping from one auto insurance company website to another and entering your information over and over again.

Some of the best gaps are often discovered by people frustrated by the service they receive – or wish they could receive. The founders of After Dark Cookies dreamed up their business idea by wishing they could have a warm cookie late at night. The EverQuote entrepreneurs took to heart complaints from motorists annoyed at the difficulty of comparison shopping for car insurance.

A useful trait in spotting gaps is listening to friends, associates and even strangers talk about day-to-day life irritations – what marketers call “pain points.” You need to probe beyond mere griping to explore the depth of the irritation and whether there is any service or product in the marketplace that addresses it. Once you nail down the nature and frequency of the irritation, you can research cures for their itch that can turn into businesses.

After Dark Cookies landed on a rather obvious solution – homemade cookies delivered to your doorstep. Other problems can be more challenging, so it might help to think about solutions and the problems they could solve. Drone technology is a great example. Building owners and contractors use drones to inspect skyscrapers. News organizations use them to capture on-the-scene footage, as they did dramatically in the hurricane surges in Texas and Florida. What else could drones do or do better than what’s available today? It’s a high-fying way to search for on-the-ground problems to solve.

Another gap-filling technique is to discover a bright new service or product that is available someplace else and then copy or franchise the idea for your local market. Creative copying fills a gap before the originator of the idea has the time and money to fill it.

Governmental actions create gaps. New regulations usually mean new compliance procedures. Many companies subject to the new regulations would welcome a streamlined way to comply without a lot of additional paperwork. Governmental opportunities also can create gaps. A Portland company markets its signature-gathering services to nonprofits that don’t have the manpower to collect 1,000 signatures to qualify for Oregon’s Charitable Checkoff Donations list.

Sometimes the gap is just the distance between two services that no one has thought to connect. Netflix went from mail delivery of your favorite films to live streaming them. Shopping malls have added solar arrays to generate electricity for electric vehicle recharging stations and to sell back to utilities.

Gap searching may not be as easy as laying on your couch yearning for a cookie, but it doesn’t require rocket research either (unless the gap you want to fill is in outer space). Don’t think you have to reinvent the wheel to become an entrepreneur. Just look for the gap between the wheel and the road.

Your next brilliant business idea may be right in front of your eyes – in what you don’t see on the market.