How to develop a winning product business

Market research is essential to any thriving product start-up but where do you begin? And what method should you use? Eight founders share their tips…

A great product has the ability to stretch the imagination, create entirely new markets and even completely transform society – just look at how Steve Jobs’ Apple creations have changed the world.

However, starting and running a product business is no easy task; with IP challenges, competitive and populated markets, high production costs and low margins and the challenge of contending with fast-growth and (often) investor-favourable tech start-ups.

Building a sustainable product business is a tough game.

That’s why doing your homework and conducting market research is essential to both your product’s development and your start-up’s success. From deciding upon the right design, to understanding how to introduce your product to the market and where to sell it; going out and analysing the marketplace will help you form your branding, finance and business strategy.

Here, Startups has pulled together market research tips from the entrepreneurs behind some of the most innovative and inspirational product start-ups we’ve encountered.

1. Get a range of opinions from your target customers and channels

Izzy Melody, founder, Alissa Koopal:

“As a mum, I had quite a good insight from friends and my own children but I also conducted multiple focus groups with parents I did not know so the opinions would not be biased. I combined this with research online and the market research available on the industry as a whole.


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“Focus on the distribution channels which are specific for the industry, plus visit trade shows and network.”

2. Go straight to market: Launch a pop-up

 Melanie Goldsmith, co-founder, Smith and Sinclair:

“We literally took the product to market a week after we created it, during which we also set up relationships with alcohol brands including Compass Box Whisky and Calvados Drouin. From being out in the market, we were able to see the product’s reception and develop it and our brand identity accordingly.

“Going straight to market also enabled us to confirm that a market for our product existed and that people would pay for something different. There is nothing else like it in the marketplace worldwide and brands were very eager to collaborate with us from the beginning.”

3. Learn from your competition’s mistakes

Oliver Bridge, founder, Cornerstone:
“I spent a lot of time speaking to other men about their shaving and skincare habits. What emerged quite quickly was that most were frustrated at the shortcomings of their current products or routines, but weren’t sure where to turn for help or what to change.

“It was clear to me that if we could put together a simple, elegant solution that helped men achieve a better shave, then men would be willing to switch to Cornerstone.”

4. Never stop learning: Continue talking to your market

Ralph Broadbent and Alex Dixon, co-founders, Victor’s Drinks:

“Whilst developing Victor’s Drinks we have undertaken a significant amount of market research, predominantly with our core target market (18-30 year olds).

“Through a series of ongoing focus groups, we have covered a wide range of topics ranging from how the product looks and tastes versus the competition and the perception of the homebrew industry as a whole. We have also conducted a number of competitor analysis studies to understand what other companies in a similar space are doing or plan to do.”

5. Do what you know: Use your previous experience

Michelle Waugh, founder, Cracking Cookies:

I have previous experience of working within the gift and food industry so I was aware of the potential within the food gifting industry.

“After many late nights and deliberation Cracking Cookies was born to reflect the growth in the food gifting market, the demand for unique products and also the huge growth in personalised gifts. I knew the market well, and knew if we got the product right and created a brand around this we were on our way to a ‘cracking’ future.”

6. Get to know your audience and let them inspire you

Bethany Koby, co-founder, Technology Will Save Us:

“Our entire ethos is user-centric and so our market research took place in schools and public workshops. Our kits are based on everyday life themes like gardening, cycling and gaming. These were based on insights gathered from innovation charity NESTA funded research, where we set out to investigate what young people are learning in school, what they are making and what they like doing in their lives.

“We also looked at and continue to look at the hobbyist market, toys and consumer electronics – but as we said this is a new, growing market.”

7. Utilise local resources and become an industry expert:

Tom Blake, founder, keep me jewellery: 

“I started learning about the jewellery industry by subscribing to retail jewellery publications. I visited trade shows and regularly visited jewellery shops and gift shops and department stores to get a thorough idea of what products were out there and how they were priced.

“I also became a member of the British Library’s Business & IP centre, and I attended seminars and workshops and used their market analysis resources.”

8. Get social: Use your online audience

 Sarah Parkins, founder, Sniffy Wiffy:

“Social media is a very valuable market research tool – a quick, simple way to ask questions/gain feedback.

“The feedback was overwhelmingly positive but also very informative and definitely influenced things like the packaging, the type of fragrances to offer etc. Significantly, it also led me to develop a male range addressing testicular cancer – so many people suggested this and it seemed like a natural progression from the female range.”

For more market research support, check out our Startups Research tool – where you can reach out to our network to get quick feedback on key considerations like market size and how viable your business idea is.

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