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Is the Market Ready for Your Product? Really?

Joseph Flaherty, Director of Content & Community

Paleo, Peleton, and remote coaching have become big businesses over the last few years, but it’s worth taking a moment to think about the hundred years of…

🧪 Science,

👋 Social movements,

🏀 Sports,

🤖 & Startups …that helped to pave the way for their successes.

⚖️ To start off, the modern science of calorie counting started in the 19th Century:

🏋️ As did the art of bodybuilding:

These ideas remained on the fringe for decades, but slowly they began to permeate the culture.

🏠 A homemaker named Jean Nidetch held the first Weight Watchers meeting in 1963 in Queens, NY and helped to translate the findings from scientific journals into a format that could spread through suburban kitchens across the country.

👣 In 1965, a Japanese manufacturer, The Yamasa Clock and Instrument Company, launched a pedometer, the name of which translated roughly into “10,000 steps,” helping to plant the seeds for what would grow into the quantified self-movement.

💪 In the same year, Gold’s Gym opened in Venice Beach and became the global epicenter for engorged biceps. More importantly, it spawned Arnold Schwarzenegger who became a living billboard for what was previously a countercultural lifestyle.

🥩 We tend to think of low-carb diets as being a product of the 1990s, but Dr. Richard Atkins first published his theory about carb restriction in 1972, when the conventional wisdom on diet looked more like this.

🎿 NordicTrack launched in 1975 when a Minnesotan skier built a contraption to help train for an event, and forever made the idea of an average person having specialized gym equipment in their rec. room seem normal.

🤸‍♀️ In 1982, movie star Jane Fonda released her workout book and eponymous exercise tape. Jazzercise became a thing. And shortly thereafter, Richard Simmons blessed us with “Sweatin’ to the Oldies.” The age of the fitness superstar had begun.

This is a dramatically abridged account that skips better-known stories like the impact of Nike on sports culture, the media impact of watching Oprah’s diet journey over the years, and many other notable figures from Jack LaLane to Jenny Craig.

It also glosses over glaring failures. Chemical catastrophes like Fen-Phen and Olestra. Meme-worthy gadgets like the ShakeWeight and ThighMaster. Faddish juice cleanses and cinnamon-based supplements of questionable utility. And so on.

Obviously, the average consumer doesn’t consciously consider all of this history when evaluating a new diet or exercise plan. But a decision-making structure has likely been built in their brain, subconsciously, based on decades of seeing what works and doesn’t.

Celebrities, communities, science, technology, and commerce intermingled for decades popularizing ideas about how to achieve peak levels of health and performance that ultimately allowed the makers of products like a $1,500 “Smart Mirror” to sell to a prepared mind.

So what? The takeaway for startups is that it’s *really* hard to educate the market and build a product for it at the same time. There’s a temptation to think the market for your product or service is more prepared — or just larger than it really is.

The Atkins diet fizzled in the 1970s, relaunched to some fanfare in the 1990s, but didn’t become the conventional wisdom until the 2010s. Timing matters a lot in life, and good ideas often need to be shepherded for decades or more.

Often, founders are excited about a new finding in an academic paper, or a nascent trend that might be the basis for a good business. They over extrapolate how quickly these trends will spread and how much education the market still requires.

For instance…

There’s been a decade long media push on behalf of entomophagy — people eating bugs. There are great environmental arguments for this. It’s already the norm in many cultures. Still, despite years of advocacy, “Caterpillar Lasagna” hasn’t made it onto many mainstream menus.

This isn’t a suggestion that founders should dream small or look for incremental improvements in already popular products. But they should try to be conscious of their field’s history, and use that data to set expectations of progress appropriately.

💰 A Note on Fundraising 💰

If your market is still emerging, be careful about how much you raise. You may have discovered a lucrative opportunity, but the time it will take to mature and the expectations of your investors may be fatally divergent!

In summary, if you want to build a big business, either look for paths that have already been paved or prepare for an off-road adventure that may take years and require many unexpected turns. Both are perfectly viable approaches, but in either case, don’t forget a map.

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