Brian Dunham, 33, of San Francisco, has always liked shooting people-with a camera, fortunately. His fondness for film helped inspire him to create eframes.com, a Web site that does picture framing for digital camera owners. Consumers go to the eframes Web site, select a wood or metal frame for about 17 to 30 bucks and then send their digital pictures to Dunham's staff. Usually within 48 hours, the aforementioned consumers have framed photos and memories-sniff, sniff-to last a lifetime.
According to IDC, there are approximately 5 million digital cameras worldwide. By 2003, there should be 22 million. But when Dunham came up with his idea for eframes several years ago, he knew that if he started his company right away, it would be finished just as quickly. There just weren't enough digital cameras. So it wasn't until 1999 that Dunham launched his site, feeling comfortable enough to ease into the dotcom waters and let the rising tide of digital cameras take him out to a serene entrepreneurial sea. The obvious downside is, the aftermarket he's created is completely dependent on the digital camera market. But about that upside . . .
"What's easier about starting an aftermarket is that you don't have to create a buzz around what you're doing because, to a large extent, it's happening already, and you can piggyback on that pretty easily," says Dunham, who has already managed to get some impressive publicity in media outlets like Time and The Wall Street Journal. Especially if the U.S. economy heads into its expected downturn, markets supported by proven products will be the best places for new businesses to be.
And, like all good aftermarkets, Dunham's service enhances the main market. After all, sending digital photos to family and friends around the globe is fun, but it's still nice to put pictures on walls and shelves. "One of the reasons I went into this is that there's a huge global demand," says Dunham, advising aftermarket entrepreneur wanna-bes to "look for businesses to start that will let you make [consumers' lives easier]."
- Have a cultlike, underground following for the market product.
- Even better, the market product should be universal, something
that everybody uses.
The market should have lots of uses. AutoFun, for instance, carries 70 different categories of products that can go in cars. But if there's a Toothpick World out there, we're talking a smaller store.
- Those uses should generate some serious sales. Car accessories, such as child seats, can be expensive. A toothpick holder? Maybe not so expensive. The little colorful plastic paper stuck on toothpicks? Also probably not a cash cow.
- Once you're a success, have an escape plan, especially if your market isn't tried and tested. You can branch out and create numerous aftermarket products or services, in case one of your markets fizzles out.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.