Why Entrepreneurs Should Look Past Tech to Find Opportunity
Leaders whose ideas lean toward analog rather than digital might feel intimidated by today’s tech-heavy entrepreneurial sphere. The buzz around technology-based companies is loud and pervasive, sometimes disguising the fact that plenty of entrepreneurs in the non-tech sector are doing just fine, thank you very much.
Traditional entrepreneurs with solid ideas have nothing to fear but fear itself. Opportunities are alive and well for all types of startups, not just tech-based ones.
The startup climate still supports a range of industries. Consider the numbers regarding startup funding in 2014. Sure, software, IT services and semiconductors raked in money, but other businesses did well, too. Media and entertainment pulled in over $4 billion, and biotechnology did almost as well. Retailing and distribution generated almost a quarter billion. Business products and services landed almost $170 million.
Believe it or not, launching a business in the preexisting, non-technological landscape can actually benefit you. While it, too, is crowded, there’s always room for another smart business. Plus, as Martin Zwilling points out, it can actually be helpful to build your business in a traditional, well-established industry rather than a disruptive one.
The benefits of the traditional entrepreneurial space.
If you start up in an established industry, you can expect to see numerous benefits: You don’t have to do all the R&D that innovators do. Your investors don’t need to take as big of a risk. You can expand your business territory in a small or niche way instead of blazing new trails. You can learn from others’ failures and avoid them yourself.
There are plenty of examples of companies infiltrating a well-established industry, shaking things up and making a name for themselves.
Just look at popchips. This innovative company decided to “keep [their] potatoes out of the deep fryer” and use pressurized heat to pop them, slashing calories and creating a different texture.
Anytime Fitness elbowed its way into the packed health club sphere and made a solid name for itself. It works because its business model is good and it has many locations. Customers agree with its edgy attitude that working out sucks but you should do it anyway.
Another example is StorageMart. (Full disclosure: It’s my company, and I’m proud of what we’ve built.) The company is a solidly non-tech and undisruptive business that still climbed to profitability in a short time. People always need well-maintained, reliable storage with friendly service and add-ons such as packing supplies, video monitoring and online bill pay. Novel? No. Effective? Very.
To achieve this kind of startup success in a traditionally non-tech space, there are a few strategies entrepreneurs can employ:
1. Share with everyone.
Casting a wide net for prospects is one of the best strategies you can employ, so tell colleagues, co-workers, friends and family all about your new startup. Use the Internet and digital media to get the word out, too. After all, no one’s saying you can’t use tech to your advantage.
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2. Speak up.
Visit offices and events in your area of expertise, and hand out business cards to customers who might need your products or services.
3. Don’t quit your day job.
Smaller startups often rely on their founders for initial capital, so you might need to keep working while you build business, and that’s OK.
Most traditional startups take a while to get off the ground, rely on elbow grease rather than venture funding and don’t find success for many years. But you can absolutely build a successful business on your idea if you have the grit and determination to stick with it.
In that sense, tech and non-tech startups are alike. Much of their power comes from the strength of their founders’ beliefs. So, like I did when starting StorageMart, believe in yourself and your idea. That faith will pay off.
Related: 10 Reasons You Have to Quit Your Job
Cris Burnam has been working in the self-storage industry since 1987. He has served as president of StorageMart since founding the company with his brother, Mike Burnam, in 1999. Burnam grew StorageMart from a single self-storage facility into the world’s largest privately owned self-storage company with 149 locations across the U.S. and Canada. Burnam was named a 2014 EY Entrepreneur of the Year in the Services and Real Estate category (Central Midwest region) -- one of the highest honors an American entrepreneur can receive.