Lifestyle-products - the costs of educating a market ~ Sounds + Food 'n' Retail

skitched-20080131-120116.jpgI'm spending a lot of time with a friend this week, who runs a start-up in a developing (2nd world) country in the lifestyle-food sector. I won't mention his name, his company or focus, or his country, nor anything confidential, because I don't want the information to be used against him. Instead, I'll talk about some general principles, that I've identified.

The irrelevance of business-literature
We both studied at Rotterdam school of management (sometimes known as Erasmus), and spent some time there last night. Funnily, I came across an article in a university-published journal identifying 6 traits of leadership to ask for in the "new" workforce. Keywords included: ethics, diversity, global outlook, tech savvy, adaptive capacity, and the X-factor (charisma?). I asked him, as a joke, which he thought applied to him. Global and adaptive, he responded. The rest meant virtually nothing to him. As a start-up, I guess, you have to do what you have to do, to stay alive.

The advantages of 2nd world start-ups
I distinguish between 1st world (e.g. the Netherlands), 2nd world (e.g. Brazil), and 3rd world (e.g. a large part of Africa), when I look at countries. 1st world countries are mature in their development, 2n world countries are not yet mature, but their economies are growing pretty fast, and 3rd world… well, I'm pretty depressed about that, though sometimes there's surprising pockets of entrepreneurship and innovation.

The advantage of a fast growing economy is that people are still figuring stuff out, meaning there are a lot of inefficiencies and gaps in the market. Another advantage, in his country's case, is the interests of governments in boosting those economies. If your innovative, the grants you receive may be both easier to get and larger in size than anything available in 1st world countries.

For start-ups, another advantage is that you can look at what works in a 1st world country and use that for your own business. This principle is not exclusive to start-ups, it's also relevant to the innovation race between Europe and the US, for instance.

The costs of educating a market
My friend operates a lifestyle-food start-up, as I said. One gap in 2nd world markets is usually that that segment is underdeveloped. But, if the economy is booming, wealth is increasing, and that certainly has a positive effect on the luxury-market.

However, when you introduce a new product to a market, you'll have to build the market up first. There are various approaches to marketing, I'll just go into the one that my friend used.

Essentially, you want to get your products into a supermarket, and you want people to buy the food. Sometimes one, sometimes both will take some convincing. In the beginning. he spent a lot of time in supermarkets, getting people to taste his food. After that went well, he could use that success to convince other supermarkets to become customers also.

Two advantages of supermarkets: they usually have pre-written contracts for suppliers so you don't have to draft them yourself. And they sometimes operate in chains, which makes it easier to get larger customers.

There's two further things to do with food, to make customer-adoption a little easier. One is to sell it in an easily digestible fashion, e.g. a snack. Two is to not do so, and instead provide customers with instructions to prepare the food. You could do this on the packaging, a website, and even more drastically (can't mention what). My friend is pretty active in this area.

Another problem with 2nd world countries is that, while your food may be part of a lifestyle in the 1st world, it's close to impossible to lead that lifestyle over there, because all the components are not there yet. So, in fact, you don't use that lifestyle as a marketing-term. Instead, focus on health-advantages, as that is often the underlying driver for such demand.

Still, even after more than a year, my friend spends about half of his monthly expenditure on marketing—which goes through a marketing-agency that designs the brand, the colours, etc.

Global outlook?
As a start-up, you have to work within certain boundaries: limited money, staff, production-facilities, time, etc.

The clients for a food-company may very well be supermarkets, which, as I mentioned, have the ability to buy a lot. My friend is expanding into other countries, but he's carefully picking the ones that don't exceed his capabilities.

He prefers a fragmented market, where he can concentrate on a one or two chains at a time, not a market where there's national chains that could bleed him dry.

Related to this, fragmented markets are usually underdeveloped also, so in fact he is exporting to countries similar to his own. That, at least, is as theoretically expected.

Theory, schmeory.
While there are certainly concepts that can be found in a number of different fields, ranging from entrepreneurship & strategy, innovation, supply-chain management, and marketing, it remains a matter of being practical, and specific to the business.

Entrepreneurship is a 60-80 hour / week job, usually. You don't have time to check out business-journals, etc. to do your job.

P.S. his business-plan was 2 pages long.

And those… are the facts of life. More, if I can think of it. The picture is completely unrelated to his product.


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