One of the cardinal rules of starting a business is to first determine whether there exists a market for your product. Then you can determine how big the market is, and if it is worth all the investment that you will put into the business.
I came across this article on MIT’s Technology Review where a UK based company is about to launch a chewing gum that is easy to wash off any surface.
I could just imagine how much the company spent for the research to develop this product, considering that the article stated that gum manufacturer Wrigley has tried to develop a biodegradable chewing gum to the tune of $10 million on research alone!
Upon reading the article, the first thing that popped into my mind was: Will buyers of chewing gum really care and buy this product? It seems to me that this is a product that looks good in concept, but may not be what users want. Afterall, throwing the gum on the street or sticking it to just about anywhere is part of the charm of the chewing gum (not that I do it myself as I don’t buy chewing gums) — its users simply do not care that they stick it anywhere after using it.
What bothers me is the company’s reasoning that millions of dollars are spent by the city government to clean up chewing gums that end up in the subway trains and stations. Well and good — but how can the savings of the local government resulting from this new product translate to sales for the company? It’s not as if for every $1 the local government saves due to this product, 50 cents are given back to the company. There seems to be a big disconnect between the usefulness of the product and what the consumers want from this product.
Are those workers cleaning up the trains and stations the target market of this company? Are people who chew gum really thinking about the expense and labor needed to clean off the gums they left on the subway and stuck under the chairs of the train (apparently not, since they left the gums in places other than the trash cans)? How many chewing gum buyers actually think about the pollution that their gums cause?
I don’t know how this product will be accepted by the market, and whether it will work. Maybe if the company embark on an education campaign to inform chewing gum buyers of the hazards of chewing gum (which means millions of dollars more in advertising and marketing spend).
But there are a lot of seemingly good products that failed because the market simply did not need it. And if you don’t have millions of dollars to spend to change the behavior of consumers, then you have a significant obstacle in your way.
Sometimes, as business owners, we need to step back away from the business to get an objective view of our products. And yes, talk, talk and talk to your customers about what they want — and give that to them.