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Monday, July 2, 2007

The Wonders Of Shrinking A Market

We love investing in technologies and business models that are able to shrink existing markets. If your company can take $5 of revenue from a competitor for every $1 you earn – let's talk!

- First Round Capital

At first glance, this statement may not make much sense, but I think it is actually quite profound. The idea becomes clearer when you think of it from the perspective of a customer. To paraphrase: if you can save a customer $5 by charging them $1, you have a great business. Yes, you will shrink the market, but you will blow your competition out of the water. Consider some examples:

  • A small business hungry for leads pays about $1.40 for each call (or unqualified lead) it gets from placing an advertisement in the Yellow Pages, and it has to pay for the ad up front. Compare that to an average cost of 40c per click (or unqualified lead) on Google AdWords – and the 40c is only paid if someone clicks;

  • When I took a 2 day trip to Guyana in March, it cost my wife 87c a minute to call my hotel using AT&T. Compare that to 28.6c a minute she could pay for the exact same call using Jajah;

  • It must cost over $50 (I’m guessing) to place a personal ad in a newspaper. Compare that to a zero cost for the same ad on Craig’s List. And based on my experience, Craig’s List is more effective (I know someone who met their fiancĂ©e on Craig’s List, but have yet to meet anyone for whom a newspaper worked out);

  • Many companies doing e-discovery gather data based on custodians, date ranges, and keywords and send it out to service providers like Applied Discovery or Kroll at $2,000 per GB – and then wait weeks for the results. Compare that to paying $200 per GB for a (E-Discovery 2.0) product that enables you to analyze the data in-house – and gives you the results in hours.

All this begs an obvious question: how can someone offer customers the same (or, in many cases, more) value at a fraction of the cost of existing players? That’s where new technology or business models come in. Google and Craig’s List do not spend money on printing and distributing huge volumes of paper; Jajah avoids connection fees and other costs by leveraging VoIP; and, E-Discovery 2.0 products leverage the latest innovations in search, open source, web and storage technologies.

It is ironic that the technology industry is so obsessed by growth, given that its greatest achievement is often shrinking a market.

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