The greatest idea in the world still won’t lead to profitability for a hyperlocal startup without a community of willing buyers, users, or subscribers. Nearly all successful founders in the local space have had to assess demand for the platforms they created, both before and after launching their businesses.
In some cases, it’s about more than just assessing demand or identifying a need—it’s about educating the community and proving that the need exists for a product that consumers or businesses haven’t yet imagined. “There is still a lot of confusion of the space from someone outside looking in. So we spend a great deal of our time educating and coming up [with] company use cases,” said Linden Skeens of Thumbvista, a mobile marketing company with location-based advertising solutions.
Here are five examples of ways that hyperlocal vendors have assessed demand for their products or services and used that information to better refine the platforms they developed.
1. Start with restaurant owners. “Mogl originally assessed the need for a hyperlocal platform by going right to the source — consumers and restaurant owners. Restaurants are a perfect vertical for a hyperlocal service, since they want to drive repeat business, and the best way to do that is through creating loyal guests. After, speaking to restaurant owners, we found that the only way they knew if a marketing channel was working, was by counting coupons. If the owner didn’t use a different coupon with a code on each, they wouldn’t know how the consumer got the coupon or offer.” (Jon Carder, Mogl)
2. Put boots on the ground. “Initially [our co-founders] imagined CodeBroker would provide text messaging services for local companies. They started out in the Boston area and literally went door-to-door surveying local merchants inquiring about their level of interest in delivering text messages to their—the merchant’s— customers. As they started to receive incoming leads, they would speak directly to the early prospects exploring their text messaging needs, both immediate and what they envisioned delivering to customers 12 months in the future, as well as price sensitivity.” (Sue LeClaire, CodeBroker)
3. Conduct competitive research. “[Our founders] performed competitive research, looking closely at what comparable service providers were doing. They analyzed the product offering, pricing, and level of support required to ensure their customers were successful. They also tried to ascertain what their competitors were doing well—in the hopes of emulating their success—and what they were doing wrong.” (Sue LeClaire, CodeBroker)
4. Think like a consumer. “Part of [assessing demand means] being a consumer and speaking to other consumers on how they would like to be advertised to. Mostly the answer is, not many people mind advertising if it’s relevant to their current needs. A more relevant ad has always been the focus. As we started launching pilots and speaking to customers looking for particular needs, we have added to our solutions based on their needs and wants.” (Linden Skeens, Thumbvista)
5. See what else is available. “At Ground Signal, we found out that over 90% of social media produced at specific locations was undiscoverable, and this completely blew our minds. We thought, ‘Who else knows about this?’ That signaled a huge opportunity for us—using location, marketers can get a more comprehensive view and access intelligence about their customers that was never possible before.” (Tony Longo, Ground Signal)
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.