How to do market research for a startup

For startups, a successful marketing strategy depends on understanding the competitors in your space. Here's what you need to know about market research for startups.

Last updated on 6 October 2022
  1. Introduction
  2. What is market research?
  3. Why you should do market research
    1. What market are you targeting?
    2. Who are your customers?
    3. Who are your competitors?
    4. What are your target customers currently using?
    5. Where are the opportunity areas in your market?
  4. How to do market research for a startup
    1. Work out your budget
    2. Identify research goals
    3. Make a plan
    4. Use what you learn
  5. Why market research matters for a startup
    1. Aligning your roadmap to market opportunities
    2. Avoiding wasting time and resources
    3. Impressing investors with your market knowledge

During the exciting early days of building your startup, taking time to do market research might feel a bit like slowing down too much. Starting a new business or startup means perpetually staring down a never-ending list of things that need to be done – there's so much to do and it feels like all of it needs to be accomplished immediately. But market research is the method that gives purpose to the madness. It's the slow-and-steady work that unearths everything you absolutely need to know in order to tackle the rest of your to-do list with true strategic direction. It's worth slowing down for.

This is because market research explores all the factors that dictate how a given company exists in the world. Your market research will build a body of information that provides context for whatever your new business is trying to do. Market research is the most consequential exercise that a small business or startup can undertake. If you don't understand your market, you cannot approach your business plan with any functional clarity.

With this in mind, we're all on the same page: market research for startups is extremely important. Now, let's talk about what it is and how to do it.

What is market research?

At a high level, market research is the practice of gathering and analysing all the pertinent information about a business's target customers and the market in which it's operating. Tactically, market research can be executed through a wide range of activities, which we will run through later.

Why you should do market research

Market research will tell you if there's a need for your business. Doing market research will answer questions such as the ones listed here.

What market are you targeting?

Before you can build a business, products, services and messaging, you have to define the market space in which you're going to operate. Everything else tracks back to this.

Who are your customers?

Understanding your prospective customers is arguably the most meaningful endeavour that you can undertake to achieve product-market fit. This is especially true early on in your business, when you are planning to launch a new product or when scoping out areas for growth. Creating personas that outline the needs, pain points, interests and triggers of your key audiences by segment will help you to build every part of your business.

Who are your competitors?

Market research for startups is about gaining a detailed understanding of three things: who you're trying to sell to, who else is trying to sell them something similar and what your audience actually wants. Working out your position in the market means carving out a differentiated position in that market compared to your competitors. It's only possible to build a brand and a unique offering if you know who is already operating in your space.

What are your target customers currently using?

Which products or services are your target customers favouring at present and why? Are different brands more popular with certain audience segments? What distinguishes these brands? The more detail you have, the more clearly you can start to piece together a comprehensive model of what's happening in your market space.

Where are the opportunity areas in your market?

Market research for startups isn't just about seeing what is happening in your market – it's about noticing gaps. Which needs or pain points in your target audience's lives aren't being fully catered to or could be addressed better?

How to do market research for a startup

Knowing how important it is to do market research is one thing, but how do you actually tackle it? Let's take a look at how to do market research for a startup.

Work out your budget

When thinking about how to do market research for a startup, there are countless ways to approach and scale your work. Some research routes require little effort and cost but still produce incredibly valuable insights. Meanwhile, others require considerable time and cost to execute but might be worthwhile, depending on the goals of your particular business.

You're probably very familiar with making budgetary trade-offs within your business – this is just another one. An important part of market research for startups is looking at your goals, researching the outcomes of different types of market research, seeing what budget is available and going from there.

Identify research goals

Beyond the basic research goal of determining whether there is a market need for your products or services, it's good to single out any additional, specific research goals that could provide your team with valuable information. For example, you might know that a certain competitor's product is selling incredibly well with a particular audience segment. Through your market research, you might want to find out why.

Make a plan

There are two main categories of market research for startups: primary research and secondary research. Each of these can be further broken down into different research methods. What you decide to do depends on your budget and timeline, as some of these methods take longer to conduct and require more investment.

Primary research

Primary research involves gaining original insights directly from customers, people in your key audience segments or other primary sources. This type of research also falls into two categories: qualitative research and quantitative research.

Qualitative research
Qualitative research focuses on individual feedback that's examined in depth. It gives a huge amount of insight, even if it doesn't provide statistical data about your market or business. Methods include:

  • Individual interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Reviews from existing customers
  • Ethnography studies

Quantitative research
Quantitative research is all about collecting and analysing numerical data. This method is aimed at generating insights that are statistically significant, as opposed to anecdotal. Examples of quantitative research include:

  • Surveys
  • Questionnaires

Secondary research

Secondary market research involves analysing previous studies that your team hasn't created or conducted itself. Examples include:

  • Public databases
  • Published studies
  • Institutional research

Use what you learn

Whatever approach you use to conduct your market research, you must act on your findings. This involves making sure that it's available to everyone in the company and that it's actively employed as a framework for developing marketing, sales and product strategies.

Why market research matters for a startup

The earlier that you conduct market research for your startup, the better. If you can get a firm grasp on everything that's happening (and not happening) in your area of the market in the early stages of your startup, you will give yourself a number of powerful advantages.

Aligning your roadmap to market opportunities

You will be able to lay out a roadmap for developing products and services that address known market opportunities.

Avoiding wasting time and resources

Without adequate market research, you might develop products that will fall flat because they don't respond to a real need or are too similar to what dominant competitors are offering. Doing market research ahead of time will diminish the chance of this happening.

Impressing investors with your market knowledge

Investors will appreciate how much you know about the market. Early-stage startup founders are primarily asking investors for funding based on their acute understanding of market conditions and opportunities, as their startups have not yet demonstrated performance and growth. The more you know about the field that you're working in, the more likely it is that investors will want to back you.

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