Building a Startup in a Market You Don’t Know

Being an american working on a fantasy soccer *cough* fantasy football application, and really not having a ton of knowledge about the sport, its history, culture, and the how’s and why’s of the current fantasy landscape, it can be a bit perplexing. And if the fate of our little startup rests on my ability to know the market and make the right marketing and product decisions… it’s probably pretty important that I get this right.

As a designer I’m perfectly comfortable working on projects in markets I know nothing about. And thinking about it, I’ve never really worked on a large scale project or at a day job in an industry I’ve ever known a ton about. At least going into it.

At my current day job I work on applications for health care. When I got the job I didn’t even have insurance and I couldn’t even tell you what a deductible or a co-pay was. But design problems and UX problems always seem to be somewhat universal. And coming in with a fresh outlook without any biases can sometimes be better than years of experience. We’ll at least I tell myself that.

Learning the Market

To get my bearings with the fantasy soccer landscape, I’ve been looking around everywhere. My co-founders, being from Portugal and Ireland mainly have been helpful answering some of my dumb questions and helping me figuring out the basics.

I’m embarrassed to say I’ve done plenty of google searches. I didn’t even know what the main leagues where when I first started on this project. EPL? La Liga? All new to me. And I went through the phase of reading a bunch “beginner guide to soccer” type content. The stuff written for new soccer moms and I guess people like myself.

That infant stage, lasted about two months. After that I graduated to the very casual fan stage. I could tell you maybe two or three players from each of the bigger leagues, I could tell you the positions, basic formations, how to play fantasy soccer and all of that, but I was far from an expert.

I’ve found that watching games really hasn’t helped that much yet. I understand what’s going on for the most part, but I don’t have the same level of knowledge I have with say, watching an NFL game. With the NFL if all you do is watch the ball, you’re missing out on the game. The battle at the line of scrimmage, the defensive coordinator trying different blitzes and trying to disguise coverages and all the little battles between DB’s and receivers, the hand fighting and little holds. So much is going on.

So to try to get past my casual fan stage, I’ve started reading more about coaching soccer. Not the drills so much but the X’s and O’s. Why certain formations are good for little soccer but why they don’t work at the pro level. What makes an athlete good for a specific position but not another. And being american and more about the numbers I’ve been looking into how speed, agility and other metrics can relate to how good a player is or can be.

I’ve also begun to play some fantasy soccer. Learning what works and what doesn’t from other people’s products is a quick way to get up to speed. I haven’t been winning too much yet but I feel like the experience has been invaluable.

Besides this, I’ve also started to begin following sports writers on social media. I feel like it helps to follow people who do something for a living. You get little insights reading about a match that you might not get just watching it on the television.

Tips

For those of you in a similar position to me, here are some things I’d do to understand your market a little better.

Find influencers in your niche and follow them. Everyone and their mother is on social media. Follow the people who know your market and follow who they follow, read what they read, watch what they watch and do what they do.

Don’t be afraid not to know. I really do feel that coming into a market with no prior knowledge can be very beneficial. You have the opportunity to look at a market with fresh eye and no preconceived ideas. So take advantage of it.

Don’t rule anything out. Just because noone else does it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done that way. We live in a copycat world so don’t fall in the trap of emulating your competition just because you feel it has to be that way. Be a little disruptive.

Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions. GI Joe was right, knowing is half the battle. And whether you’re playing with other people’s money or just your time, don’t piss it away on a product or idea you don’t understand or worse, misunderstand.

Play around with all your competitors products. Find out for yourself what works and what doesn’t. User surveys and second hand information doesn’t cut it.

I’m far from a fantasy soccer expert but I’ve gone a long way in the last six months.