What Business Are You In?

“How thinking more generically can open doors.”

Albagaia, a recent start-up, has quickly realised one of the most important value creating steps you can take in any business, particularly when you find that Plan A isn’t working quite as well as you had hoped – the need to think a little more generically about the business.

Albagaia now states that it is in the “destruction of harmful chemicals” business but originally it was aiming at just one market. It started out focused on the disposal of chemical weapons. Chemical weapons disposal was, thankfully perhaps, not an easy business to break into so it looked for other applications for its technology.

Albagaia’s website tells us that it “holds patents for highly-innovative photocatalytic technology processes which use chemical-free, natural processes to destroy the reproductive capacity of bacteria and viruses and reduce harmful organic compounds to their harmless constituent parts”. Not having given up completely on the chemical weapon disposal it now lists it as one of five business areas.  The others are much more addressable.

Albagaia, based in Linlithgow, has just announced that it has secured £500k of new funding; half from an angel investor group and half from Scottish Enterprise’s Scottish Investment Bank, to develop its test for Legionnaires’ disease, the worlds fastest apparently. The test takes 25 minutes rather than 2 weeks in a traditional lab. It is also developing its water treatment systems and a smartphone system that speeds up the process of reading test results.

Early stage businesses, often with a good idea and some market advantage, are normally still searching for the right niche and the best ones are frequently not the ones they first thought of.  For that reason it is very important not to focus too early unless: you are very sure about demand; it is addressable; and you are sure that you can convert it into sales. Otherwise, it is often best to approach the market a little more generically.  Marketing is an iterative process and there is much you can only learn from engaging with the market. This is important for most early stage businesses that usually have far less to go on than a more established business.

Patented technology can provide market advantage, provided you are prepared to defend it and the technology is not too revolutionary.  If it is you run the risk of it being copied in some way by the big boys, or of being taken out of the game at an early stage before you have been able to fully exploit its value. However, there is much more to running a business than having a patent or two and building a team with the breadth of skills required to grow a business is a considerable challenge for most.  I have worked with several businesses with great technology who have struggled to exploit it. Rarely is the technology the limiting factor.

If in doubt widen the scope of how you approach the market and ask yourself two important questions: “what business am I in?” and “why should anyone buy from me?” If, as Albagaia found, you didn’t find that “chemical weapon disposal” and “because we have new technology” was sufficient to make a business of it on its own, then think more generically and try again. In this case “Legionnaires’ disease testing” and “water treatment” seem to have become a more attractive focus for the business, at least for now.

Thinking more generically will often open the door a little and allow you to move forward again with a better focus for your business.

Mark

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