Thinking Small: Finding The Right Niche

Necia Erickson via 500px

Photo credit: Necia Erickson via 500px

The word niche comes from French, where it means roughly the same thing as in English: a small, somewhat isolated space.

But in French, the word has an additional meaning that’s just as common: a niche is a doghouse, like the ones with triangular roofs that you’d put in your backyard.

So one could infer that according to the French language, niches are best left to dogs. And even in English, niche is often used to dismiss a product as too limited and lacking in usefulness.

However, I’d like to explain why, despite all that, niches aren’t always such bad places to be in after all (once you get used to the dog-breath smell).

Finding My Niche

First of all, a little background on me. I recently co-authored Discover Meteor, a book about the Meteor JavaScript framework. The book has been doing really well, and nearly 6 months after launch, it’s still bringing in enough monthly revenue for both me and my co-author to live on.

Discover Meteor

Discover Meteor

I’m not saying this to brag (well, ok, I might be a little), but because it’s very relevant to the topic at hand.

If the above made you go, “Huh, what’s Meteor?” you’re not alone. Although Meteor is rapidly growing and getting more popular, it’s still a relatively new and unknown framework. In fact, it’s the perfect example of a niche.

So why did we decide to work on a Meteor book rather than address a larger market like, say, JavaScript, or web apps in general?

Big Fish & Small Ponds

Now sure, part of the answer to the previous question is that we both liked Meteor and were already familiar with the technology. But the deeper reason is that we actually picked Meteor specifically because it’s a niche.

Meteor: a rapidly growing niche

Meteor: picking up steam, but still relatively small.

From the start, our goal was to be a big fish in a small pond and not the other way around.

Being a dominant player brings many advantages. The first one is that once people stumble on your niche, they’ll easily make the jump from there to your product.

What this means in practice is that we don’t really need to promoteDiscover Meteor directly. If we can simply get more people to use Meteor in general, we can trust that they’ll find their way to our book sooner or later.

And this in turns means that anybody helping promote Meteor is also indirectly helping us.

Contrast that with writing a book about Rails: there are already so many other Rails resources out there that there’s no guarantee that new Rails users would find your book, meaning you’ll have to work much harder at making sure your communication efforts target your product specifically.

Helping Hands

Another unexpected benefit of being in a niche is that smaller communities tend to stick together.

People from the Meteor community have been hugely supportive, not only by buying our book, but also by contributing corrections, screencasts and guest posts.

And the Meteor folks themselves have been a big help, sharing the word about our book and even hosting our launch party in their company offices.

Growing Niches

Remember when I mentioned being a big fish in a small pond? The thing is, we made the bet that this pond was special and that it would keep expanding. And just like a goldfish in an ever-bigger aquarium, we would hopefully grow with it.

A chapter from Discover Meteor

A chapter from Discover Meteor

It was a risky bet (after all, Meteor could’ve fizzled out), but it paid off. Meteor is slowly progressing towards 1.0, and as it gets more mature, the ecosystem around it is growing as well.

I believe this is why our sales haven’t followed the usual pattern of a big spike at launch followed by a slow, painful descent into oblivion as one saturates the market, but are instead holding pretty steady.

And the best part is that since our book directly targets beginners, new members of the growing Meteor community are the ideal customers!

Lessons Learned

Of course, niches do have one big problem: their market size is by definition smaller. But a lot of the time, their inherent advantages can be enough to offset this downside.

What’s more I believe that by picking a growing niche, you might even be able to get the best of both worlds.

So hopefully this article will inspire you to look around for a niche of your own to conquer!

Note: this article originally appeared on the Gumroad blog


One Response to Thinking Small: Finding The Right Niche

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