Is your core business a sustainable niche?

Article By : Brian Dipert

While you might conclude in the positive, it might be worth stepping away from the day-to-day "firefights" and ask yourself some tough questions.

The other night, I was doing my periodic "family IT" duty of searching for and installing OS and application updates both for the native Mac OS X build on my wife's 15in MacBook Pro and its Parallels-virtualised Windows 7 build. One of her "foundation" applications on the latter is CompanionLink (which I've written about before), a "bridge" utility that enables bidirectional sync of Google cloud-hosted calendar, contacts and tasks information with a local copy of Microsoft Outlook, her PIM of choice.

As I was browsing the support area of CompanionLink's website, a couple of related thoughts struck me. Admittedly, the market served by the company's product is a bit of a niche, but it's not too small… Outlook is a pretty popular program (although Mozilla's Thunderbird is my PIM of preference, admittedly somewhat dampened by its dearth of Microsoft Exchange and Office 365 support), as are Google's various services. As my earlier research had revealed, CompanionLink is pretty much the only enterprise-grade game in town for interfacing between the two. And further addressing any "niche" concerns, the company offers additional sync utilities that "bridge" between plenty of other platforms, too.

What I concluded is that the company is in a pretty enviable position, fundamentally created when Google deprecated its own Outlook bridge capabilities in early 2013. CompanionLink does a quite good job of supporting the customer base, to be clear, releasing periodic free updates when (for example) Google's service-access protocols get tweaked. More substantial updates, such as the recent CompanionLink v7 upgrade supporting Windows 10, are understandably paid in nature. And the company's customer base is essentially "captive," given the reluctance to change either PIM or cloud service in the absence of a profound reason to do so, therefore CompanionLink's ongoing value-add "lock."

This case study leads to my fundamental question to all of you. Is your company's core business also a sustainable niche, or is it fundamentally in ongoing danger of evaporating due to evolving market and customer dynamics? While at first glance you might conclude in the positive, it might be worth stepping away from the day-to-day "firefights," along with your understandable infatuation with your company and its products, and ask yourself some tough questions such as:

How truly substantial are your customers' barriers to switching to a competitor, were that competitor to undercut your price, overshoot your features, etc.?
On top of what fundamental market forces have you built your business, and how dramatically might that business crack (or heaven forbid, crumble) if these foundations were to shift?
What, therefore, do you need to do to reinforce your status in your particular existing niche? Or should you perhaps redirect and pursue a different niche instead?

Readers, your thoughts?

Leave a comment