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One question, before you start reading.
While reading this article I would like to ask you to keep track of the time it took you to go through it. I am contemplating another article but need to know about your reading first. Let me know how long it took you at B.Lutgerink@betuwe.net.

While visiting the German DevCon this year I took the chance to listen to Steven Black's sessions about niche markets and "So fox is 'dead', now what?"

This article and some more articles coming up soon, are about my perspective on these and other sessions. I can tell you that they are worthwhile. I can tell you it is worthwhile to visit any DevCOn wherever you are in the world. These events give you the possibility to extend your knowledge in a way you can never achieve while working with the tool alone.

The articles in this series tell you why VFP is still a powerful tool to use and how it can serve you, as developer in making money (that IS the core of your business).

Visiting Frankfurt
Going to the German DevCon this year was probably the best thing I could do for myself this year.
As is the case with many VFP developers, my feelings about my own future as VFP developer were a bit ambivalent. The message passed to the community by MS in March this year brought many thoughts and fears.
I now have a totally different view on the whole matter. Apart from a whole lot of technical stuff, and talking with colleagues from all over the world, having a few (or more) free beers, the content of the sessions at the German DevCon is overwhelming good. All kudos to Rainer Becker for his efforts to gather so many well versed and knowledgeable people, the Lifetime Achievement award is well deserved by him.

I truly hope that next year more people from all over Europe and from the USA as well will come to Frankfurt.

England is not so far away. The Netherlands (where I live) is nearby. Yet, there were no developers from England and I was the only Dutch guy there. There are more than enough English sessions to fill your days to the rim, understanding a bit of German makes it possible to follow the sessions there as well. The German speakers are also kind enough to translate the most important issues from their sessions for you. No excuse NOT to go there.

How often have we been complaining about MS NOT doing marketing for our beloved tool, how often have we not wished that there were many more VFP related jobs? How often have we not wanted more visibility for our beloved fox in the boardrooms of mid-sized to big companies? Are those not the companies where big money is? Well, in Frankfurt was Steven Black. His sessions were a real eye opener for me.

Niche Markets, go where the money is.
Why on earth would we want to play in the big mainstream?
That would mean that we have to compete with big players, are we up to that? Most likely the answer is no! We do NOT have the amount of marketing power and marketing money they have, so you will lose the fight even before you would start it. And maybe you do have a lot of money. I bet you they have even more, and while you spend your dear money on trying to get the attention of this mainstream market, they are making money, not you! Most likely, in these attempts you run out of money before you know, and so as a result of that, you run out of business too.

OUR markets are in the niches, those parts of the big market as a whole that are of no interest for the big players because, in their option, the companies that operate there do not have enough money for their products.

What is a Niche Market?
As Steve defines it;"A niche market is a small, focused, targetable part of a larger market sector."
Also, these niches are too small and to obscure for the big guys to serve.
Next, very important point, is that niches lack an economy of scale, meaning that the number of companies is either relatively small or that there are many companies in that niche but these companies lack money to provide themselves with the expensive tools, brought by the big-guy players.
As an example he told us about one man who wrote and maintains an application that is in use in the Casinos of Las Vegas and around the world… BTW, that app is written in fox for DOS and NEVER was considered a rewrite in VFP.
Is that a profitable market? I guess so! The owner of that company every now and then invites Steve to go fishing somewhere in the USA. Steve is picked up by that man's own plane. That man must have made enough money to have a plane. Money he made with an app written in Fox.
Then there is that guy who wrote this app that is in use by all the major teams in the NBA and other leagues. He makes some real nice money too.

Contemplating on this I know of some people who have their own niche market. One of them is Don Higgins. Ever heard of him? He wrote Crew Chief Pro, an application in use in the Drag Car racing "industry". Take a look for some awesome pictures at www.crewchiefpro.com. Then there is another man who created a nice niche, ever heard of Doug Hennig? If not then you probably spend the last few decades on Mars or some other extra terrestrial obsolete place. He created a tool for reporting, AND an extremely easy to use tool for YOU to create your own niche. This tool is called Stonefield Query. With the SDK you can, in fact, brand it as your own, with your own logo, your own name and icon and sell it to your customers, making money from the work of this well known and well respected man.

What is your point of view?
One MAJOR point Steve talked about was the perspective you have when you do your marketing.
To start with there is the "tool-used" perspective. In other words, "Working from your strengths serving people who want VFP apps." And that is exactly where one pitfall is for developers.
From my own experience I can tell that most clients do NOT want to know what tool you use, as long as their problem is solved. Bringing up the fact that you use VFP could start a discussion you really do not want and, let's face it, is not serving anything for solving the problem of your customer.
Get real, when you go for a nice meal to a restaurant are you asking the cook what types of knifes he uses.
Are you telling him that these Japanese "Global" knifes are way much better than the German "Zwilling" knifes or the French "Sabatier" knifes, or that he should use Berkel scales instead of any other brand? C'mon, you believe that!?

So that brings us to the second perspective, the "Market needs" perspective. Do you create a solution in VFP because you want to create a solution in VFP? Or do you create a VFP based solution BECAUSE IT FULLFILS THE NEED OF THE CUSTOMER.

Remember, as a company you can only exist BECAUSE there is a need for somebody who creates a solution to an existing problem. You are at service for your customers. Maybe that solution is not software at all. Maybe they need hardware, like a table and some chairs so people start talking to each other. Most likely a good mediator is needed there as well. YOU CAN BE THAT MEDIATOR! (And get paid for it!)

Apparently those casinos were in need of software to keep track of their money-streams. Those basketball teams were in need of some software to track the values of the players. And yes, indeed that need was recognized AND solved by two, independent working, smart guys who made buckets full of cash with it. They created their own niche.

A niche market, according to Steve's definition, also is a loyalty business model.
How can we achieve that customers are loyal to us. Well, this has NOTHING to do with VFP, it has to do with our common sense and delivering an outstanding service. Are we really listening to what they say, are we SEEING what their body language is and can we read the signals they send out all the time? And even better, can we respond appropriately?

We have two ears, two eyes and only one mouth. Guess what, most people, even though they do have working ears and eyes are deaf and blind because they talk too much.
By listening to customers and observing them as they speak, and coming up with a real solution that works for them makes them as loyal as can be.

Find it or create it!?
So do we have to look around whether we can FIND such a market? Maybe so, but it is also possible to create your own market. Maybe you can create one yourself, coming from your own knowledge and strength.
If you have been working in a certain market for years it is very well possible that you know of a problem in that market that has never been solved by the big guys because the companies or institutes in that market do not have the amount of money to pay for the big-guy solution. Remember, niche markets are too small or obscure for the big players. Use your brains and create a solution that is affordable for that market.
Maybe, while being at a customer, you see how she/he struggles with a certain task. You ask questions and hear that this is a common problem in the trade of your customer, voila, another niche is revealed for you. Step into it.

Did one of your customers ever tell about his/her desire for a specific solution? Can you make that solution AND can you make it generic enough to serve companies that are in the same branch? There is your small niche!

Then, once you are successful in that one niche, you can maybe find other niches that have the same type of problem but due to the specifications in that niche you need a slightly different approach.
OK, visit Andy Kramek's session on implementing Design Patterns first (with a nice sample app). It will save you the headaches to rewrite your software from scratch. His session on metadata to the max (last year's DevCon) is extremely useful as well for this.
While you are at it, then by all means visit Doug Hennig's session on vertical market apps. He had some real good ideas too. Ways to make money and protect your investment. (Hey, 3 more reasons to come to Frankfurt, you really missed quite a bit if you were not there!)
Once you enter that new niche use the loyalty and your good name in the other niche as a leverage to increase your turnover.

Niche markets are, by definition, outside the main stream. And that is good! In the main stream, as I told you already, you have to deal with the sleaze and dirt of the big guys throwing mud at you with their marketing money. You do not want to deal with that, I can tell you because I have been there myself!

Once you found a niche there are three things you need to do before you even start working in that niche. Assess yourself, assess the niche, and ask yourself whether you can live there.

Assessing yourself is all about the question, "can I really offer the companies in that niche what they need?" Remember, niches are loyalty markets. If you do NOT offer what they need your name is trash before you know and that is really hard to get rid of, if not impossible.

Assessing yourself is also about honesty where you are as a person. Are you strictly developer, or can you also be a salesman or marketer. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is very important, as well as knowing where your real interest is. If you are a hell of a developer but a lousy salesman, get help where you can get it.

Just for your information, there are salesmen out there who have their own niche, helping companies sell the stuff they have because those companies are NOT good at sales or marketing. Also, doing what you are good at, and leaving the other aspects of sales to others who are specialized in that makes a winning team. You do not need many employees, if you need them at all.

Assessing the niche is all about the question whether you really understand the way the companies in that niche do their work, and whether they make enough money to pay for your solution.
Can you indentify the customers and are they accessible for you. Is the market growing fast enough for you to make money? If you have reached the maximum number of customers in such a market before you can make a decent living then that is NOT a good market. If that market is too specific to make the software scalable for other niches, then that is not a good market either.

One other point to investigate is whether that market has other vendors with strong software.
Of course, if there are other players in that niche, and their software is NOT a real solution it could be worth investigating whether you can cook up a sure solution that the companies in that market want to buy!

Also, do you feel at home in that niche?
Can you work in that part of the world without having the feeling that your integrity is at stake or that you do not really understand the business?
If all these questions have positive answers then there is your playground, go ahead and have fun making money. As I said already, once you are successful in one niche use the good name you have there to enter other niches. There is always a need for well designed and good working software. Good software scales. And for sure VFP based solutions are easy. They can run from a USB stick if you need to.

One thing to remember is that customers nowadays have a rich choice of people to listen to and vendors to buy from. The internet is one huge market place. So be there, be visible. Go online and be sure that your site is well visited. Also, leave your email everywhere.
OK, I hear you say that this is dangerous because then you could receive a lot of spam, which is not what you want. Well, sleep on baby! You will receive spam anyway, whether or not you leave your email, name and URL to your site(s) on different forums. Chances are that you will miss a piece of the pie if you DO NOT leave your data online.

On-line visibility is a different subject. That will be covered in another article.

As developers we do not have to play in the main stream to make good money. Niche markets are even better. Competition is low if there is any at all. Once the customers are satisfied with your solutions you will have a solid and loyal customer base to enter new niches. Niches are too small and too obscure for the mainstream players to enter. Finding a niche or creating one is challenging. It takes honesty and requires some introspection on your strengths and weaknesses.

Help for complementing your weaknesses is always around the corner. Your weaknesses are niche markets for others, as other companies weaknesses are YOUR niche, if you can offer them a solid solution.


Boudewijn Lutgerink Programming is one of the many hobbies of Boudewijn. He has worked with computers since 1985 and is the author of two books from Sybex. He has a weblog at http://weblogs.foxite.com/boudewijnlutgerink.


Ken Murphy @ 12/13/2007 1:17:55 PM

The article took me about 12 min to read and was well worth the time. This was actually quite useful as I am contemplating just such a move.

Mustapha Bihmouten @ 12/13/2007 3:40:28 PM
Took me 15 mn to read
Like said Ken Murphy it worth the time

Christian Pano @ 12/14/2007 1:58:25 AM
I don't know how long it took me to read but I know it's good stuff. Like Ken, contemplating on such a move. very well said.

@ 12/14/2007 11:01:05 AM
It took me about 30 minutes. I like the article.

Benny Thomas @ 12/14/2007 7:04:46 PM
It took 250 minutes to read. Good stuff. Looking forward to the remainders of the articles.

Benny Thomas @ 12/14/2007 7:06:05 PM
Sorry, not 250, but 25 minutes.

alwy ali @ 12/15/2007 12:50:19 AM
Very intresting and insightful

sandeep misra @ 1/4/2008 10:19:24 AM
It took me about 15 minutes to read the article. This is an extremly nice article and brings out the idea of niche business beautifully.


Ellen Solomon @ 2/3/2008 10:52:53 AM
13 minutes plus one for the comments! regards, ellen

Pablo @ 5/6/2008 12:02:54 AM
+/- 15 min. Excellent. Thanks.

William Sanders @ 1/10/2017 10:25:37 PM
Bouj - you rock !

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