Once upon a time, that was an ant named Ben who lived in an anthill with lots of other ants. Ben’s job was to find breadcrumbs at the home of Widow Jones. He was paid for each crumb he found.
Then one day, Ben stumbled upon some kale at the widow’s house and tried it. It was delicious.
“Can I sell this kale and make extra money?” he asked the ant boss.
The ant boss laughed. “Go ahead, you silly ant. Just understand that no one is going to buy kale, not when they can have bread crumbs.”
But Ben was not deterred. “Do you want to try a sample of my kale?” he said to nearby ants hoping they would like it and then buy from him.
But, they all hated the kale, just like the ant boss said.
Ben was disappointed, but thought there must be other ants among the millions of ants in the anthill who would like the kale. “But my voice is too small to carry over the voices of all the other ants. And if I can’t find fellow kale lovers, I can’t sell to them my kale.”
Ben was out scouting one day, when he found an ant-sized megaphone. “Hello,” he said into the megaphone and found that even ants a long way away could hear him. Suddenly he had an idea. “Maybe I can use this megaphone to locate ants in the colony who like kale.”
So Ben went to the anthill and shouted into the megaphone, “Does anyone here want to buy some of my kale?”
A few ants responded and Ben sold the kale to them. Soon, he had ants buying kale from him on a regular basis. There were not many ants who liked kale, but there were enough so that Ben was able to make some extra money. Eventually he branched out into broccoli, old meat and dead bugs. For each of these items, he found a few ants who would buy the items from him. Soon Ben was the richest ant in the colony.
Moral of the story: There is money to be made in niches.
I’m reading a fascinating book called “The Long Tail,” by Chris Anderson. The sub-title is “Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More.” One chapter is entitled The Ant and the Megaphone.”
The chapter relates how the internet (the megaphone) allows businesses and individuals to find and sell into small market niches they could not reach before. As Anderson puts it, “In short, though we still obsess over hits, they are not quite the economic force they once were. Where are those fickle consumers going instead? No single place. They are scattered to the winds as markets fragment into a thousand niches.”
There is money to be made in those niches. Just ask Ben.