Brill: start research early

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Grace Brill discusses how market research can help entrepreneurs

By Arin McKenna

Los Alamos’ new cowork space, projectY, kicked off a series of entrepreneurial education and targeted seminars the day after it opened with a talk by Grace Brill, principal of Market Intelligence Solutions LLC, a Santa Fe consulting firm.
Brill specializes in marketing for tech companies, and zeroed in on advice that could benefit those such as Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) employees hoping to take research innovations into commercial development.
“All the things I’m going to be talking about today I kind of put in the general category of “getting smart:” getting smart about your industry, your customers, your competitors. Because it’s ultimately going to inform your strategy,” Brill said.
Brill stressed the type of research entrepreneurs should be doing even before product development.
“To me the key thing is starting early. I’ve worked with companies in technology for nearly 14 years now, and you would not believe the number of times that you’re talking to someone and they’re spending years perfecting the technical whatever, and oh, I just have to build in one more feature, one more feature,” Brill said.
“And then it’s like it’s like two months before they’re going to launch and, ‘Oh, gee, I’d better start looking around for customers,’ only to find that they could have gone to market two years earlier because the feature that they had two years ago were actually something that was useful and they spent a lot of time going off into a blind alley.”
According to Brill, market research should answer the question, ‘Is there a business opportunity?’ in order to reduce market risk. She gave examples of not only small companies but large ones that have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars – or even millions – “on developing a cool product that absolutely nobody wanted.”
Brill also noted that early research could also uncover unexpected possibilities for marketing a product.
Brill stressed the importance of knowing who the customer for your product is, how much they’re willing to pay for it and if there is even any interest. She pointed out that people are often very excited, for example, by some “whiz-bang” technology they have helped develop at the lab.
“But let’s face it, a lot of time that looks like a solution that is looking for a problem. You have a hammer and you’re looking for nails,” Brill said. “Sometimes it is very hard to translate that to an actual market with paying customers.”
According to Brill, common market failures include overestimating demand, building the wrong product and underestimating competitive solutions.
“Have you looked around? Who else is working on stuff like this?” Brill said. “Often in 15 minutes I’ve found 23 other people, they’ve been in the market like three years, they’re established players.
“Maybe you have something that really is a competitive differentiator that somebody’s willing to pay for, but the fact you couldn’t even tell me that these 23 other companies existed makes me a little nervous.”
In terms of overestimating demand, Brill said the issue usually relates to “good enough.”
“Meaning, you have a really interesting innovation, but it’s either not solving a big enough problem for your customer or it’s kind of an incremental or even an irrelevant improvement,” Brill said.
According to Brill, that often comes down to a question of how much a customer would be willing to pay for your solution.
“You want to understand enough how your customer looks at things to be able to understand, how do they place an actual dollar value on what you do?” Brill said.
To learn more about Brill’s work, contact her at gebrill@comcast.net or 577-6840. Go to projectylosalamos.com for a calendar of upcoming events.