Carving out a niche as an SME

I had always been the life-long and on-hand IT help desk for friends and family – I’m sure in that respect I’m no different to many others (particularly from my background in software consulting and start-up building). However, it was in watching the different behaviours of my family members which gave me the idea for my start-up.

For the internet generation, applications such as Skype, Facebook and Gmail needed no explaining. Even the tiniest toddlers seemed to be able to grasp and master apps on their parent’s devices. But for my parents – now both in their seventies – gadgets were totally alien. My mum didn’t know what a web browser or a URL was, and when she came over from India to spend some time with her new grandson, I observed her frustration over a period of five months at even the most basic applications, such as Skype, to keep in touch with my Dad. Wanting to solve these problems was where the idea for Breezie came from.

I looked around for the existing solutions designed to help older people use the internet and technology. They were badly designed, downright patronising and used decade-old technology.

It was this gap in the market that gave me my idea – in this respect I’m no different to any other person with a start-up. But it got me thinking about why it was that this very clear gap hadn’t been filled. The tech industry is notorious for being ruled by giants – but they hadn’t engaged (at least, any more than half-heartedly) with the 5.7 million adults who were yet to use the internet in the UK. Why is this the case – and what does this imply for the SME?

With every technological development, Apple and Microsoft devices and their operating systems are being stripped back, adopting a more intuitive design – but these designs are only intuitive to those familiar with technology. The 5.7 million UK adults aged 55+ who have never used the internet before is perceived by tech giants as a niche focus – and a dwindling one at that.
Big global companies like Apple and Microsoft are simply too focused on the mass market, rather than the shrinking market of digitally isolated adults. What this means for the technology sector is that the silver market has historically suffered from a lack of talent and capital.

But 5.7 million people is no insignificant number. It’s a niche market – but an important one. This gave me the inspiration to develop Breezie.

Breezie is a tablet service designed to make the Internet easy for older users, and includes software and support.

The software alters the usual Android operating system interface to hide clutter and complexity from popular everyday applications such as Skype, Facebook, Gmail and Amazon, simplifying the user experience. The software comes pre-installed, set-up and ready-to-go on a Samsung Galaxy tablet, or can be installed onto existing Samsung tablets.

The support side of the service includes a year of unlimited technical help and two one-on-one tutorials. Breezie’s support team and designated family members are also able to remotely troubleshoot – including add contacts and services, reset passwords and choose from a wide range of apps and content.

We’ve received £600,000 in just six weeks through crowdfunding platform, CrowdBnk and social impact-focused angel network, Clearly Social Angels – 238% of our £252,0000 target.
The gap in the market for technology solutions for older people was where the idea for Breezie came from – and the mass-market focus of tech giants has meant that we’ve been able to pursue it, receive the necessary funding, and carve out our niche.

What does this mean for the SME? Well, that they have much to gain from tapping into niche markets – much more than massive companies. A large company (particularly in the tech world) has a wide and generic remit. The SME can capitalise on the groups that aren’t included in this, without putting themselves in direct competition with a giant like Apple.

Even in a sphere dominated by some of the strongest brands in the world, there is space for the SME – the important thing is to identify why the giant company hasn’t filled the niche, and how you can go about successfully doing this.

By Jeh Kazimi, founder of Breezie

Image: Niche market via Shutterstock