We are regularly approached by start-ups requesting to undertake feasibility studies. This is largely due to the fact that, where start-ups don’t have a proven track record or offtake agreements, funders require evidence of economic and financial viability. In our last blog post, we focussed on understanding what it means to develop a ‘business case’. In this blog, we unpack the different types of economic market research that can be completed to determine economic and financial viability. We have recently developed a package of market research offerings which can be found here – this forms the basis of our discussion below. Essentially, we distinguish economic market research into two types, namely, (a) market demand assessments and (b) feasibility studies, with market demand assessments being one component of a full feasibility study.
What is a market demand assessment?
Market demand assessments are done to provide a detailed understanding of the economic viability of a business idea (i.e. product or service offering). This can be done more simply via a desktop assessment or in slightly more detail through including primary research such as surveys. In a generic market demand assessment, we usually start by undertaking a lean canvas analysis to further define the business model and provide a solid starting point for the market research. Thereafter, the research will define the target market, undertake a demographic and socio-economic profile of the target market, assess current market and industry trends, and do a competitor analysis. Once the market is well understood, these key findings are used to develop a demand model which will quantify current and projected demand for your business idea, such as the potential number of customers or units that could be absorbed by the market.
For example, if you want to start a local manufacturing business, we’d first need to understand what it is exactly that you want to do, then understand the market which you could potentially penetrate, and then quantify the market (i.e. population as an indication of potential customers, income as an indication of spending power, etc). Once this has been done, we’d look at the specific sector and industry in which you intend to operate and assess trends and patterns which will have an impact on your businesses success, and then analyse your competitors, their products, and pricing. Using all this information, we’d then develop a model which utilises assumptions based on the market and industry analysis, and provides projections to say, for example, “in 2022, should you be able to penetrate 5% of the market, there is potential for you to sell 100,000 units per annum”.
What is a feasibility study?
A feasibility study builds on the steps undertaken in a market demand assessment but also includes an institutional and operational assessment and analysis of financial viability. The institutional and operational assessment essentially represents the structure of the entity (legal, shareholding, etc), the HR structure, and business operations, while the financial analysis ties together projected revenue streams with capital and operational expenditure to show profit & loss and break-even. The results of the feasibility study can then be pulled through into a business plan, which will provide funders with strong evidence that the proposed project or business has the potential to succeed. Including off-take agreements can help to build an even stronger case.
What do funders want to see?
A market demand assessment is a great starting point in understanding market potential. However, most funders want to see how this translates into financial viability. We have been told by numerous development financing institutions that the most critical element of any feasibility study is ensuring financial projections are informed by and developed off anticipated demand calculations. So in the example above, showing that you have the potential to sell 100,000 units per annum might not be enough. However, if you can show that this can generate R25,000,000 in sales per annum at a competitive market rate of R25 per unit, and after developing your financial model you can show a reasonable profit margin, you’re likely to catch the attention of funders.
So, why do market research?
In summary, undertaking market research is an important tool in gaining a better understanding of a potential business product, service or even a concept or idea. In the case where you can prove viability through offtake agreements and a solid business plan, you most likely can raise funding without doing any market research. However, in many cases, offtake agreements are difficult or impossible to secure (i.e. when your product is service is targeting customers directly), so market research is important in building a case for funders. A market demand assessment will provide you with solid evidence as to whether or not your business venture has the potential to succeed, giving you an indication of potential customers or sales. However, taking this further into a feasibility study by including the institutional and operational structure and detailed financial analysis (tied to the market demand assessment) can go a long way in securing funding.