Established vs. emerging: A founder's guide to market mastery


This guide offers a deep dive into the primary differences between established and emerging markets. Discover strategies to identify product-market fit, redefine success beyond conventional KPIs, and build a forward-looking business model suited for tomorrow's world.

Emerging markets are ripe with opportunities. At Classiq, we’ve been navigating our own emerging market by focusing on innovation and the future potential of quantum computing. The work we’re doing will pave the way for widespread adoption of our quantum computing software as the market matures.

In this guide, you’ll learn the primary differences between established and emerging markets, how to spot the right product-market fit in both situations, and how you can build a startup for the future if you’re carving a new path with your technology.

What is an emerging market?

For startups, emerging markets are less about what works right now, and more about what will be needed in the future.

From my perspective as a founder plotting a course toward the future, there are two types of emerging markets:

The first one is a situation where a mature technology is looking for a use case. The technology is compelling and holds untapped potential, even if the founder hasn’t made a solid business case yet. Think of the early days of blockchain or Web3 technologies — lots of buzz, but the path to profitability and practical application wasn't clear.

The other scenario in an emerging market is when a promising technology exists, but it's not quite ready for prime time. Autonomous vehicles and quantum computing are great examples — these are areas with immense opportunity, and known applications that could change entire industries. However, we’re still exploring their full potential, and the return on investment isn't immediate because the technology needs to mature.

If you’re launching a product in either of these types of emerging markets, you must “build for the future” and think ahead. If you're creating a product, make sure it's something that will still be relevant down the line.

How are product-market fit signals different in established and emerging markets?

The signals that indicate product-market fit differ markedly between established and emerging markets.

Measuring KPIs

In established markets, conventional KPIs like revenue, return on investment (ROI), and user count are important. They offer a clear view of a product’s success and market acceptance.

In emerging markets, KPIs tend to be specialized and unique. You might gauge success by academic acclaim — such as getting research published in respected journals — or even by opportunities like speaking engagements. These metrics hint at the market’s recognition of your product's potential and intellectual value.

Understanding users

For established markets, the number of users is a critical metric, and ideally you’re looking for a large potential user base to tap into.

You’ll have a more modest user base in an emerging market. You’ll need to shift to engaging with a smaller group of sophisticated users who are focused on tomorrow’s use cases for your product. It's about quality and foresight over quantity.

Navigating competition

Established markets demand rigorous competitive analysis. You’ll need to know exactly what makes your products different and better.

In emerging markets, the landscape is different. It's about speed and innovation — moving quickly to develop and iterate on products without being bogged down by what competitors might be doing. Carve out a new space and establish a foothold before the market becomes saturated. 
My motto for navigating competition at Classiq is, “Run fast and don’t look too much to the sides.”

Speculation vs. validation: How should you spend your time?

In a mature market, you’ll spend the majority of your time validating your idea. If you’re starting a company in an established space, you have the luxury of using existing market data, customer feedback, and partner input to verify your concept. You can rely on analysts and industry experts to gauge viability. Your focus will be on confirming the present market wants and needs what you're offering.

It’s different in emerging markets. You’ll spend much more time speculating than validating. You must envision the future and speculate on when the market will be ready for your product.

During speculation, you’ll need to walk a fine line between being optimistic about the market's development and being realistic about its current state. Aim for an optimal position, so you’re ready with a strong offering the moment the market matures. What you especially want to avoid is overestimating how much time you have — it’s a tragedy when the market is there before you expected it and you weren’t ready!

Adapting your approach in varied markets

Product marketing

Product marketing strategies are significantly different between established and emerging markets due to varying stages of development and user expectations.
In established markets, the focus of product marketing is on driving demand and encouraging usage. Your strategies will highlight the features, benefits and competitive advantages of a product that's ready for widespread adoption. Marketing efforts are robust and aggressive, aiming to maximize market share, user engagement and customer retention.
On the flip side, in emerging markets, products may not need to be fully production-ready — they are tools for exploration, education and the development of future applications. This creates a unique challenge: marketing a product that is currently being used for research or educational purposes, but has the potential for significant, practical applications in the future.

Audience awareness

Customer needs are typically clear and well-documented in established markets, which means you can focus your messaging on what sets your product apart from the competition. The audience is knowledgeable about the product category, so the emphasis is on differentiation.
In emerging markets, there's often a significant need to educate the market about the product itself. The concept may be new, and potential users might not yet understand the full implications or uses of the product. In these cases, education is paramount. If you're not directly providing this education, partner with other companies that can help spread the word and bridge the knowledge gap.

Competitive advantage

In established markets, the longevity and track record of a product or company serve as strong signals of trust. Customers in these markets tend to have higher confidence in products that have been around and have proven their worth. Capability and reliability can strengthen your company’s position and give you a competitive edge.

As we’ve talked about, your product may not be production-ready if you’re trying to launch in an emerging market. You could still be doing fine-tuning for widespread use. In this case, you could try to leverage a first-mover advantage.

Being a first mover allows your company to set the pace, define standards and establish norms. However, this comes with the challenge of building trust from the ground up in an environment where there may be few (or zero) established benchmarks.

Keep in mind that being the first to market is not a sure path to success. If you're in this category and thinking about a first-mover advantage, you’ll need to assess the pace of technological and industry changes, your resources and your capabilities to decide if, when and how to enter a new market. Your advantage is only an advantage if you have strong odds of succeeding with what you have.

Building forward in emerging markets

When navigating an emerging market, you might face tension between the long-term purpose of your product and its current usage. This dissonance requires a clear-eyed approach to product development and market positioning.

Recognize the gap, and even the dissonance, between the current application of your product and the visionary goals you have for it. In emerging markets, your product might be used for experimentation. Your customers might be exploring and playing — but that means they may have appealing ideas that are not actually relevant to what you do.

This is where it becomes tempting to stretch the use of your product to meet the immediate and diverse interests of users, even when these interests stray far from your product’s core purpose.

Expanding your product's use cases too far beyond its intended scope can dilute its value and hinder your long-term strategy.

This exploratory phase is essential for innovation and feedback, but don’t let it derail your vision.

“Building forward" in emerging markets means being crystal clear about what your product is and isn't, and resisting the allure of short-term opportunities that don't align with your vision.

How to strategically navigate market maturity

Your strategic decisions as a founder will largely depend on your market, and whether you’re breaking new ground or tapping into a well-established, existing need.
Here are the critical insights to consider when you’re thinking about the dynamic differences between the two types of markets:
●  In established markets, KPIs like revenue and user count are standard. In emerging markets, you’ll measure success by influence and potential.
●  User engagement in established markets is about quantity and momentum, but in emerging markets, it's about quality and foresight.
●  Product marketing in established markets aims to drive demand. If you’re in an emerging market, focus on research and preparing for future applications.
●  Trust is a built-in advantage in established markets. Emerging markets offer the chance for a first-mover advantage but require building trust from scratch.
●  Be clear about your product's purpose and avoid chasing irrelevant use cases or partnerships that don't align with your long-term vision.

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