Beth Helmstetter, a top-rated destination event planner to the stars was inspired to launch The Good Beginning, an online wedding registry for charitable causes throughout the world. Just a year into discovering the market need for a scalable online charity platform, Beth put her MBA to use in an entirely new way that connected directly to her core business.
In addition to (or in lieu of) classic china and smoothie makers, couples can invite their guests to join them in supporting a worthy charity, from those raising funds for the Flint Water Crisis to Syrian refugees and many efforts in between. To date, The Good Beginning’s couples have contributed over $250,000 to worthy causes around the world that may have otherwise been spent on espresso makers and sheet sets.
Here’s how Helmstetter found the gap in her market, and how you can do the same with your category:
#1: Get Inspired by Personal Experience
After visiting Haiti following the 2010 earthquakes, Helmstetter felt compelled to connect her couples with charitable causes that would impact the world around them in a very significant way. She had seen her clients attempt to use their weddings to give back in the past, but Helmstetter found that ‘giving back’ was a challenge of logistics and accessibility for both couples and their wedding guests. By many accounts, the entrepreneurs who are most successful are the ones filled with purpose.
#2: Focus on Your Strengths
Using her MBA with an emphasis in nonprofit administration in conjunction with many years in the wedding industry, Helmstetter knew The Good Beginning needed to provide users with a seamless, secure and effective experience. She has the entrepreneurial itch, sure, but she leaned into her strengths as opposed to starting a business she would be ill-equipped to run. Passion, skills, and hard-fought knowledge need to fuel your own entrepreneurial pursuits.
#3: Find a Niche
Sure, the ability to donate to a charity online has existed for some time, but a platform designed specifically for couples and their wedding guests didn’t. Once Helmstetter realized couples were seeking out a platform like this but were left underwhelmed by what was being offered, she knew some of the other 2+ million couples that marry each year may have felt the same way. 4+ million individuals is enough of a market for most businesses to thrive, so it’s all about finding the proper niche.
#4: Don’t Appeal to Everyone
Innovation truly stems from creating the best solution to a challenge that may have otherwise been overlooked. Build something that solves the problem in the most effective way, even if it only applies to fraction of the entire market. That special formula will be one that makes the difference between settling for what may already be out there and one that is the best solution for that unique need.
#5: Shake Up the Business Model
Unfortunately, popular charity platforms are simply unequipped to properly accept and track multiple donations from small groups of people, and because of design, often neglect the smaller specialized efforts that benefit indigenous communities most directly.
“We live in an age of reinvention,” says Helmstetter. “Capitalize on that, even if it means shaking up a traditional business model so that you can deliver maximum value to an underserved market.” Airbnb and Uber didn’t carve out big chunks of their markets by solemnly swearing to play by the old rules, so why should you?
#6: Focus on User Experience
Never underestimate the importance of user experience. Helmstetter, for example, had over 11 years of wedding industry expertise behind her, which helped her understand the intimate needs of the couples who would use The Good Beginning. This allowed her to better understand the market and figure out what her startup needed to be if it was going to be successful.
Working with developers, the platform was built with the functionality needed to not only handle those individual contributions, but also invites couples to add charitable organizations they feel personally connected to – something that isn’t possible with other platforms. Moreover, The Good Beginning easily integrates with popular wedding websites just as a traditional online registry does and was developed with style and clarity in mind, so that couples could feel proud to share The Good Beginning with their wedding guests.
#7: Draw Inspiration from Outside Your Market
It’s not enough to know your competitors; you’ll also be best served by finding players in other industries to each you a thing or two. In Helmstetter’s case, she happens to particularly admire Patagonia’s philosophy and culture. While many companies are socially conscious in moments of the products they sell, Patagonia manages to be so every step of the way. As a household name, they could easily let these practices slide, yet they choose to be a leader in both conscious fashion and leading a life of generosity.
Paying attention to players that are winning in other markets, Patagonia included, allows disruptive players like Helmstetter to win in their respective categories.
#8: Analyze the Results
As the nature of registries stretches far beyond the actual day, guests will continue to contribute to up to 5 months after a wedding. Couples and their guests to are projected to contribute over $500,000 to worthy causes through The Good Beginning by the end on 2018. Recent couples have chosen to support efforts at home including The Heart of Los Angeles/HOLA and the Washtenaw Literacy as well as organizations in developing countries like Freely In Hope, Global Footprint Network and the New Hope Initiative.
Despite all of the success, like any new business, there have been plenty of opportunities to learn and optimize, which Helmstetter makes sure to do on an ongoing basis. Part of success is execution, sure, but it’s all for naught if you’re not going to analyze the results and refine your strategy continuously. Is your startup doing the same?
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.