The challenges of starting a niche business – Q&A with Adam Torkelsson

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Taking a proven concept and tailoring it to a particular niche has proven to be a successful tactic for more than a few tech entrepreneurs. The business case is solid. Start with a successful but widely applicable concept (e.g. Facebook) and target a particular sub-audience (professionals) with a new but familiar product (e.g. LinkedIn).


It sounds straightforward. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Successfully launching an app in a niche field demands a rich understanding of the target audience. Even when you identify a clear market need, that alone won’t guarantee success.


You still need to differentiate your app’s features, invest in smart branding, and figure out how to acquire your initial user base. A challenging journey indeed. But one that equestrian business, Equilab, has successfully navigated.


The fitness market is flooded with tracking technologies that measure athletic performance (e.g. Fitbit). But until recently, there were no accessible tools available to measure equine performance. So Equilab Co-founders Per Ericsson and Adam Torkelsson took on the challenge and stepped in to fill the gap.


The Equilab app taps into sensors in a smartphone and uses them to analyse a horse’s gait, speed and other movements. It can suggest ways to optimise training, and can even pick up if a horse has suffered an injury.


Since its 2016 launch, Equilab has gained more than 360,000 users throughout the UK, US, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Brazil. We caught up with Co-founder Adam Torkelsson to discuss Equilab’s digital success in a highly traditional industry.


How did Equilab come about?


One of our co-founders used to be a keen Triathlon runner, and a successful one too, having won a lot of competitions. Crucial to his success was the ability to track and measure his training. However, his running career had to come to an end after an injury, and this urged him to pursue a new passion in horse riding. He quickly became aware of a significant inadequacy in the equestrian industry: there weren’t any tools available that allowed riders to measure performance or to track their horses’ exercise routine. Instead, horse riders had to resort to intuition as their only instrument of measurement.


So with his technical engineering background, he was inspired to find a solution: he sat down in his basement and designed an ingenious way of tracking the horse’s movement by using the sensors from smartphones.


How did you manage to build your product without any existing industry data to rely on?


When we first founded Equilab, there was no existing industry data to rely on, which meant that we were faced with the difficult task of having to collect it ourselves. So we asked all of our friends and family, and our friends of friends, to use an app that allowed us to gather enough information until we were ready to release our first version.


However, at the time when the first version of the app was released, we were nowhere near having enough data, so there were a lot of improvements that had to be made afterwards. We can only be grateful that our users beared with us during this time and helped us get to where we are today.


What challenges did you face setting up a digital business in a very traditional market?


Although the equestrian industry is often regarded as a traditional market, I think that most people within the equestrian community were actually quite relieved that the industry was finally digitalising, and therefore welcomed our innovation. Almost all the feedback we have had so far has been positive!


What approach did you take to user acquisition?


Fortunately, the equestrian community is very tight-knit so we’ve benefitted from a lot of word-of-mouth, and from users telling their friends or their fellow horse riding acquaintances. This word-of-mouth has allowed us to acquire thousands of new users organically in countries we never knew even had a large equestrian community.


What has been the most interesting user feedback you’ve received so far? 


There’s definitely been a lot of user feedback that’s surprised us over the years, but one in particular that has really stuck with me is someone that used the app to track his dogs and he wanted us to include a ‘dog-tracking’ feature on our app!


What are your expectations / plans for this year and next year?


Right now, we are focused on doubling our team, but our long-term plan is to expand our user base from the hundreds of thousands, into the millions. Other than that, we have plenty of exciting new features in the pipeline that we believe will further impact the industry and improve the riding experience of millions more equestrians around the world.