Surviving running a business in a (micro) niche market

Alexander Richter 8 Oct 2014

Opinion piece with Insights to the micro-niche market in the energy sector that is geothermal, within the renewable energy context. Our perspective from ThinkGeoEnergy.

Working in banking, which now seems like ages ago, I had the great chance working in a well funded corporate startup team. The bank I was working for at the time was Glitnir (before and now Islandsbanki). It had made itself a name in the global seafood sector and then later also in the geothermal energy sector.

The idea was that it is better to be a big player in a small market then serving a large market with much more competition. The reason was simple. The Icelandic banks were too small to compete with larger banks in the international context, so our bank looked at where it could compete and present a concrete value proposition. With the strong seafood background of Iceland, fisheries and the global seafood sector in general were a great fit and created a strong business case for the bank. Betting on this – not so small – niche market of the global seafood sector, not only provided a real business case, but also the opportunity to effectively use various product groups within the bank utilizing the small size of the bank at the time.

The market was served through a focused industry group with people from the industry that were the face of the bank internationally and brought home the deals for the different product groups within the bank. This was a great model and worked fantastically.

The same model was then applied to conquer the renewable energy sector. We looked at the whole sector and then quickly realized that our focus should be on a market that Icelanders understand and have a concrete value proposition. So this is how I ended up in geothermal. Building up the business with our team for the bank in this sector was an interesting endeavour and essentially lead to me founding ThinkGeoEnergy in late 2008.

With a good marketing budget at the bank at the time, we were looking on how we could promote ourselves and our business and quickly realized that this is not an easy task. [We will soon publish something on Marketing in the Geothermal Energy Market on ThinkGeoEnergy]

The geothermal energy market is small and a niche market in the energy and even in the renewable energy context. With the limited market size and slow growth of the industry, the marketing budgets have always been on the low side. The results have been a lack of interest in general energy and renewable energy publications to cover geothermal energy and development. Only a fraction of these readers are from the geothermal sector and therefore the reach is limited. Then you have national industry associations that focus mostly on their countries and thereby also limit themselves. They provide though the opportunities to promote businesses and their members through their publications, websites and events. Given that they have been the only players, their role has been a rather important one.

So when I looked at the industry back in 2008 and remembered our challenge on finding the right place to promote ourselves, both in print and online, I thought it might be time someone is doing something about it. I then founded both as a news website for the geothermal sector, but also as a tool to provide a platform where companies can reach potential customers. While initially a blog, it soon became the main news website for the global geothermal energy sector with a truly global, committed and continuously growing readership today. We added a newsletter, a Spanish sister publication ( and even a paper magazine (Think GEOENERGY Magazine).

From the beginning I understood that we would be serving a niche market, but I quickly learned that it is not only a niche market but actually a “micro niche market”. So running a media outlet in this context provides a number of challenges. It was clear from the beginning that a paid-for subscription model would not work, so we kept and will continue to offer access to the news free of charge. This way we reach everyone in the industry on a global basis. No where else do you find such a focused readership. Furthermore through our reporting we have been able to be closely associated with everything geothermal. Just make a Google search on certain news from the geothermal sector and you will find ThinkGeoEnergy among the top search results.

But while the site has been driven by my passion for the geothermal energy industry and to see it prosper, we still have to make it work as a valid business.

So how do I see the future of ThinkGeoEnergy as a business serving a (micro) niche market?

  1. Advertisement: Banner advertisement will continue being a cornerstone of our income stream with the reach of the site as a core value proposition. We will continue to develop different ways to make this more efficient for our advertising partners.
  2. Research: As part of our ongoing reporting on the geothermal sector we have been collecting information on operating plants, projects, companies and general development. Publishing parts of this on an ongoing basis, we are working on a new offering. It will not only provide the industry with information but also provide us the opportunity capitalize on business intelligence that we have been and are continuously collecting.
  3. Education: We see ourselves not only as a tool for the industry, but also as a promotion towards the general public and those people looking to enter the industry. Education in that context plays a crucially important role. We are now working on a new platform that will provide business opportunities for ThinkGeoEnergy and players in the industry.
  4. Services: Working on consulting engagements for various companies and groups, ThinkGeoEnergy provides strategic and marketing services to the sector. This is a cornerstone for us and provides us income to keep ThinkGeoEnergy going. For the future we expect this to play an even larger part and also open up partnership opportunities.
  5. Events: The event business is a tough one, having attended and helped organized numerous events over the years I came to value the great work done by event companies. Media partnerships with events have helped ThinkGeoEnergy and event organizers alike. We are working on formalizing a new strategy on our involvement that would help us and organizers.
  6. Others: There are various other things we have been looking into in the past and are looking into now. Job postings is one. Based on the limited amount of time and funding, we are limited in what we can do. Partnerships have been a crucial element for us in bringing new things to the industry and ThinkGeoEnergy. So we are always looking at ways to create win-win partnerships to help us bring valuable things to our readers and the industry. … and yes they involve possible income streams.

I am sharing a lot of information here and while this always entails a certain danger, I strongly believe in sharing information and ideas. Collaborations and partnerships have helped me in positioning myself and ThinkGeoEnergy in the geothermal energy industry. I am grateful for the support and friendship of so many in the industry. Our advertising partners, my former employers, customers and constant feedback have helped us keep ThinkGeoEnergy on its continuous growth path.

We are working on a new website for ThinkGeoEnergy and will soon start a new promotion campaign. To continue our work we need your help and are seeking partners in our endeavours.

We are closely following other companies in related fields, such as our friends at Undercurrent News (a seafood focused news platform), Greentech Media (with a certain focus on the Solar sector) and others. .. and the fine magazine of Monocle continues to be a great inspiration.

We believe in the possibility to create a valid business in a micro niche market. My passion for geothermal energy has and will continue to be a key ingredient in our activities.