During our last board meeting one of our directors mentioned a start-up he thought was interesting: GrabCAD. Awhile ago I had read about this company on Techcrunch, but since the company was in the CAD/CAM space I filed a note in a brain cell memory register “interesting company, but not something I need to follow closely.”
But a different thought took hold; Hmmm… GrabCAD is to the CAD/CAM professional the same way GitHUB is to the software professional. We’re witnessing the rise of start-ups that cater to “niche” audiences who create a certain kind of content as their prime means of professional affiliation. Don’t take offense to the term niche audience applied to software or CAD professionals. It’s just a way to say “not a mass audience” that is served by a general purpose content creation site like Tumblr, WordPress.com, etc.
GrabCAD targets the CAD/CAM professional with a CAD-specific sharing space augmented with a thin “social network layer.” Create a drawing, upload to GrabCAD, post a link “hey look what I created” and share, trade, and sell your work product. It’s not a place to generate generalized content (like Google Docs, ZoHo, or Office 365), but rather a sharing space for affiliated professionals that want to showcase “their wares.”
GitHUB is a content sharing system that targets the software professional. In this case, “content equals source code.” It’s really “social source code management” with a bunch of other goodies like wikis and pasties mixed in. Source code management has been around forever, but GitHUB makes it really easy to share and integrate code from various projects. Developers don’t actually write their code in GitHUB, they do that in their own developer environments, just like CAD professionals don’t use GrabCAD to create drawings.
In the software world, it is now common for developers to tout their GitHUB account URL as a living resume. You can imagine the CAD/CAM professional one day sharing links to their GrabCAD creativity just like software developers share their GitHUB awesomeness.
Catering to a large niche audience with a custom experience is a successful end-run around mass appeal social networks like Facebook. The core required features, such as file upload, link sharing, and comment curation exist in many platforms, from WordPress to Drupal, to Facebook. But a generic user experience will not suffice. GrabCAD speaks the language of the CAD industry. GitHUB does the same for the software industry.
There are other examples of this trend, although none as focused as GrabCAD or GitHUB:
- Prezi and Slideshare for presentations, although not specifically targeted toward a specific profession.
- Scribd for documents. But not targeted to a specific industry.
- Disqus for comments? Would it be a stretch to cite Disqus for the professional commenter? Probably, but an interesting idea.
- Basecamp for project managers.
- Sortfolio for web designers.
I can imagine other industries ripe for this niche audience approach: legal (specialized documents), chemical (formulas), teachers (lesson plans), music (lyrics). Easy and clear content owner attribution will need to be resolved for some of these ideas to be successful.
I’m excited to see the next GrabCAD come to life. If you know any vertically aligned professions where content creation is the core work-product, scratch your entrepreneurial itch and create a niche audience user experience now.