Farmers Market Basics – What can Startups Learn from Farmers Markets?

I love farmers markets. They make me happy and they make me hopeful. Their warmth and authenticity is magic.

Whenever I travel I make sure that I specifically search out and make time for local markets. I love markets with history like the old Fulton Fish market in New York or the Tsukiji market in Tokyo. Markets have a gravitational pull that is chaotic, warm and authentic.

This weekend I was in Portland at the Saturday food market with my family. This is one of my favorite farmers markets on the West Coast. As my wife and I sat there drinking wonderful coffee, eating local delicacies and watching our three kids rocking out to the folk band I started to think about why I love markets and what I could take from this place that could help entrepreneurs:

1. Markets are the ultimate hypothesis testing petri dish.

The people walking either engage with your brand/product or they walk by. The people will either sample your product and order it or they will walk away.

As an entrepreneur this is pure gold. You can change your branding every hour and test or you could change prices and do the same. One of the reasons that I love markets is because customers are so directly connected to sellers. As an entrepreneur how can you try and create this same dynamic with your customers? How can we try and create real feedback mechanisms in our business that allow us to truly test, change and get better?

2. Markets are super lean.

I was watching the coffee stall this morning and seeing how they used just the minimal amount of power (warming their water with a gas stove) and the minimal amount of employees (three very hip/cool people who were also owners). They didn’t have any fancy gear or anything extra to distract from their product. Their value proposition was kick-ass coffee delivered slowly and with care. They had the minimum viable product completely nailed.

Why as start-ups do we need to add clutter and noise to our products? Why can’t we just brew kick-ass simple coffee and leave it at that?

3. Markets are authentic.

This is a people business. People connecting directly with people whether that is through an economic transaction like sampling and buying or through a non-economic transaction like listening to a great folk band or bumping into other people at the market. There is an authenticity here that is palpable and real. This experience is about honesty and integrity. The products are well cared for and even though they might be a premium price you actually feel good about buying from these authentic vendors.

How do you become an authentic vendor? How do you create a brand and buying/customer experience that makes people feel good about buying your product?

The oldest form of commerce is people buying directly from people whom they know and whom they trust. People want an authentic and real buying experience.  As technology entrepreneurs I will argue that we need to get back to farmers market basics and ask ourselves some hard questions about our products, our customer experience and the authenticity of our brand.