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When it comes to market viability, even great business ideas can fail if your target market is too small.

Ensuring that your organization is focused on a large enough market will make it easier to generate sustained revenues over time and help your business thrive.

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Here’s how to calculate market size and whether it’s big enough to be viable:

Top-Down: How Big Is The Market?

In the Top-Down approach, the goal is to find the largest market size of the universe surrounding your product by using industry research and reports.

For example: Your organization is developing a new furniture product “ACME Chair”, made from a special sustainable material that’s stronger and lower cost than competitors.

Step 1: Find “Total Addressable Market (TAM)”, which measures the total revenue opportunity available for your product.

To do so, use online and publicly available data such as The Bureau of Economic Analysis for national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) spending, The U.S. Small Business Administration, customer market research like Nielsen and Statista, censuses, or government data.

Total Addressable Market (TAM) = Total Revenue Opportunity

Total Addressable Market (TAM) = $80.9BN = (US national spend on Furniture in 2017 based on GDP)

Total Addressable Market is the first basic Top-Down indicator of your maximum market revenue. Although organizations will never capture all of their TAM, it is useful for our next step, finding a more narrow approximation of market revenue called “Serviceable Addressable Market”.

Step 2: Next find “Serviceable Addressable Market (SAM)”, which measures the percentage of TAM that can actually be reached through your business model.

Continuing Our Example: ACME Chair can only be distributed in California due to shipping constraints, and is best suited for office environments rather than the home.

Serviceable Addressable Market (SAM) = (TAM) x (% Opportunities as Part of Business Model #1) x (% Opportunities as Part of Business Model #2) x (“…” Business Model #3, etc.)

Serviceable Addressable Market (SAM) = $267M = ($80.9BN as TAM) x (13% as California’s percentage of US GDP) x (55% as percentage of furniture spend in commercial vs. residential) x (4.7% as percentage of chairs vs. other furniture)
(Source:;; Note: when calculating SAM you can include more than three “Opportunities as Part of Business Model” to narrow accuracy even further).

In summary, use TAM to calculate SAM to find basic Top-Down market size. Although inflated to a best-case-scenario figure, it reveals potential revenues given your organization’s current business model and constraints.

Bottoms-Up: What Are Potential Sales In The Target Market?

In the Bottoms-Up approach, the goal is to determine specifics of your potential market revenue by using data or surveys from actual references including customer or competitor usage.

Step 1: Survey potential customers on their willingness to pay for your product at your desired price.

Continuing Our Example: ACME Chair conducted a survey where 5 out of 20 Californian corporations say they are willing to pay the price of $300 per unit for 2 units.

(Assume that $300 per unit is the average unit price in this industry and 2 units per company is a standard purchase order).

Step 2: Find Target Market Potential Sales. Use your internal surveys and public research to project revenues.

Target Market Potential Sales = (% Customers With Interest From Survey) x (Price Customers Will Pay) x (# Units Customers Will Buy) x (# of Opportunities as Part of Business Model)

Target Market Potential Sales = $109M = (25% = 5 Customers With Interest From Survey ÷ 20 Customers Surveyed) x ($300 as Price Customers Will Pay) x (2 as Units Customers Will Buy) x (728K = 5.6 million Commercial Offices in the US x 13% as California’s percentage of US GDP)
(Source: ACME Chair’s internal survey;;

Target Market Potential Sales is a more accurate portrayal of possible revenues — it is an actual depiction of what’s valuable to customers and what they are willing to pay right now.

A market viability analysis requires you to evaluate three components of your presumed target market so that you know your customers inside and out:

  • The market size. Namely, is it big enough to accommodate you, a new competitor on the block but one with a unique selling proposition that will set you apart?
    Is there room for this market to grow? Is the target market amenable to changes, improvements, and new products (meaning growth) from you?
  • Your target market members. Are they willing and able to pay for your product or service?
    Will they keep coming back? Are they likely to tell their friends and family members about you? As the lifeblood of your business, the more you know about your potential customers, the better.
  • Your competitors. Who are they? What do they do differently? What is your plan to triumph over them?

Now comes the recursive part. Your goal is to eliminate any market segment that is too small or consists of people who can’t or won’t do business with you.

Target Audience Holds the Key

Of the three elements to market viability, by far the most critical is your target audience, Product Plan explains.

The day you stop learning about your customers will probably be the day you roll up the carpets at your business for the final time. In other words, gathering intel about them is not just recursive; it should also be perpetual.

At the same time, expect it to be messy as some information comes to you in dribs and drabs while other pieces soak you with detail.

Take it all, take it out of order because there is no right order, and reflect on each nugget until you can deliver a speech addressing each of these questions:

  • What value does your product or service deliver to your customers? A value proposition may teem with benefits or revolve around a single but hugely provocative one.
  • What features does your product or service offer that are incomparable to your customers?
  • What problem does your product or service solve? Why do your customers need it in their lives? How does it make their lives easier? By contrast, if your product or service fulfills a want, what draws your customers to it?

In all likelihood, you may reduce – not expand – your target market after these steps. Don’t think of it as shrinking your customer base and your profit; you’re focusing and refining it.

Market Viability: Is The Market Big Enough?

In the Market Viability test, the goal is to determine a realistic estimate of future revenues and whether it’s big enough.

Since it’s unlikely that your organization is operating a monopoly, you would realistically win less than 100% of all customer business.

Step 1: Find the Market Viability Size. Though it varies per industry, start with an estimated 2% revenue capture for market penetration.

In general, 2–5% revenue capture is aspirational but realistic in a 5-year period. This is because you are starting at 0% customers, and even ambitious distribution takes time to build.

Continuing Our Example: ACME Chair has aspirations of becoming a public company within 5 years.

Market Viability Size = (2% as Estimated Revenue Capture) x (Price Customers Will Pay) x (# of Opportunities as Part of Business Model)

Market Viability Size = $4.3M = (2% as Estimated Revenue Capture) x ($300 as Price Customers Will Pay) x (728K as Commercial Offices in California)
(Source: ACME Chair’s internal survey;

As a reference point, generally companies go public with $100M+ revenue per year. In our example, ACME’s realistic best case would not take it to IPO ($4.3M is much less than $100M as an IPO minimum).

However, going public does not have to be the goal; $4.3M in revenue would still be an incredible feat for a small to medium-sized organization, thus, continuing to penetrate the target market to reach that number is a viable option.

Knowing your target market’s size, potential revenues, and likelihood of viability is critical in understanding the limits of your organization’s scale and future profits.

If the market is too small, capturing new customer revenue in the future may be challenging, so make time to assess your target market in advance.

7 product discovery books