Market sizing case questions are a core part of the consulting interview process.
For decades, leading consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG and Bain have used them to assess candidates' quantitative abilities. In fact, they've been so effective that many tech companies have followed suit: it's not uncommon to get a market sizing question in product management or product marketing interviews at companies like Google.
In the beginning, firms asked hypothetical questions which exclusively tested a candidate's estimation skills.
It didn't matter if the situation was whimsical or had zero practical business implications. For example, a candidate might get the question: "Please estimate how many golf balls you could fit inside a 747 plane."
It's an interesting intellectual exercise. However, as an interview question, it has a crucial flaw: it doesn't truly test skills beyond pure quantitative ability. The solution: a true market sizing question!
Today, firms focus on a more sophisticated style of estimation question: the market sizing question.
These are estimation questions with added depth that test the candidate's ability to pull in relevant knowledge and make reasonable assumptions about consumers, businesses and markets.
From the firm's perspective, this is a higher leverage type of question to ask because it simultaneously tests 1) quantitative skills 2) logical reasoning and 3) business acumen.
Let's look at a sample market sizing question for the rest of this discussion.
Your client, a leading pharmaceutical company, is planning to introduce a product to compete with Botox, which currently holds a near monopoly in its market. You would like to estimate the current size of the market in the US, which derives about half its revenues from cosmetic uses and half from therapeutic uses.
This particular question is focused on the healthcare industry but exhibits all the core traits of a market sizing question that could come up in any case interview! Below, let's apply a three-step approach to working through it.
For any market sizing question you face, whether the whole case is one giant market sizing question or you find a mini-market sizing exercise embedded within a large case, we recommend taking three steps:
Before jumping into any given market sizing question, it's important to lay out how you'll approach the drill.
You can take any market sizing task and break it down into a few key component parts. Then, you can work through each component independently and put all the parts together for the final answer.
For our sample question, sizing the US Botox market, we can start by organizing the key info. We know from the question that the cosmetic market is 50% of the total thus, if we can estimate the cosmetic market, then we can easily scale up by 2X to estimate the full market size.
Next, if we zoom in on the US cosmetic market, then we can define it as equal to the number of cosmetic customers multiplied by annual spend per customer.
Now that you've got a structure in place, you'll need to make assumptions and calculations to get to your total estimate.
Here, the key is to assume often, and always round your numbers to make them easier to work with. Additionally, after you do any calculation, if the result is a messy number, then you should round that number before you use it in a subsequent calculation.
At times, candidates avoid rounding because they think it will be impressive if they do incredibly precise math and get it right. A word of advice: avoid this trap like the plague.
It's a double whammy because:
Consultants pride themselves on simplifying messy problems. Thus, needlessly complicating a problem with messy numbers isn't going to win you points. In fact, it's counter productive.
Returning to our example, if we want to first calculate the number of US cosmetic customers, then let's start by making some assumptions and rounding as needed:
With these nicely rounded assumptions, calculating the number of women in the relevant population is nice and clean: 300M people * 50% women * 50% relevant age * 20% use = 15M women.
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Finally, after any series of calculations, it's helpful to sanity check your estimate and make sure it passes the smell test. While it's not necessary after every single calculation, sanity checking numbers after series of calculations and, of course, at the end of the exercise, is helpful.
For example, consider the calculation we just did above. If we were “off by a zero”, which is a common error to make in a series of calculations, then we might have ended up with 150M women. Given that 150M women would be all the women in the US (given a 300M population and 50% of the population is women), that would be a crazy result. It implies that *all* women in the US use Botox cosmetically. Smell test fail.
However, the current number of 15M is 5% of the overall population. While it might seem a little high, it feels plausible that some single digit percentage of the population might use Botox cosmetically.
As you go through a whole market sizing exercise, you'll essentially be repeating the steps above to work toward an overall estimate.
For the US Botox market, here is the step-by-step calculation one of our RocketBlocks Experts used to estimate the market. As you go through, pay special attention to the structured approach and the use of round numbers to simplify calculations. In addition, try to test yourself by periodically sanity checking a few numbers as well.
|Assumption||Population of US||300M|
|Assumption||Cosmetic use is almost exclusively women||50% women|
|Assumption||Population is evenly distributed between ages||Ages 0 to 80|
|Assumption||Relevant population is ages between||Ages 40 to 80|
|Calculation||Number of women in target market: 300M * 50% women * ((80 - 40) / 80)||75M|
|Assumption||Only used by the top X% of earners||20%|
|Calculation||Total annual cosmetic treatments for women: 1.5M + 375K||1.875M|
|Assumption||Average cost of a treatment||$200.00|
|Calculation||Size of cosmetic market for women: 1.875M * $200||$375M|
|Assumption||There is some small percentage of cosmetic market which is men (%)||5%|
|Calculation||Cosmetic Botox market for men and women: $375M / 95% of the market||Roughly 400M|
|Calculation||Total Botox market (cosmetic + therapeutic): $400M / 50% of market is cosmetic||$800M|
Thus, the final estimate is $800M.
A quick Google search turns up some market research which suggests the overall US market size is $1B and growing quicky (source data here). Not bad!
For another example, check out this video of me solving a market sizing question live.
In the video, we illustrate three different approaches to this question: a weak approach, an OK approach and a great approach. Finally, in the conclusion, we provide a compare and contrast and point out why the great answer really sets itself apart.
Earlier, we used a top-down solution as part of the three-step approach to market sizing questions. However, it is possible to solve with a bottom-up solution as well - although this can be tricky and is not my recommended approach (more on that later).
In a top-down solution, you start with the largest possible number (e.g., the US population) and divide by various factors until you get an estimated result.
Conversely, a bottom-up solution starts with the smallest possible number (i.e., one individual out of an entire given population) and works from there until you reach your final estimate.
For example, we could calculate the market size of shampoo with a bottom-up approach:
By using the above calculations, we get a total of $6 billion for the annual market size of shampoo. With a quick Google search, we find the answer to be almost $4 billion. So, as you can see, the bottom-up approach to market sizing case questions can also work.
Here's the risk with the bottom-up approach: most markets have lots of segments, niches and nuances (e.g., think of luxury vs. basic products) and the implications of that - different price points, buying cadences, and so on.
Given that, it is often easier to start with the overall population and then consider how you'd like to segment it first - then once you've enumerated your segments you can estimate price points, buying cadence, etc. for each segment.
Here is a complete list of steps to prepare for market sizing questions:
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Market sizing case questions directly relate to the revenue generated by a given market over a certain time period (usually one year). However, you may be asked to make slightly different calculations that are connected to the size of the market. In some cases, interviewers may even ask you about specific companies, although this is unlikely.
Here are some examples of alternatives to conventional market sizing questions:
You may be wondering where to start when it comes to practicing market sizing questions. Thankfully, we’ve provided some examples to work on below. Some of the questions are medium-sized, whereas others are large-scale (i.e., nationwide) questions.
Here are some examples of market sizing case questions (and examples of related alternatives):
Again, you should use your best judgment to determine whether to employ a top-down or bottom-up solution. While using both and obtaining an average would likely give you an estimate closest to the actual answer, since time is of the essence in a job interview, you should pick one approach only.
If you're looking for additional market sizing drills, then RocketBlocks can help with that.
Our market sizing drills each come with a detailed answer like we walked through above, as well follow-up questions to further test your knowledge. You can sign up for a free trial today and give them a try.
Real interview drills. Sample answers from ex-McKinsey, BCG and Bain consultants. Plus technique overviews and premium 1-on-1 Expert coaching.