As technologists working on new products and new markets, we tend to forget where we are on the technology adoption lifecycle curve. That’s a mistake. Here’s why:
1. Nobody cares
See all that white space under the middle of the curve? Those are people using products that aren’t yours. They are inundated with new offers every day. They exist in a world of information overload. It doesn’t matter how great your technology is, nobody knows about you, nobody cares about your product. See that white space under the line marked by the blue dot? Yeah, me neither. If, for example, you are building a new web app that demands people spend time on your site, whether you’re the new deal site du jour or a “disruptive” new Q&A site, you’re competing against limited attention, ie., limited time carved out for spending time online. Never mind your actual competition. You have to either increase the amount of time people spend online, or steal time from Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, CNN et. al.
2. You have a long way to go
Inside our early adopter bubble, we think a TechCrunch mention is the end all, be all. What % of the US population has never heard of TC, 97%? See where the curve starts accelerating up? That’s about where the chasm lives, waiting to swallow you up. Of course As Steve Blank likes to point out, you’re lucky if you even get to the chasm. We are easily distracted by minor (albeit clever) improvements to infrequent activity on technology platforms that from a global perspective, are obscure. Say, like posting photos that look like Polaroids to Twitter. Not only are we enamored with such minutiae, but are ready to declare such features “the winner.” Of what, who knows? You can try Leapfrogging early adopters, but that requires millions and millions of dollars (see iPhone/iPad).
3. Your entire ecosystem is early
Have you noticed the resurgence of email newsletters? It’s as if technologists finally got the DMA memo that email is (still) the online communication tool of choice among consumers. In other words, if you want to reach customers, email is better than Twitter, Facebook, SMS, etc. Not that these aren’t effective, too, for some segments, but like it or not, email is king. The point is that the distribution of users on the platforms your product depends on, determines your market potential.
If your strategy depends on early majority platforms, you will need patient investors and money to burn. If you aim to leverage established platforms, remember that users generally like them the way they are (that’s why they were successful). It’s hard to alter user behavior within a platform, too.
Of course, your objective might be to overthrow entrenched players, or perhaps to re-segment their market. But remember that the momentum achieved by established companies successfully converting the “early majority” crushes your “better” product.
Use your fellow “early adopter” denizens to help vet your product, determine what works to solve pain, reward passion, instigate sharing, but don’t assume your success here and infatuation with your wiz bang technology represents a real market.