Why early adopters don’t exist

This is a guest post by Yann Girard, author of  the book “The Perfectly Executed Startup“.

We all agree on the fact that we have to find and identify early adopters when we want to successfully bring a new product or service to the market. But the truth is that early adopters can’t be found. Early adopters are initially interested customers that we either found online or offline, but they still need to be “educated” before we can really call them early adopters. Unfortunately the education part isn’t done by most of the founders out there. This is pretty bad as every “non-educated” interested customer is lost early adopter potential, which we could have monetized some day.

So the question arises why so many founders still leave out the “educate” part, if it’s so crucial for every startup’s success? Well, because no one ever told us to do so. Universities, schools, books, blogs and consultants tell us that we need to find our early adopters. But they usually don’t tell us how to find them and that we still need to “educate” them, before we can call them early adopters.

That’s actually the reason why we are having such a hard time finding our early adopters. They don’t wear signs on their heads saying “Hey I am an early adopter, I will buy your product”. We can’t go to a certain place and start our early adopters shopping.

So how to do that?

Running around and asking people on the streets just won’t do it. Although it’s impossible, we’d all love to go for an early adopters shopping tour and start selling our new products like crazy. Unfortunately this will never happen, because early adopters for new products don’t exist, yet! Instead, we need to educate them, create them and craft them ourselves, which is a hell lot of work. So if we have to educate interested customers first, how can we do that? Well, we need a process that will help us to do so. A process I’d like to call “the early adopter education process”, where the most important element is interaction.

To put it in a bigger context

“The early adopter education process” is a process that I came up with after a university professor told me about an empirical study. The study says that a customer usually needs five interactions with a new product before even considering buying a product from a startup. This could be a Facebook ad, a TV ad, a tweet, a blog post, seeing someone using the product, a presentation and so on.

So here is what this means for us founders

It means that we need to start working on our startup by making a lot of online and offline marketing upfront, create a buzz about our idea, interact with the interested group of people over and over again, gain their trust, get them super excited about the product launch, monitor the number of interactions with each and every interested customer and then send over a sales pitch. The people willing to pay money for your idea are your only true early adopters. This approach will not only help us to filter out our early adopters before we even start building our products, but it will also lead to a lot more trust, a higher conversion rate and higher revenues. Another great thing about it: we can now start building our products together with our early adopters…

If finding interested customers and educating them into becoming early adopters is one of the most important things when building a new company why do so few people talk about it? Well, because no one ever tried to spread the word about it, or maybe no one is doing it. So if you believe that this is helpful for other people as well then feel free to start spreading the word! But how do you really educate people that were initially interested (signed up, clicked, etc.) in your idea or product? How do you even make sure you can really interact with them and get them engaged on the content you’re trying to offer?

Here’s a short summary of the process you should follow

  1. Grab your prospects attention (ad, blog post, etc.).
  2. Send them to a platform you own (blog, landing page, etc.).
  3. Try to collect their information (Email, Facebook, etc.).
  4. Send them valuable content over and over again (automated).
  5. Send a sales pitch and offer your product (after 5 interactions).
  6. Analyze sales metrics (conversion, revenue, cost, etc.)
  7. Adapt, tweak and optimize the entire process.

The best way is to collect someone’s e-mail address right away. Facebook works as well but you’d have to pay to reach your audience and you have to compete with thousands of other advertisers. Now let’s quickly zoom into the education part and take a look at an example.

How early adopters work in reality

You want to sell a SaaS product that allows small businesses to easily create a mobile app. The moment you want to sell your product (e.g. via an ad) is usually not the moment your potential customers are thinking about building an app. At this very same moment you are competing with hundreds of other very urgent and pressing tasks that might be more important than building an app. Hence, people won’t buy it right now. They will buy it once they have to tackle the decision whether or not they need an app. In most cases they simply forget about your ad or your sales pitch.

So what shall we do?

We need to start educating people why they actually might need an app, instead of selling it right away. According to research only 3% of your prospects buy/click/etc. right now 7% are considering it. The rest is not even thinking about it, yet. Hence, we need to grab their attention by using an approach that addresses one of their main worries.

How do these worries look like?

For businesses these messages include how to increase revenues, decrease costs, trends, efficiency and so on. For individuals it’s about decreasing complexity, improving their lives and so on. A strategy to educate your prospects might look like this:

  •         “Why Not Having A Mobile App Will Kill Your Business”
  •         “How To Increase Your Revenues Through Mobile Apps”

These messages will immediately appeal to everyone out there. Not only to people that need to build an app right now. Once people clicked on it, read it, etc. you need to hold their attention by collecting some of their contact data for further interaction. In a next step you need to continue providing valuable information. You could for example make a series out of it, present different use cases and so on. I guess you get the entire idea. The main goal is about increasing trust and positioning yourself as an expert. People trust experts. And that’s exactly where you need to be heading to. You should definitely take a look at what the guys at www.groovehq.com/blog are doing. They are applying this strategy, which keeps potential customers engaged and coming back over and over again.

In case you want to know more about how to do the described steps, you should grab a copy of the new book of Yann Girard.

  • Attila Bajári

    useful 😉

  • Thank you, Attila! We always try to share the best of our knowledge – and this time the best of others, like Yann as well!

  • Yann Girard

    Hope it helps at one point or the other. It surely helped me a few times already :-)..

    • Actually the core of this article is something uniquely valuable to think through when a startup seems to have hard times finding it’s primary focus group! Thanks again, Yann! 🙂

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  • There are some good insights in your article, but I have to disagree with the fundamental premise behind the whole thing:

    “Early adopters are initially interested customers that we either found online or offline, but they still need to be “educated” before we can really call them early adopters.”

    No, that’s *not* what early adopters are, at least not by any definition within the Lean and Customer Development literature. According to Steve Blank, early adopters meet these criteria:

    1) They have a problem.
    2) They understand they have a problem.
    3) They are actively searching for a solution and have a timetable for finding it.
    4) The problem is painful enough that they have cobbled together an interim solution.
    5) They have, or can quickly acquire, dollars to purchase the product to solve their problem.

    Just because somebody comes to your site early and sees your marketing literature before other people do does not make them an early adopter, that makes them an early prospect or lead. You should be finding early adopters by doing customer development, meaning that you should be calling and searching for people by getting out of the building and talking to prospects face-to-face or over the phone. In fact, in most cases, you should have already found your early adopters before you launched the first version of your product. Once you get the real early adopters, their actions and words will help you figure out exactly what to build and how to market to early prospects.

    I would recommend that anybody interested in the topic read The Lean Startup (Eric Reis), Running Lean (Ash Maurya), and The Startup Owner’s Manual (Steve Blank), all of which cover the topic of finding early adopters in depth.

    • Javid, first of all, thanks for the comment, we really appreciate other entrepreneurs engaging on these pages. I personally see the “early adopter” topic as something that has a handful of shades: We all respect (and teach) those books of Eric Ries and Ash Maurya. At the same time, Yann’s approach is quite interesting with bringing in the time element of boosting up the adoption curve. What he suggests is “growth hacking” of the adoption curve by education. This is not denying the classic lean approach, it’s just amending it with the time element. At least this is how I interpreted it. We all took the adoption curve as a given fact – it might be altered through education, though. What do you think about it?