Monday, November 2, 2009

Why Facebook is Lucky to Have Me as a Customer!

A couple of weeks ago, I opened a Facebook account and they should be thrilled!  Why?  Because I’m an Early Majority guy.

A what?  The term comes from the Diffusion of Innovations(1)  theory popularized by Everett Rogers whereby individuals are categorized with respect to their willingness to adopt new ideas, technologies, and products as Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards.  Wikipedia has a nice diagram which juxtaposes the adoption curve with the growth in market share.

The diffusion of innovations according to Rogers. With successive groups of consumers adopting the new technology (shown in blue), its market share (yellow) will eventually reach the saturation level. Diagram from Wikipedia.

Now a lot of attention has been paid to the importance of Early Adopters in the successful commercialization of new technologies.  While Innovators have been both celebrated as true visionaries and derided as the bleeding edge, Early Adopters are universally acclaimed as the opinion leaders who can rocket a new product up the lifecycle curve.  They are the trendsetters to be courted like royalty by startups hoping to succeed.  And you absolutely do need them.

But look at the market share curve. Notice where the growth inflection point starts, with the Early Majority.  This is fast growth part of the product lifecycle where companies establish industry dominant share positions (or not).  This is where cash can really make a difference.  In other words, Early Adopters Get You In but Early Majority Gets You Scale.  And this is why my getting a Facebook account is such good news for them. (Make hay now guys!)

So I’ve been a technology commercialization guy for 20+ years; why am I not an Early Adopter?

I’m not a technophobe (I’m an ex-engineer) nor is it even the case that I’m never an Early Adopter.  I bought one of Apple’s first MacIntosh computers (128KB!), setup one of the first websites in my industry in 1993, have been using LinkedIn for over five years, and bought an iPhone in August, 2007 just after it stopped being necessary to mount an assault to get into an Apple store (ditto for the Wii).  On the other hand, I waited until late-2006 to download iTunes, a mere six generations after Apple launched the iPod, still don’t own a DVR, and Ashton Kutcher aside, I’m still not on Twitter.  It’s not about cost; after all setting up an iTunes or Twitter account is free. 

So what's the reason?  Pain of Adoption.

Pain of Adoption encompasses a number of a factors including price, learning curve, fear of the unknown, and time/effort to implement.  It can be a serious impediment to the commercialization of new technology or a powerful defense of adopted technology.

How serious?  Even the most trivial impediments can be enough.  For example, my twelve year old son just bought a new laptop and, having no money, happily loaded it with Open Office, a free, open source equivalent to MS Office.  Because it’s all new to him, the learning curve for the two programs is the same whereas the price tag is not.  Me?  I’ve been using MS Office for so long, that I can’t be bothered to learn the miniscule interface differences, so I pay.  Of course, every time Microsoft “improves” Office (which to me means nonsensical annoying changes to the interface for no apparent benefit) I seriously contemplate shifting back to a Mac (but more on this later).

We Early Majority types are sensitive to the pain of adoption.  Unlike Early Adopters, we don't want to play with your stuff;  we just want to use it.  For us to adopt your technology, we want to know that it’s going to be around long enough to make it worth our while to learn and that it’s robust enough that we won’t be spending all of our time getting it to work.

So what’s the message here?  If your startup is going to be successful bringing new technology to market, you need to bridge from the Early Adopters who got you started to the Early Majority who will scale your company.  Geoffrey Moore discusses this more than ably in his book Crossing the Chasm(2).  But here are my five tips to overcoming the pain of adoption.

1.       Provide compelling value – Above I cited cases of my being an Early Adopter.  In actuality I was not.  What I had was pent up pain!  For example, juggling a cell phone, Palm Pilot, and laptop on long business trips was such a pain, that when the iPhone came out I was ready!

2.       Take away risk with a free trial -  Its easier to try something if there’s no out-of-pocket risk.  A money back guarantee isn’t good enough because of the hassle of recovering my money if I don't like it.  Give me enough trial time to invest in the learning curve and get hooked!

3.       Work with the learning curve – Give me basic functionality right away without having to resort to a manual or help files.  At this stage, a plethora of features is a negative.  Get me hooked first, then give me an easy upgrade path to me to pay for the enhanced features. (And if I don’t, that should tell you something….)

4.       Give me feedback that I’m doing it right – Using a web service example, think progress bar (good) versus spinning alarm clock (bad - is it working? hung? broken?)

5.       And finally, don’t upgrade the user interface unless there is some hugely compelling benefit for me (not you) -  Once I’ve gone down the learning curve, you now have the pain of adoption working for you.  Don’t give me an excuse to check out your competitor (see MS Office story above).


1.       Rogers, Everett, Diffusion of Innovations, New York: Free Press, 1962.
2.       Moore, Geoffrey, Crossing the Chasm, New York: Harper Collins, 1991.

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