7 signs to identify early-adopters and innovators

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

In crossing the chasm, Geoffrey Moore paints a very clear picture of innovators and early-adopters for the technology world.

The Innovators

Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore

As per him, Innovators pursue new technology products aggressively. They are usually the nerds, the techies, the ‘sufferable’ know-it-alls! They own the latest gadgets and they spend their time reading and writing about the latest & the greatest in the tech world! They are conversant about the underlying technologies and can speak to you about the pros and cons of each one of them (Jelly-bean Vs Ice-Cream Sandwich).

The Early Adopters

The early adopters, as per him, are just as much of an enthusiasts! They are, however less techy but more business / functional opportunity driven. They are not interested in whether its Jelly Bean or ICS; they are more interested in the significant value-add / competitive-edge derivable from this tool. How it would change the world or at-least part of the world!

Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) in Moneyball, would be a classic example of early adopter! Saito in Inception could be another!


So how do we identify them? How can we distinguish them from everyone else in the crowd. Here are 7 empirically defined signs that I collated from experiences (mine and other entrepreneurs).

1. They want to hold your product in their hands, experience it, play with it

Shortly after launching the Yavvy iPhone & Android Apps, I used to go about showing it to prospective clients. There have been instances where some of them simply took the phone from my hand and started playing with the app. On other occasions, they almost immediately downloaded the app from the App store. If I look back upon those who did, almost all of those who pulled it out of my hand and started playing with the device were early adopters. They also became our first few customers.


2. They call back

I used to meet a lot of people and tell them about Yavvy. I still do. At a random meeting, at a conference. Most people listen, most also provide advice. Most of those interactions end right there.

The innovators, early adopters usually come back to you. There have been those who have come back to me weeks later, some even months later. But they remembered and they called back to explore. They wanted to know if it could do something specific, if it could help their friends.


3. They own the latest gadgets (This is a myth)

Most blogs and even Moore’s example states this. Unfortunately, no. of gadgets owned is just a bad yardstick to judge early adopters. Some really amazing innovators I met did not own a smartphone! Infact some of our early customers came to us with a very well defined need (manage billing and invoicing from multiple locations). Most of them had no gadgets. Infact quite a few of them were from rural areas! They were just early adopters in their own market.

On the other hand, I’ve met such a huge number of “Bankers” who move around with the most cutting edge gadgets and yet, have no idea, nor orientation towards adopting technology.


4.  They are interested, they listen, they participate (in shaping the product)

Once an early adopter decides to invest (could be time or effort or money) in your solution or offering, they usually take significant interest in shaping it. This shows up in their feedback, which is usually more insightful. Even during conversations, they give you time and listen. They participate.

There is a sense of excitement in them, when they talk about your product. Here is a quick snippet about the feedback which our early adopters gave us.


5. They have purpose (to use your product)

7 signs to identify early-adopters

Honestly, if I were to picture it, my friends and family would qualify on the above-mentioned criteria. They do participate, they do come back, they do experience the product and give me feedback.

Yet, none of them is an early adopter. Unless they have a purpose or a very well defined use-case for my product, they will not qualify as early adopters. Unless they have felt the problem that I am trying to solve, they would not qualify as early adopters


6. They don’t get stuck up on references

“Do you have another similar company using this product? In our city?”. Early adopters are able to see beyond this question. They are okay, if the answer is no. Infact, if you have too many references, that might actually be a put-off for them!


7. They don’t need handholding (or very little handholding)

As per Moore, the big difference between early majority and late majority is that they early majority is technically capable of using your product. They can work out most parts without you hand-holding them. Early adopters similarly have the technical and functional bent-of-mind to use your product.

Don’t confuse this with feature discovery. That’s a usability aspect of your product. And if your product is bad at it, you’d just have your user come back to you with questions about how to do this and why doesn’t it do that!


Its a tough job finding great innovators and early adopters to help you shape your product. Tough, but unavoidable. Can you leap-frog to the early majority or late majority directly? That’s a question we’d discuss in another post . “How important are early adopters to the success of your venture”


Freemium does NOT work for B2B SaaS products when

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Competition with a dominant/premium brand is also freemium

When Amazon AWS offers a year of free cloud, users would be happy to hop on to it. When Your-Hosting company offers an year of free cloud, users may not get that excited. Also since Amazon is hosting the same for free, you’d have to offer a significantly sweetened deal to capture even the free order (double the computing power, free server setup etc).

If you are not a brand, freemium may turn out to be far costlier than doing some advertising. When it comes to brands, freemium does help you take share, or atleast that’s what this market research experiment between Lindt and Hersheys Kiss tells you.

Your product needs engagement

A time-sheet needs its users to enter data. Unless the users fill in their time-sheets, they’ll never find the benefits of the product (automated billings, productivity, analytics  et al). Until they find the benefits, they won’t be willing to pay for it.

There is no way the user would want to spend time adding time sheets. One of the reasons why she still might be persuaded to fill up that time sheet is because the company paid for that service. Free products don’t motivate companies to engage with the product. They are used once and then forgotten when a more important work comes the user’s way.

Mailchimp offered freemium 8 years after they launched. By then, they had solved the problems of engagement. They knew how to get a user started. Here is the story on how they went about

Your product is still in development

We told one of our early adopters that we’ll develop reports for free. It was a nightmare. They wanted reports in exactly the same format (landscape, not Portrait) and with exactly the same set of data as their last product. We had hoped we’ll sit with them and get insights into the reporting needs of a company; they clearly did not think like that.

If you are developing your product, you’d want good, honest, thought-through feedback. You’d want feedback on what features are important enough for your customer to pay for. What features would add significant value without adding clutter. Freemium may throw you totally off because it comes without accountability.

You are NOT well funded

Free users also need support. They hook into the same support channel that your paid customers do. So now when they call up, you tell them to either pay up or get lost. Ouch! You just lost that awesome customer you wanted to convert from a free to a paid plan. He ain’t never coming back.

Similarly free users also need performance. That essentially means you’d need to plug in more servers, manage more database migrations when you do a new product release.

All of that costs money and it’s not getting you any revenues in the short term.

Its NOT a new product or a new market

DropBox was a product that people did not think they need. There was a need to build awareness, which meant huge advertising spends. They instead used freemium and a referral channel to generate buzz and therefore usage.

While you may think that your product also requires similar awareness to be built, I’d suggest caution. A new product for a new market is rare and usually fraught with significant challenges; something that requires significant investments. Latent needs are difficult to sell.