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”


Problem of scale (is not a problem at all)

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

The problem of scale; to get more customers to use your product and pay you for it, is not a problem at all. It’s just a symptom; of all the other problems your company is facing.
It means there is some deficiency with the product, or with its marketing, or with the messaging, or with the distribution, or the usability, or your service, or your pricing, or with your choice of market, or with your quality or any of the dozen other challenges.

To fix the problem of scale, you just need to fix all of these preceding problems. The keyword here is All! You will need to fix all of these problems. But here’s another catch, most successful businesses, fix only a few of these problems really really well and solve all the others only to an acceptable level.

So how do you prioritise which challenges to overcome

It varies depending upon the stage of your business, but the usual order looks something like this -

  1. Product: The pivotal challenge. Build a product that fulfills a need.
  2. Marketing: Making your customer aware of you. Let me know what specific needs you fulfill, what problems you solve.
  3. Sales: Helping your customers buy. From the moment they show interest, till the time they pay.
  4. Delivery: Delivering the product or the service to them.
  5. Support: Making sure your customers get the benefits they had been promised.
  6. Everything else


Should start-ups be Sales driven or Marketing driven?

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

I never thought about this question until a discussion with a certain marketer of a B2B start-up.

Before you start taking your own positions, let me explain the two terms and what they stood for in context of the discussion. In our discussion, it largely boiled down to whom are we going to hire next – A salesman or a marketing person? If you are a start-up founder, this could also help you in helping you build core capabilities.

If you want a small answer, it’s this –

  1. Marketing gets you leads, Sales gets you orders. If you don’t have a pipeline – do some marketing, build some leads. If you have tons of leads or have a good source of lead generation, focus on sales.
  2. Neither works without the other. You would need to build minimum proficiency in both of them. These questions below help you define which one do you need to scale.

1. Do you have sufficient sales pipeline?

A sales guy without an opportunity pipeline is like a developer without a computer; all design, no execution.

Our experiments with salesmen generating their own leads never proved efficient. In fact from what I have understood, sales-people do better in pursuing and closing deals once those leads have ripened sufficiently.

If you don’t have a sales pipeline for sales people to work on, focus on marketing. Carry out marketing activities to generate some leads.

2. How many stages / touch points does the customer buying process have?

eCommerce companies would have to be more marketing driven because their sales process itself is extremely short. In fact, most consumers may not even prefer a human touch point in the buying process.

A B2B business or enterprise application requires multiple touch points. Even if you get a lead, you would need to work with them to close your sales. There would be multiple touch-points, namely actual users, commercial or finance team, senior management for reports and analytics.

There would be multiple stages where you understand their requirements, or give them a demo or help them with a pilot.

The more elaborate your market buying process, the more sales driven you’d have to be. 

3. Big ticket items? How cluttered is your market?

Car buyers,  home buyers search before they commit to a product. The search itself gets refined as the prospect gathers more understanding. That means if you can do reasonable marketing so as to show up on any of those searches, you would probably get a hit. What you do from that hit would determine whether you are able to close the sale or not.

However, please do understand the ramifications of the word reasonable. If you are selling in a cluttered market, your marketing effort to reach that level of reason-ability may still be significant.

4. What are you selling?

If you are a job recruitment site like monster, you may still have to spend enormous effort marketing to job-seekers. Monster may still be more sales driven in its approach towards companies who buy job posts and databases. This marketing is not filling up your sales funnel; it is building up your product.

“Typical social applications” would need to be marketing driven to gather users but may still need to be sales driven to generate revenues.

5. New business or repeat business

Small manufacturing companies or suppliers are usually limited by their production capacity. A warehouse company can stock only so many boxes. These businesses continue to get repeat business from existing customers. New customers are required only when they wish to scale up.

If you are repeat business focused, it is far more important to concentrate on up-selling or cross-selling to your existing customer. Your farming funnels need active sales and account management and sales funnels are the way to do so.

Don’t bother building an aggressive marketing channel. You could do with a scaled down version and work with referrals etc. So if you churn a lot of repeat business, it’s better to be sales driven.

6. How long is your sales process?

In case of multi touch-point sales cycles, deals tend to go on hold. While the prospect may enter with a significant interest, the interest dwindles over period and the urgency is lost.

This now becomes a point of passive indulgence with your prospect. You can’t push her to buy but you need to remain in active touch so that you are there whenever she is ready to buy. It makes sense to let your sales team focus on more active prospects. It is also a great opportunity to expose him to your marketing.

If you see a lot of your prospects going into hold, you would want to build up your marketing channels to keep them from leaking out.

The clichéd verdict

One can’t work without the other. As a startup, you would probably start with focusing aggressively on your sales channel (for early adopters), then to marketing and finally again to sales. As you mature, you would move through repeated cycles wherein they feed into each other. You would still be driven by one or the other,

But that’s not the verdict.

If you are reading this and therefore reasonably interested in this question, you must build processes which interweave both these processes together. If you are a sales driven business, ensure that your sales CRM or sales processes leverage basic marketing techniques like sending out emails or auto-responders. Your sales people should know which emails to send at what stage. They should have a defined process to handle dormant accounts and how to reactivate them.

If you are marketing driven, ensure that your marketing automation tool helps you set up alerts and reminders and define basic tasks. Your marketing team should know the sales funnel numbers.

The verdict is that it is time you integrate all of your customer relationship touch-points and run them in an integrated fashion. At Yavvy, that’s the goal we cherish for our customers.