Confusing visionaries with the mass market in new market startups

Mar 14, 2012

Table of contents:

  1. Crossing the chasm
  2. Case example: Foursquare

Over the last couple of years, the technology industry has exploded with growth. The consumer Internet has grown exponentially with rising numbers of Internet access, broadband and the influx of new demographics that are using the Internet on a daily basis. However, the technology industry is still extremely insulated from the mass market. Early technology adopters are pushing the boundaries of what is possible with this new technology, but the mass market is already very far behind. There are new online services cropping up everyday that appeal to various fragmented niches of the early visionary adopters, but will they ever catch on with the mass market? Are we confusing these visionaries with the mass market?

Crossing the chasm

The problem with marketing and selling new technological products to the mass market is not a new one. Geoffrey A. Moore’s seminal book, Crossing the chasm explores the problem in great depth. The problem is also frequently highlighted as a key point of failure in Steve Blank’s The Four Steps to the Epiphany.

The generally accepted approach to “Crossing the chasm” is to establish your new technological product with a subset of early adopters. By establishing this beach head, you dominate an early market or demographic and then use these early evangelists to penetrate and move up to the mass market.

However this process is far easier said then done. Of the popular consumer Internet services of the last few years, only a handful have managed to fully establish themselves in the mass market. I would say, only Myspace, Facebook, YouTube and to a lesser extent Twitter have firmly established themselves to the non-technical-early-adopter user.

Yet here we are, in an industry that is pumped full of money and with companies that have valuations and public offerings in the billions. How can these valuations be justified when the majority of technology companies are yet to penetrate the mass market.

Case example: Foursquare

Foursquare has been around for a couple of years now and has built a user base in the 10s of millions. They have recorded billions of checkins and now they are the undisputed leader in geo-locations recommendations. Foursquare has a valuation in the 100s of millions, yet they are still not even close to penetrating the mass market. If you compare Foursquare’s growth to the growth of Facebook, Foursquare is still in the very early stages. Yet in the tech industry, Foursquare is killing it.

In the case of Foursquare’s success thus far, are we totally forgetting about the transition from early adopters to the mass market?

Only time will tell whether Foursquare, or any of the new consumer Internet technology services can make the transition from early adopters to the mass market. Now that the technology industry has grown, many startups can enjoy moderate sustaining success. But I think we need to take a step back and realise, as early adopters, we still have a long way to go.

Philip Brown


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