How did you come up with your startup idea? Chances are you recognized a problem and came up with a solution that could solve it. How did you recognize the problem? Perhaps you experienced it yourself or noticed a challenge or pain experienced by a group of people.
Whether you are looking to solve your own problem or address people’s needs, startup ideas are a response to people’s challenges. Everything starts with people. Therefore, if there is one thing that could make or break a startup, it’s failing to understand the user. Who are they and why them?
Your ten thousandth customer may have the same problem and need as your first customer. The difference is, your first customer may not have the same expectations as your ten thousandth customer.
Throughout the lifetime of your startup product, many groups of customers will use your solution. In the beginning, with a simpler and less known product, while you may have a hard time attracting the skeptical buyer, many of your first customers will even welcome themselves in. Those are your early adopters and their expectations can be very different from your future customers.
What differentiates early adopters from other groups of buyers is their tolerance for risk and the ability to see the potential of your solution even if existing products are a better option for them today.
Early adopters will sign up early, attract new users, and take the time to provide you with feedback to help you build a strong product. Your success can mean theirs, especially if they used your product to accomplish goals others can’t easily achieve because they don’t know about your solution. Early adopters are always searching for such new technologies.
Understanding and clearly defining your early adopters thus bring you focus. If you know who will most likely buy and benefit from your product with the least sales friction and objections, you can invest your resources attracting the right people. This means lower marketing costs, higher returns, and a group of customers eager to use and recommend your product.
You can identify your early adopters by carefully listening to their answers, monitoring their behavior, and observing their actions. Here’s how.
1. Do They Know They Have A Problem?
Customer interviews are the first and most effective customer discovery channel. If you are interviewing a potential buyer and find yourself trying hard to explain the problem, you are either solving a problem people don’t need a solution for (not big enough) or you are talking to a customer who uses a solution that does exactly what they need and doesn’t feel there is a problem worth solving. Let’s use an example.
Assume you are building a smart email filtering tool that aims to save users time by learning about their email use behavior to automatically prioritize the most important and relevant emails while blocking or tagging spams and unwelcomed requests, announcements, and pitches. Your hypothesis is that busy entrepreneurs running small to medium-sized businesses and who receive over one hundred emails per day are more likely to be interested in your solution.
For your first round of customer interviews, you find ten entrepreneurs that fall into your hypothesized group. You start the interview by asking them to take you through a typical day of work.
A common answer will include answering emails, meeting with the team, speaking with customers, finding new opportunities, and selling the product. This is the first answer that helps you identify your buyers. In most cases, interviewees that don’t deliberately mention the area you’re building a solution for don’t find it important enough.
In follow up questions and in order to start putting your interviewees in context, you can ask:
- On average, how many emails do you get every day?
- How many of them are important and require an answer the same day? and most importantly,
- How do you manage your inbox and optimize your time spent checking and answering emails?
An interviewee who recognizes the problem but has already solved it and may not consider using your solution today will probably stop you at the first question with an answer such as, “I have an assistant who takes care of answering most of my emails while showing me which emails are most important for me to answer.”
An early adopter would talk about how much valuable time email takes from them every day. They would mention all of your competitors and their experience trying those tools. They would talk about the advantages and disadvantages of competing products and how they spend time looking for better solutions. They would even start talking about what they wish an email filtering tool has that would solve their problem.
The first signal for recognizing early adopters is figuring out if your interviewees believe there is a problem worth solving.
2. Did They Allocate A Budget To Solve The Problem?
Early adopters would not wait for an ideal solution if there isn’t one. They go the extra mile to figure out how to put a solution together, even if it means repurposing irrelevant tools. Listen carefully to how your interviewees tried to solve their problem and how much time and money they spent on it. Early adopters don’t hesitate to invest. If they didn’t, it’s either because they don’t find the problem big enough or they are satisfied with existing products even if they are not ideal.
To summarize how understanding customers’ budget can help you identify early adopters, there are three answers you need to get:
- Is the pain or cost of not finding the solution they need big enough that they had to settle for what’s available or tried to create a solution to solve their own problem?
- Have they spent time and money to solve this problem?
- How much time and or money are they losing from using their current solution? Or how much time and money are they losing from not using a solution?
3. Did They Try And Buy Your Solution?
Early adopters are always looking for the next better solution. If they know they have a problem and have passionately talked about it. If they have tried several solutions and understand the pros and cons of every competing product. If they have invested time and money testing different products or creating their own solution. You should expect two things from them:
- Ask to try and don’t mind paying to use your product even in its basic form or, if they don’t find value in it,
- Take the time to provide you with insights and feedback that can help you build a better product.
In sum, you can build a product, sell it to one hundred people, get one hundred rejections and still build a successful startup simply because those one hundred future customers may not have been ready for your solution. Identifying and focusing on your early adopters allows you to start capturing market share with fewer objections and without burning stages.