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Finding Your Early Adopters: How to fall in love

Start your company using the Lean Startup methodology. Step 1: finding your early adopters.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 12.15.32When you start a company, you logically believe that your ideas will change the world. If you believe that everyone will instantly adopt your idea, though, you are in for some disappointment. Compare it to dating: not everyone is potentially the love of your life. Avoid the trap of building a Cinderella product: it could take ages to find the right foot for your glass slipper. Start the other way around and find the foot first.

When you start a company, the first question you need to answer is whether the problem you’re trying to solve is worth the effort. In this blog post we help you decide what to test first and determine what customer segments to start with. We’re using dating as a metaphor: how do you find the perfect match?

Missed blog #1 on what lean startup is?

Your most important assumption

As a startup you search for a repeatable and scalable business model (Steve Blank) while facing conditions of extreme uncertainty (Eric Ries). According to the Lean Startup Methodology, the best way to deal with that situation is to put learning central to everything you do. Validated learning is a term proposed by Eric Ries that basically means that you need test every assumption before you act on it.

So what’s the first and most crucial assumption to test? The Lean Startup argues it’s the two-folded assumption that (1) people actually have the problem that your company is trying to solve and that (2) they are looking for a solution for it. In this blog post we’ll provide you with a framework to test these assumptions and analyze your findings.

Going on the right dates

Finding the love of your life isn’t about dating random people; it’s just impossible and inefficient to go on a date with every single person in the world. Startups face a similar reality: although there’s limited time and resources available, it is essential to find the right customers as early as possible. Therefore you begin by determining who would be most likely to love your idea, before you start dating.

Step 1: Define your early adopters
First, keep in mind that not every future customer will be ready for your product or service just yet. And even more importantly: the majority of the people that you can cater to in the future will not be forgiving if your product isn’t perfect yet. Start by finding those people that love your product even in its early stages and don’t mind if it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles yet. We call these people ‘early adopters’. To early adopters, what’s important is that your (early stage) product is better than their current solution and that they buy-in to your idea/vision. These are the people that will help you improve your product over time.

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Here’s what characterizes an early adopter:

1. They have been actively looking for a way to implement a solution for their problem.
2. They have already put together a ‘piecemeal’ solution.
3. They have or can obtain a budget to spend on a solution.

Some of these characteristics are externally observable. Take dating as an example again: if the problem is ‘finding a fitting partner’, the behavior could be ‘creating a profile on channels like dating sites or Tinder’. You want to find the people that have these characteristics and show this type of behavior towards the problem you’re solving.

Start by asking yourself: What are your future early adopters doing now to reach their goals (1)? And which of this behavior is externally observable (2)? Define as many of these observable behavior types to create a well-defined profile of your early adopter.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 12.18.41Step 2: Find the right channels to reach them
As soon as you have a clear profile of your early adopter in mind, it’s time to discover where you can find people like that. As mentioned before, dating comes with a variety of channels: dating sites, Tinder, offline events, etc., but what are the channels that you can use to reach your early adopters?

What defines a good channel is that it’s a place that bundles a large number of people that show behavior related to solving the problem you are tackling. You could think of shopping malls, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, specific fora and fairs, for example. Below you’ll find a 6-step exercise to help your team define the right channels to reach your early adopters. Also: we’ve provided a free tool that makes the exercise a little easier.

Step 1: Make a list of behavior types and list how you can observe them.
Step 2: Define at least 3 online and/or offline channels for each behavior type.
Step 3: Create a small experiment to test if you can find people with that behavior through those channels.
Step 4: Assess if you have found enough evidence of (early adopter) behavior on those channels.
Step 5: Approach more early adopters through successful channels and referrals.
Step 6: Now run out of the building and go on a date with your special one (or actually, read on first).

Note: Every team member should do this exercise individually first. After that, all team members get together to discuss their findings and prioritise the results.

Before you leave the building and go out on that date with your potential early adopter, make sure you know what you want to ask them. In the next blog post we will help you prepare the right list of questions to find out if they’re the future customers you’re looking for. Stay tuned!

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About the author
This Lean Startup series is brought to you by Douwe Wester and Edouard Dopper. Douwe is the founder of LeanUp and one of the mentors in our Smart Energy and Web & Mobile accelerator programs. Edouard is founder of Office United. With the joint force of several startup founders, LeanUp trains and coaches startups & innovation teams to apply a series of startup methodology and help build corporate accelerators from the ground up.

Illustrations and editing by Julie Donders.


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