@andrewchen

Get the newsletter · 2018 essays (PDF) · Featured · Recent

Are Web 2.0 startups wasting their time with Web 2.0 early adopters?

Cookie cutter go-to-market strategies

I run into a lot of startups that have identical strategies for getting to market. When you talk to them, a lot of them will talk about the same questions:

  1. When are you launching?
  2. What do you do to get on Techcrunch/Venturebeat/DEMO/etc.?
  3. How do you think Twitter/Friendfeed/etc got their successful launches?

I think there are some big assumptions that go into the questions above, which we’ll discuss in this post. But let me first show you a very famous diagram.

The traditional “Crossing the Chasm” curve

The “technology adoption” curve above was popularized by Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm book, and mostly deals with enterprise software. (I had the pleasure of spending some time with him while I was at Mohr Davidow, where he is a venture partner)

People often have the same image in their minds when thinking about go-to-market strategies for consumer internet as well. The general idea is to go through the typical flow:

  1. Get a bunch of early adopters (aka Techcrunch readers) excited about your product
  2. They blog, twitter, and promote your product to their friends
  3. Eventually this process will reach the mainstream and you’ll get the wider market

I also want to bring up the definition used by Moore to describe a market, which is a bunch of folks that reference each other when making purchasing decisions. In this case, it’s the bloggers and alpha nerds that are the market.

But what if this is NOT the starting point for your market? Who are the other early adopters and visionaries?

Redefining enthusiasts and visionaries
The major point I will make here is that Techcrunch and related blogs reach an audience of early adopters, but these may not be the earlier adopters that you want. After all, what’s the point of launching a music startup on Techcrunch, for example, if your startup is primarily for the teen mass market?

I want to point out a great article posted by Malcolm Gladwell (of Tipping Point) years ago, called The Coolhunt, which you can read here. The article discusses the emergence of bottoms-up “cool:”

Once, when fashion trends were set by the big couture houses-when cool
was trickle- down-that wasn’t important. But sometime in the past few
decades things got turned over, and fashion became trickle-up. It’s now
about chase and flight-designers and retailers and the mass consumer
giving chase to the elusive prey of street cool-and the rise of
coolhunting as a profession shows how serious the chase has become. The
sneakers of Nike and Reebok used to come out yearly. Now a new style
comes out every season. Apparel designers used to have an
eighteen-month lead time between concept and sale. Now they’re reducing
that to a year, or even six months, in order to react faster to new
ideas from the street. The paradox, of course, is that the better
coolhunters become at bringing the mainstream close to the cutting
edge, the more elusive the cutting edge becomes. This is the first rule
of the cool: The quicker the chase, the quicker the flight. The act of
discovering what’s cool is what causes cool to move on, which explains
the triumphant circularity of coolhunting

Where Gladwell uses the term “cool,” the people in the technology industry use the phrase “early adopter.” Within every target market, no matter how mainstream, there are early adopters or “cool” people who are more likely to uptake these new products and have friends reference them for decisions.

Where are your “real” early adopters?
And thus as a corollary, if your market is moms, there are cool moms that are likely to try out the new technology. And if your market is Asian immigrants, there are cool members of that group who are trying out new technology.

My point is simply this:

In 99% of all cases, the Techcrunch early adopter crowd is probably NOT the ideal early adopter crowd to go after – your target market lives somewhere else

The exceptions I’ll make to this are B2B tech startups like Gnip, or companies primarily trying to target VCs in their announcements.

So where are your early adopters you want to be going after? I don’t know, but that’s the kind of research that you should be doing to create a compelling, differentiated go-to-market strategy that anything but cookie cutter.

One last thing to think about… where did LOLcats and the FAIL meme start? Start by reading about 4chan. Also check out SomethingAwful, Genmay, Encyclopedia Dramatica, and all the other sites that expose some of the darkest underbellies of the internet ;-) Between these sites, Yahoo Groups, IRC, and other old-school communications platforms, I’m guessing a large number of internet memes are generated there by early adopters of some kind.

PS. Get new updates/analysis on tech and startups

I write a high-quality, weekly newsletter covering what's happening in Silicon Valley, focused on startups, marketing, and mobile.

Views expressed in “content” (including posts, podcasts, videos) linked on this website or posted in social media and other platforms (collectively, “content distribution outlets”) are my own and are not the views of AH Capital Management, L.L.C. (“a16z”) or its respective affiliates. AH Capital Management is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration as an investment adviser does not imply any special skill or training. The posts are not directed to any investors or potential investors, and do not constitute an offer to sell -- or a solicitation of an offer to buy -- any securities, and may not be used or relied upon in evaluating the merits of any investment.

The content should not be construed as or relied upon in any manner as investment, legal, tax, or other advice. You should consult your own advisers as to legal, business, tax, and other related matters concerning any investment. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others. Any charts provided here are for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon when making any investment decision. Certain information contained in here has been obtained from third-party sources. While taken from sources believed to be reliable, I have not independently verified such information and makes no representations about the enduring accuracy of the information or its appropriateness for a given situation. The content speaks only as of the date indicated.

Under no circumstances should any posts or other information provided on this website -- or on associated content distribution outlets -- be construed as an offer soliciting the purchase or sale of any security or interest in any pooled investment vehicle sponsored, discussed, or mentioned by a16z personnel. Nor should it be construed as an offer to provide investment advisory services; an offer to invest in an a16z-managed pooled investment vehicle will be made separately and only by means of the confidential offering documents of the specific pooled investment vehicles -- which should be read in their entirety, and only to those who, among other requirements, meet certain qualifications under federal securities laws. Such investors, defined as accredited investors and qualified purchasers, are generally deemed capable of evaluating the merits and risks of prospective investments and financial matters. There can be no assurances that a16z’s investment objectives will be achieved or investment strategies will be successful. Any investment in a vehicle managed by a16z involves a high degree of risk including the risk that the entire amount invested is lost. Any investments or portfolio companies mentioned, referred to, or described are not representative of all investments in vehicles managed by a16z and there can be no assurance that the investments will be profitable or that other investments made in the future will have similar characteristics or results. A list of investments made by funds managed by a16z is available at https://a16z.com/investments/. Excluded from this list are investments (and certain publicly traded cryptocurrencies/ digital assets) for which the issuer has not provided permission for a16z to disclose publicly. Past results of Andreessen Horowitz’s investments, pooled investment vehicles, or investment strategies are not necessarily indicative of future results. Please see https://a16z.com/disclosures for additional important information.