So I was talking with my colleague Jamon Moore at I-many the other day, and he was asking me if I had read anything by Geoffrey Moore (no relation, or so Jamon claims). I had told him the God’s honest truth, which was I’d never heard of him. Looking back, I’m not sure how this could be true. I must have read several books that mentioned him, but for the life of me I can’t think of one.
Jamon certainly thought highly enough of Geoffrey Moore’s work, as he brought one of his books in to work for me to read. I took it with me on one of my recent business trips, and I was talking with my good college buddy Jeff Cope (an entrepreneur himself – you can find some of his offerings here), he asked me if I had read Crossing the Chasm. Now, I do like to read, in fact I love to read, and I hadn’t been reading in a while, at least not something as compelling as Crossing the Chasm. Instead I’ve been focusing on generating ideas to pursue as cool things that could be helpful. In so doing, I’ve been thinking of a lot of technological tools that could be implemented in different ways to create value.
Jeff and I have been talking a lot lately as we’ve been really focused on helping each other through some fundamental business decisions and just trying to get some sanity and outside perspective. All of which led Jeff to tell me, don’t think about doing anything from a product perspective until you’ve read this book. He was pretty adamant about it being the best use of my time. Jeff is someone who is a born skeptic and contrarian (so naturally he’s a big fan of The Armchair Economist), which as a fellow engineer I respect a great deal. When Jeff told me, he agreed with nearly everything in the book, I was more than a little taken aback. It certainly felt like fate, and I hadn’t even taken into account that a Jeffery and a Moore recommended the same book by a Geoffrey Moore (nepotism could have been at play).
Well, yeah, I have to say this book changed how I was looking at product development, at how technologies become ubiquitous, and how innovation occurs. What’s remarkable to me about this book is that it was originally published in 1991, and yet nearly all of the strategies and examples could easily relate to today’s market. The version I read was the re-release that came out in 2002, and aside from a couple of points about internet distribution, which I think are a bit off, Geoffrey Moore nails it. For a book that was first published nearly two decades ago to feel so relevant today is a testament to the ideas and writing of Geoffrey Moore. I think of the issues that certain companies had making the various jumps in technology, and its frankly pretty amazing how Moore seems like he’s discussing the various success and failures of three companies all trying to do relatively the same thing (friendster, myspace, and facebook).
OK, enough of the back story. Well, not quite enough. I also must give a shout out to Mike Yu, who has constantly preached to me the importance of segmentation, of finding a niche and marketing to the niche. I’ve always took his word at face value, but as is often the case with the great advice I receive from Mike, I failed to examine the deeper fundamentals around it. That’s where this book was incredible at clearing things up.
I’ve often heard of the technology adoption lifecycle, of how there are innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. It’s always made sense to me that people would embrace technological change at varying paces. I’ve typically been in the late majority on most things, but lately I’ve been moving rapidly into the early adopter and innovator categories. Much of this personal shift I attribute to the influence of Clay Hebert, whose counsel keeps me constantly focused on increasing my creativity.
The genius of this book is not the discussion of how technology adoption follows a normal distribution. The genius is in Moore’s research around how to increase your chances for taking a technology or idea from its early nascent days to mainstream success. The insight that feeds Moore’s model is the percieved attitudinal differences between members of the Early Adopters and the Early Majority. The early adopters he argues are typically Technologists and Visionaries, and can see the possibilities of what a technology represents. They are more willing to play with immature technologies (in the case of Technologists, it’s a geek thing we wouldn’t understand, in the case of visionaries, it’s about pushing what’s possible further along). In order to continue to grow the business beyond this early set of customer you have to prove your value to the pragmatists that make up the Early Majority who want to go with a proven leader. This is the chasm, to shift from the Early Adopters to the Early Majority if you will. This is where a great number of companies falter and lose steam before gaining market traction.
The key per Moore, and frankly it jives really well with my admittedly anecdotal experience, is to focus on a small segment, while keeping your end goal in mind. To do this, you have to pick the right segment to focus your efforts on in order to build out the product. Moore argues that in order to know whether your segment is the right size or is truly a segment, you need a small enough community that can generate word of mouth completely on its own. To me this is sound advice no matter the truth of whether technology adoption occurs this way or not, as it forces companies to focus on a relatively small group of customers with common concerns, which in and of itself is a great thing. It means that the service/product is going to get developed completely for a group of people instead of trying to be all things to all people.
Moore has a great analogy, to describe this strategy. He calls it D-Day. Your end goal is the liberation of Europe. In order to do this, you need first to get a foothold in Europe. To do this you must gather all of your resources and position them to come out of the early adopter market (England) and send them onto a focused point (Normandy) in a rapid manner in order to cross the chasm (English Channel), and ultimately to success (mass market appeal). Check out the cool superimpose job that Paul Straw did for me to literally show this.
There are tons of great insights in this book (from understanding the need for a larger ecosystem to partner with to positioning yourself relative to your competition) to help with this process, and Jeff and Jamon, you were right, this book is a MUST read for anyone looking to bring a disruptive technology to the mainstream. Speaking of which, hopefully I’ve got a couple of those things under way. My day job has me doing some really exciting things with a great tool called Qlikview by Qliktech, which is doing some really cool stuff in the area of Analytics. I’ve also got some side ideas that I’m currently fleshing out with Clay at Cerebral Element. I think one or more of these may be a disruptive technology, and that we will need to focus on our segmentation strategy in order for this to come to fruition.