August 2, 2017

Customer development issues or early adopters side effect

Olga Shavrina
If the startup is alive, it has at least a small group of early adopters or innovators. They are active, send a ton of feedback, gladly meet new features, come up with new ways of using the product.The support team recognizes and loves them.

These guys are kind of geeks, they are quite similar to the founder himself and key first employees. They speak the same language with the team and offer functions that you wish to implement yourself.

They are diamonds at the early stages of the startup development. With the project growing it is important to love, help, listen to and treat them with care. And answer their questions at night and note everything they want ... but! Do not implement what they ask because they are not your customers.
My experience
Three years ago, when Convead was young and we'd got no permanent technical support team, I communicated with users a lot – helped them to cope with the interface and received feedback. At the same time, I was creating a client's profile.

The pattern was clearly traced – a 30-years old man, single, with technical education, profound knowledge in marketing, sense of humor, sports, travels, likes dogs and takes a great interest in photography. He looked just like a man of my dreams :)

Alex – small business owner
– 30 years old
– Smart and easy-going
– Casual clothes style– Single
– Diploma in IT
– Gym twice a week
– Meets with friends on weekends
– Owns an apartment
– iPhone and MacBook user
– Facebook and Twitter user
– Travels 2-3 times a year
– Has got a dog
– Amateur photographer
"Wow, what awesome customers we've got!" - I thought, "it's a great pleasure to design a product for such guys."

Of course there were other customers, but they were a mixed crowd, wrote not that often, and their influence was not so strong.

I've been sugar coating the situation for several months until discussed my ideal client profile with a manager. He told me: "Well, may be…, but we've got quite a lot of ladies, and their skills level is different, they are not technical at all, and they are 5 years older on average ...".

I was defeated and went to redo Customer research more carefully. This time I found out our client was a completely different person:

Evelyn – hired marketing manager

– 36 years old
– Married, two kids
– Diploma in social studies
– Hobby: scrapbooking
– Pays a mortgage
– Samsung mobile phone user
–Windows desktop computer at work
– Instagram user
– Sea vacation once a year with kids
– Cat fancier
* Key features are changed in order to protect the trade secrets
Such an embarrassment. Nothing in common.

Perception is subjective. A person often sees what he wants to see and our own brain can fabricate facts in a way we won't be even aware of. Therefore, it's better to create and refine a user profile with a team. And if your customer looks too good – ask you teammates for a help. Most likely, you have deceived yourself.
So what are early adopters side effects?
First of all, early adopters are much more advanced than average users, they easily understand the product and you begin to think that it should be that easy for all your customers, but this is not true.

Secondly, they ask for advanced features useless for most other customers. And since they are your favorite customers and they are very loudly, you think "everyone wants it." But a new feature release doesn't result in the number of customers. Moreover too many features make it difficult for new customers to understand the product.
Your customer focus should always be on new or potential users, not early users. Early users will bias experiments, prompt you to build more and more niche features, and stunt growth.

Power users can't be much more engaged, so building more things for them doesn't usually help the business. It does, however, make the product harder to understand for new customers.
Casey Winters – Growth Advisor in Residence at Greylock Partners
Thirdly, you won't find millions of such guys. If you want to expand your business you should find a lot of users and the absolute majority of your potential customers are just some other people. They think differently, they've got other problems and they come through other channels.
The takaway
Early adopters are a valuable resource, an asset. They help you to develop the project at the early stages, give tons of feedback, catch errors and spread the word.

However, trusting them blindly, you're going to get hurt because you can't see the wood for the trees. Paying attention to these wonderful guys, you can miss the army of potential customers who will not be able to use your product and cross over to competitors.

Do not fall into this trap and may the Force be with you!
Olga Shavrina
Product designer
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