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Is there a difference between product market fit for early adopters and product market fit for the mass market?
First it’s important to realize that any answer to this question is going to be pretty subjective and open to debate. Product market fit is a fuzzy topic.
No, I do not believe there is a difference between product market fit for early adopters and the mass market. The biggest difference between these two groups is in their motivation to try a product and their willingness to overcome onboarding friction. But once they’ve experienced the core benefit of an offering, both early adopters and mass market will only keep using a product if it’s genuinely valuable. In fact, it can be harder to retain early adopters because they quickly move onto the next shiny object.
Digging deeper into the differences, early adopters want to be the first to try things and are often attracted by the coolness/novelty factor. They don’t mind friction getting started and sometimes even like the challenge of figuring it out. Mass market users need to be pretty confident something will be useful before deciding to try it.
At Dropbox I actually asked users which of the following statements best described them:
A) I like to be among the first to try cool new technology
B) I only try things that I think will be useful
When I first started asking the question during the month of our public launch, 90% of the people chose A. But within six months it had flipped and 90% of the people chose B. I trendlined it month-to-month and the change was pretty gradual. Another thing we found was that the highest user density was originally in San Francisco and Boston. After six months the highest user density was Nebraska. And all of this was powered by customer referrals (not paid advertising). Interestingly, the key benefits both groups experienced were the same. The only difference was in their motivation to try the product in the first place.
So my conclusion was that early adopters can be very important for validating a service and figuring out if the key benefit is truly valuable. These same early adopters are an important conduit in reaching mass market users. They often act as trusted technology advisers to their friends and family and can introduce a solution when they see someone struggling with a problem.
Note: This was the answer that I posted on Quora here: https://www.quora.com/Is-there-a-difference-between-product-market-fit-for-early-adopters-and-product-market-fit-for-the-mass-market
Regarding product, it was quite the same for Deezer (and I guess for Spotify too), more details here http://www.thinkmobile.fr/blog/-deezer-story-1-pivots-productmarket-fit
But when going to mass market, making people pay for music (against widely spread piracy here in France) was harder and harder. Hence the partnerships with carriers (details in article). Also, the more mass market and the more we had to raise quality, but that's very logical - early adopters tend to be more permissive against initial bugs / clunky behaviors / yet to be improved UX. Raising the bar on quality / perfecting the product can be really painful, and I often advise startups that have found initial P/M fit to read "Crossing the Chasm" https://www.amazon.com/Crossing-Chasm-Marketing-High-Tech-Mainstream/dp/0060517123
So that at least, they know what's coming and that the effort on product should not lower in the growth phase!
I guess there was no such huge chasm for Dropbox (?), so that might depend on the type of business and on many other things, including server scalibility, software architecture, technical debt, ... or event mass market users having higher expectations / needs as in Maslow pyramid. As for Airbnb, I think their chasm to be crossed was more regarding "Trust" and maintaining it with a fast growing community, as at one time they suffered really painful publicity from vandalized appartments'owners. Same for Blablacar here in Europe (and for Uber too?) / a few rape issues really did impact trust and image, and the startup had to overcome these to "stay in the fit".
As a summary, I think P/M fit for mass market might require (but not necessarily):
- Crossing the chasm (nature of chasm to be found on the way!)
- Perfect tech / scalability
- Raising product quality (UX, design & marketing)
- Higher expectations regarding needs on Maslow pyramid
- And maybe adapting the business model (/ pricing)
Absolutely a difference.
The difference is especially clear the higher the price and the more mission-critical a given product is, especially in enterprise markets where mature products must integrate with other products to go mainstream.
But first let's look at the concept of "product/market fit".
This concept, credited to Andreessen, is actually just a lift and restatement of Geoffrey Moore's 1991 chasm concept.
An early adopter of a Cisco router, for example, might be a government agency like DARPA. They can take an early product and configure/customize/fork it for their internal systems. But to mainstream or scale that market in the enterprise, Cisco needed more. More channel, more support, more handholding across the board.
Fast forward this to the SaaS age. The early Salesforce product was not scalable to the enterprise past SMB. No hooks or APIs for integration with other enterprise systems at that time.
Let's look at Facebook. Early adopter product for university students tied to their email address at a given ".edu". Their scale offering is competely different.
So yes. Product market fit is fungible with the evolution of a given market--and that market fit changes based on customer feedback AND competitors entering the space. Hence it's dynamic and must be handled iteratively over a product lifecycle.
As much as that is right, its not the only point worth noting on this subject matter. Product market fit is subject to many other factors.
I think its a question of defining and revaluating your target market at every stage since many aspects of the market are always changing.
Whatever works in America may not necessary work in Europe or desktop and mobile.
Defining a clear target market segment at every stage is a lot more important because that specific group of people however small it may be will always appreciate the product early adopter or not.
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