“We didn’t know what “the new” was. It’s kind of a hard concept because when most people talk about “the new,” they’re actually talking about it after the fact. They look back and say how brilliant you were at seeing all this, and so forth. Well, it’s all nonsense. When it is new, you don’t know it. You’re creating something for the future, and you don’t know exactly what it is.”
Ed Catmull in “A Conversation with Ed Catmull” ACM Queue Nov-2010
Early adopters, also known as visionary customers, are able to let go of the past and embrace the new in spite of the fact that “nothing new ever works.” Pragmatists know that “nothing new ever works” and wait for someone else to debug a new offering. Conservatives wait for new technology to get cheap enough and laggards never adopt.
Early adopters are relatively rare. Taken together, pragmatists, conservatives, and laggards outnumber early adopters by 20 to 40 to 1.
Early adopters are rarely happy with the status quo, it’s one of the reasons that they are more willing to let it go. One of the hallmarks of an early adopter is a demonstrated ability to incorporate innovation into their personal practice or business in a way that enlarges the scope of their capabilities, enabling them to respond more robustly to challenges.
Early adopters often find a startup before the startup can find them. This can lull a startup into a false sense of optimism that the majority of the market has recognized the value of their solution.
Early adopters focus on useful intermediate results they can use as building blocks or viable interim solutions. They exist in state of ongoing active evolution. Pragmatists focus on end states and end results: they don’t like change and want to get to an outcome without spending a lot of time on the transition. If an early prospect for your new product is focused more on the outcome than on managing the transition your team had better be good at managing the introduction and bringup of your offering or the prospect may lose heart.
If an early adopter is a member of a larger organization they may also be change agents: they can not only adopt a new technology themselves but actively foster adoption. Two indicators that you are dealing with a change agent:
- They can point to earlier innovations they helped to effect within the organization.
- They can map the decision making process that your startup will have to navigate to secure their firm as an early customer.
Having a bona fide early adopter on your customer advisory board acts like a force multiplier on your startup.