How Not To Manage Early Adopters

Early CustomersSometimes a bad example can be useful. I got the following E-Mail from a startup whose tool I had tried to use about a year ago but gave up because it embodied too idiosyncratic view of a particular productivity problem. I had probably spent an hour trying to work with it and perhaps an hour on skype with the team trying to understand how to use it.

Hi Sean

We’ve got big news and something special just for you.

About 1 year ago, we started<OldName> after getting fed up with existing options that were too bulky or archaic. We had a hunch we weren’t the only ones suffering and it’s been encouraging to hear about your similar frustrations and needs. We’ve learned a lot and to that end, we wanted to thank you for supporting this venture with your time and attention thus far. Secondly, we want you to know that we’re still at it and have a lot more in store.

Next week, we’ll be relaunching as <NewName>

We’ll be relaunching with a new name and a new look, but our mission remains the same. We’re dedicated to building a fast and simple yet powerful […]t tool.

A special deal just for you next Thursday July 14th.

As a token of our appreciation, there is a special deal just for our early supporters. That’s you! So be sure to look for our Launch Email next Thursday at 1pm EST. The offer will only last 48 hours after we launch.

You don’t want to miss it! See you then.

Team <NewName>

My answer (because this put me in such a good mood)

This is bullshit, send me a description or a link you want me to look at. This 48 hour exploding offer  is frankly insulting.

They wrote write back, clearly I had mis-assessed.

Hi Sean.
Sorry you’re taking this the wrong way.
We’ve iterated and iterated based off customer feedback and we’re ready to make our product public again. But this time, per some lean startup advice – we’re charging right from the start. We haven’t worked out the exact details of the offer yet – hence no mention of what exactly it is – but we know we want to make this public as soon as possible with a price. This is not a marketing stunt – just a way of giving people on our old mailing list some news and an offer for their help.
Hope this gives you more clarity.

My answer

The wording makes it sound like a scam.

I am completely OK with charging from the start but you need a data sheet or detailed description of the service and some free evaluation period (note this is still charging but allowing use for evaluation).

Tell me to watch my mailbox for a special offer is crap.  Send the offer or not but don’t consume my time with a message that tells me nothing./SeanM

I have no problem with startups charging for products, in fact I think it’s a good idea.

I do object to the breathless prose and an exploding offer that’s only good for 48 hours sent to early users. Do they really want a fast no over a slow yes?

They offer no testimonials, no proof that anyone is happy with this, and they want me to pay within two days.

I think the lesson here for bootstrappers is to work out the parameters of the offer–if not the exact offer–in your first e-mail. Getting people’s attention is extremely hard and wasting it by implying scarcity (only good for 48 hours on a new product that they are just launching) or that the recipient should eat lunch at their desk so they don’t miss that important 1pm e-mail corrodes most of the trust you are trying to build with potential early adopters

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