If you’re building a product then you want users…it’s that simple.  

And you want these users as soon as possible because the earlier you can get users, the sooner you can get start to get that feedback that will be so crucial to your product’s success.

These first users are your early adopters and the feedback that they provide will be instrumental in the early stages of your product.  But as much as you need your early adopters there’s one thing that you must remember about them:  your early adopters are not your mainstream users.

Sure, there may be overlap.  And sure, with any luck, some of your early adopters will grow alongside your product into your mainstream users as your product matures.  But, more often than not, early adopters are an entirely different breed than your mainstream users.

Inside the Mind of the Early Adopter

Early adopters tend to have different needs than mainstream customers.  On the surface, both groups may be solving the same problems but by their very nature early adopters are more adventurous and are willing to put in more of an effort to do so.  And, while everyone wants a great experience, early adopters tend to be more tolerant of the occasional bug or odd usability choice.

But there’s an emotional component at play here, as well.  Often early adopters are just as attracted to your product for the fact that it’s new as they are for the underlying problem that it solves.  This newness is exciting in its own right and, in large part, drives their use of the product.  But this “I used your product before it was cool” quality isn’t a quality that you can count on to drive usage as a your product matures.

Inside the Mind of the Mainstream User

Mainstream customers are less drawn to a product for its newness but are also less drawn by the product’s feature set.  Since this may be surprising, let me explain.  Mainstream customers don’t buy a product because of its specific features, they buy a product because of the specific problems it solves.  This doesn’t mean that all of the same features that were compelling to early adopters aren’t also compelling to your mainstream customers, but it does mean that these feature aren’t likely to be the deciding factor to whether they make the jump.

Expanding on this, your mainstream customers will have much mess tolerance for the same bugs and usability issues that your early adopters had.  Whereas your early adopters viewed rough corners and hiccups with your product as a fair trade for getting access to a new and exciting product early your mainstream customers won’t be so kind.  These users will expect a complete and polished product that functions out of the box.  And, to the same end, while an early adopter may be willing to invest some time fiddling with and configuring their own experience, a mainstream customer will want an experience that fits their needs on day one.

Making the Jump

So, why does this matter?  This matters because if you expect your product to grow you’ll ultimately need to make the jump from your early adopters to your mainstream customers.  The catch, however, it that the same qualities that appealed to your early adopters may not entirely align with the same qualities that will appeal to your mainstream users.  Therefore, you may have to make the decision to alienate some of your early adopters, who have been with since the beginning, in order to grow to the mainstream.

To this end, you’ll also want to be cognizant of catering too much to the early adopters in your roadmap.  You’ll want to measure every step of the way once your product hits the market but beware of blindly following those metrics.  Don’t double down on features or trends that have had a lot of uptake in your product by your early adopters but aren’t likely to appeal to your mainstream customers.  By the same token, evaluate judiciously the decision to drop any feature with little uptake by your early adopters that potentially may be a play towards the mainstream market.

Product development is a journey.  On that journey you’ll encounter many customers all with different needs.  Don’t forget your early customers and the lessons they taught you at the beginning but don’t become trapped by those same customers, either.  By learning to tell the difference between the needs of your early adopters and the needs of your mainstream customers you’ll know when it’s time to take the next step in your product’s journey.

Want to learn more about how to create great products your customers will love? Check out my course series, Using the Scrum Framework from Pluralsight, to learn how to set yourself apart as a Product Owner and help your team deliver the products that will truly value to your organization.

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