Challenges in finding ideal users

Start-up is a stage in the process of turning a business idea into an established real company and a ‘start-up’ is a company that is confused about – what its product is? Who its customers are? How to make money?

We start with assumptions about everything, to begin with. 

The more early you start to get a sense of theories against reality, the safer you are.

With an incredible fit between you and your early adopters, they play a crucial role in speeding up this process of clarity before your resources are exhausted.

Early adopters optimize your efforts. And yet, in practice, we see many founders do not seek early adopters.  And many of those who attempt to seek them find it challenging too.    

Here are 6 commonly seen challenges in finding early adopters. 

Challenge # 1 – Better mousetrap fallacy

Even founders who believe in lean startup methods tend to fall into it. The “better mousetrap fallacy” is the mistaken belief that a superior product will automatically generate customers. It is easy for start-up founders to get blinded by their new product as they are working hard to build.

And, it is this fallacy that some founders tend to not give much attention to working on getting early adopters.

What is the problem with this?

  • What if the market does not need your product, no matter how good it is?
  • What if your better product is not valued over the existing product, how would you know?

What works?

  • You have to get in touch with your early adopters, find out what they really want and need and then give it to them.
  • Building a product is relatively the easy part, now you have to find someone to buy your product.

Challenge # 2 – trying to scale early

Premature scaling is “spending money beyond the essentials on growing the business before nailing the product/market fit.”  Or, spending resources on mass marketing much before you know what solution might work for sure.

Why does this happen?

  • We like the very idea of a million users. The absolute numbers when you work on individual users seem so small at first.
  • We don’t like engaging with users individually because it’s hard and demoralizing to be rejected.
  • We are shy and feel lazy to recruit users individually,

Instead, what will work?

  • All successful startups started from a countable number of users or early adopters and grew through repeatedly doing things that don’t scale.
  • When you’re starting out, you should use all the channels that the big guys can’t use because they are focused on scale.

Challenge # 3 – mistaken identity

Some users sign up for a variety of reasons (other than the consideration of their pain point), though they may not be having an urgency to solve the problem that you are trying to solve. And, for the reasons that they signed up early, you mistake them for being early adopters.

What is the problem with this?

  • If the users who signed up are not desperate to find solutions, there is less likelihood of an active usage of your product or them buying it.
  • And until users start using your product actively, you will not get any feedback about its usefulness.
  • You remain in denial about your product’s lameness

What works?

  • In early-stage startup building, you need active users or early adopters who will give you feedback on your product.
  • Since they are anxious to see if your product works for them, they will be active in using it.
  • Only when you get feedback from early users on what works for them and what doesn’t, you can potentially build a product that a lot of people would buy.

Challenge # 4 – at loss with them

We don’t know where to find them and we don’t know how to reach out to them.

We don’t know how to get them on board.

We don’t know how to engage with them.

We don’t know how to de-code what they tell us.

What works?

  • It is not a rocket science that you cannot learn.  And this course will equip you to be confident in dealing with early adopters.
  • The key to doing it right is to treat each individual user as a human and not as something that adds to numbers.
  • Connect with each user individually.

Challenge # 5 -pitching urge

In pitching, since you are doing most of the talk, it is likely that customers pretend to go along with what you are saying.

In the learning frame, you set the context but let the customer do most of the talking.

In an early product building phase, learning is more critical than pitching when you meet your early adopters.

We need to get some facts to qualify our hypotheses (guesses) about what kind of product customers will buy before we start selling them our idea or product.

But many times, we give a miss to this.


  • We come under pressure from targets.
  • It is very hard to resist the temptation to pitch or sell our product or idea and in the process, we tend to forget “learning” as the core objective of customer discovery.
  • We tend to not care to learn about prospects, it’s just so much easy to focus on product and technology instead.

What works?

  • With customer discovery, the initial goal is not pitching but learning.
  • Make course adjustments before you build a large product.

Challenge # 6 – avoiding unsexy stuff

There is hard work involved in locating prospects to be approached for customer discovery and at times it is hard to reach out to them and convince them to spare time for us.

The whole process is time-consuming. It would take the focus away from product development, design and sales.

And, this prompts us to do things that could possibly not require us to do such hard work and make us do boring stuff.

What is the problem with this?

If you don’t do what is needed to reach your early adopters, you will never be able to reach them.

What works?

  • Life is too short to build something that no one wants.
  • Save time and money by discovering early on if something won’t work.
  • Discovering early adopters is the key to discovering if you are doing good.

Summing up

There is a double benefit of seeking them. First, you acquire active users, and second, you define your product.

On the other side, inaction is doubly dangerous. First, you fail to grow, and second, you remain in denial about your product’s lameness.

Ideal users: Where and how to find them

Who are we essentially finding?

You are finding people who

  • Have a problem that you are trying to solve
  • Are aware of the existence of the problem
  • Have already tried to solve the problem and are unhappy with the current solution to the problem; so they are still actively looking for a solution 
  • Have a budget to get the problem solved

But the harder part is – they don’t wear tags or introduce saying they are “early adopters”.

There is no agency or website that can supply you with early adopters.

So, how do we identify them?

We can look for some other “tags” which they wear!

The secret to the tag to be used lies in “finding a solution”.

Where do they seek a solution to their problem?

You need to find places where they hang out in search of a solution.

To find your early adopters, first ask yourself, what are the behaviors of someone who is actively seeking a solution to this problem right now? These actions make up your solution-seeking behaviors list.

This list of solution-seeking behaviors is a great start, but…

It’s critical you talk to the people who demonstrate these behaviors to see what problem they are actually trying to solve. 

First, identify those externally observable behaviors

If you turn a solution-seeking behavior into a behavior that you can identify, you’ve probably found an early adopter.

A list of externally observable behaviors helps you answer the question: where do you find your early adopters? The answer is written within each of these behaviors.

Once you write down the externally observable behaviors—things that you as an outsider can see—you know where to find your early adopters.

Summing up

You find early adopters in the places that they are trying to solve their problems and to find them, look for solution-seeking observable behavior.

If you can’t find early adopters, you can’t build a business

It’s as critical as that for you to get your early adopters or early users.

First of all, the discovery of early adopters gives you the first signal that you are not doing badly.

Early adopters happen to have the problem that you are trying to solve and so, when you discover them, you know the problem that you want to solve exists, and there are definitely some people out there who have the problem that you want to build a solution for.

In other words, early adopters validate the problem.

With their discovery, you turn your assumption that there exists the problem into validated learning.

They give the most valuable insights for product building. When you the starting up, just the way you start with the assumptions about the pain point or the problem, you also start with assumptions about a  potential solution that would work for the customers.  If you build a new product based on your hunches or assumptions about what matters to the customers, there is a chance that you may build something that doesn’t meet their key requirements.

You need customers’ perspectives, rather than your views about their perspectives.

When you find early adopters who happen to be aware of the problem and happen to be aware of how they think it needs to be solved, they will give you feedback and insights that you aren’t able to gain on your own.

And these insights are the ones that would ensure you build something with features that people want.

Building a product is NOT “the product” of your startup. Your business model is “the product”.  Once we acknowledge that the solution is not the whole product and that we don’t need to pretend to believe our made-up answers, we shift from pitching to learning — from other people – your early adopters.  They validate or invalidate all crucial elements of your business model – value proposition, channels, price, and more.

Working with early adopters allows you to ship early.  Early adopters will go for your product even if it is not a finished one. They don’t mind the bugs so no need to wait till “it’s perfect” before you ship.  As long as it meets the core requirement of theirs or you are willing to work towards what they need, they will be willing to live with you even with the not perfectly finished product.

Early adopters are a necessary step on the way to convincing the pragmatist customers your company needs to sign on.  The early adopters should help you get references to selling to your ultimate target market.

In the diffusion curve, the early adopters are the ones that represent the group that buys or uses a new product/service first. The early adopters are followed by the early majority, late majority, and laggards.  But there’s one thing you have to do before your early majority will jump on board – you have to get your early adopters.   Without Early Adopters, there’s no one to tell your early majority about your product. If you don’t get your early majority, no one will convince your late majority to use your product, and of course, you’ll never find your laggards.

Early adopters are the most critical element for a new business building.

If you can’t find early adopters, you can’t build a business.

Early adopters and beta testers

Early adopters are the early users. They come on board because they are looking for a solution to some challenge and your product seems to hold potential in that regard.

They are not beta testers.

A beta tester is someone you pay to evaluate your product, use it, and give feedback on bugs therein.

A beta user could also be a friend, acquaintance, or friend of a friend doing you favor using your product. 

Beta testers are anxious to test your product to the extent that you are paying them. Or, beta users will be willing to test your product to return a favor or barter for a future favor.

On the other hand, an early adopter is someone who believes that your product will help to solve a problem or meet a need and who you believe has a  reasonable prospect of deriving value from your product. If they are evaluating your product they may not have paid for it yet but the expectation is that they will pay if they achieve a satisfactory outcome in a given period of time that is mutually agreed to.

Early adopters are anxious to see if your product will produce a better result than the existing alternatives that are available to them. They are not anxious to “test” your product.

Typically, early adopters will live with some bugs in your product, as long as it meets their core requirement or as long as they see you are gearing up to go there.

Both early adopters and beta testers have their own place in your product building process, You only need to know which one you need and in what context.

New product adoption life cycle

The Diffusion of Innovations curve represents the growth of a new product over time in terms of customers. 

Let’s get into some details on these groups of people, in order to get a better understanding of early adopters.

  • Early adopters have the problem, are aware of the problem and are actively seeking solutions for the problem – that implying, they are not happy with current options and that have money for buying one.
  • The early majority have the problem, they are aware of the existence of the problem, but they are not seeking a solution for the problem.
  • The late majority have the problem but they are not aware of the problem and so they are not seeking a solution for it.
  • Lastly, laggards do not have a problem and so they are not seeking a solution for the problem.

Let’s understand this In more detail with an example.

How does one deal with each of these groups when embarking on a new product?

Laggards – Laggards are people who fall into your customer segment, but they will be the very last group of people to use your product or service. Why? Because laggards are people in your segment who literally don’t have the problem you’re trying to solve. Since they don’t have the problem, you can infer that they don’t know they have a problem, and therefore, aren’t actively seeking a solution to it.  

The late majority – The Late Majority are customers who suffer from the problem but don’t realize it yet (even if you do).  If you have to educate your customers about their problems, you’re talking to a member of the late majority. Members of the late majority are extremely difficult to sell to because you have to spend a lot of time just to get their attention…only so you can convince them they have a problem!  No one likes to be told they have a problem they don’t see in themselves, so it’s a huge waste of time to try and convince your customers they have a problem that you see and they don’t.  Of course, since they don’t know they have a problem, they aren’t “actively seeking a solution for it.”

The early majority –  The early majority have the problem you’re trying to solve with your product and they also know they have the problem. But, they aren’t actively looking for solutions to it, usually for two reasons: the problem isn’t painful enough or they’ve looked for solutions before but didn’t find anything suitable, so they stopped looking.

Early adopters – Early adopters have the problem you’re trying to solve, they know they have it and they are actively seeking solutions to it. These are the people you want to target first. They’re already looking for a solution, so they are much more likely to take a risk trying out a new product.

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