adoption behavior curve worksheet

Early Adopters Part 1: Who They Are

On the path to your Product Market Fit, not all potential customers are created equal—at least, not at the beginning.

The first group of people you need to win over are your Early Adopters.

In this post, you’ll figure out who your Early Adopters are, but first, we need to get on the same page and answer the question…

What Are Early Adopters?

Many think “Early Adopters” are people who sleep outside of the Apple store before a big launch. People who always have the latest new gadget is one definition of Early Adopter, but that’s not who we’re referring to in the context of entrepreneurship.

In entrepreneurship, the Early Adopters are the first group of people that buy any new product/service (tech or otherwise). The Early Adopters are followed by the Early Majority, Late Majority, and the Laggards.

This is a simplified version of the Diffusion of Innovations Curve.
A simplified version of the Diffusion of Innovations Curve.

The Diffusion of Innovations curve represents the growth of a product over time in terms of customers. Many of you will achieve Product Market Fit once your Early Majority is using your product.

But there’s one thing you have to do before your Early Majority will jump on board…

You have to get your Early Adopters.

Why Do Early Adopters Matter So Much?

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.

Your entire growth process starts with and depends on your Early Adopters. In fact…

If you can’t find Early Adopters for your product, you won’t find Product Market Fit.

Who Are Your Early Adopters?

To understand who your Early Adopters are, you need to remember something I talk about all the time: customers don’t buy products. Customers buy solutions to problems.

customers don't buy products. they buy solutions to problems.

So, the way to tell if someone is an Early Adopter is to assess their relationship to the problem you want to solve.

who are early adoptersFor instance, let’s say the customers you want to serve are startup founders and the problem you want to solve for them is, “I’m not sure how to do Lean Startup.” (They buy into the theory, but they have difficulty applying the principles.)

I’ll break down each of the groups on the Diffusion of Innovations Curve using this example, so you can see what makes Early Adopters so unique.

Let’s start with the…


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.

who are the laggards

In our startup founder example, our laggards would be startup founders who don’t have problems with their inability to apply Lean Startup—people like…

  • Lean Startup experts (e.g. Eric Ries, Ash Maurya, Steve Blank, etc.)
  • Startup founders who leverage different methodologies (e.g. Jobs to Be Done, Design Thinking, etc.)
  • Startup founders who have no methodology at all (e.g. the “build it and they will come” founders).

You can see, none of the groups listed above would ever say the words, “I’m not sure how to do Lean Startup”, so they’re going to be the last group of people we build a solution for.

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. So, they get X’s down the entire column in the chart above.

Late Majority

The Late Majority are customers who suffer from the problem, but don’t realize it yet (even if you do). You can identify a member of your Late Majority by these characteristics:

  1. who are the late majorityThey have the problem you’re trying to solve but
  2. They don’t know they have the problem.

For instance, a Late Majority startup founder might call herself “lean” because she has/spends very little money (an incorrect definition of Lean). Alternatively, someone who thinks an ”MVP” is the same thing as a beta version of the product could also be considered a member our Late Majority.

We know these people will have problems applying Lean Startup principles, because they don’t understand them.

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.”

Early Majority

who are the early majorityThe Early Majority is more aware of their problems than the Late Majority. The Early Majority…

  1. Have the problem you’re trying to sove and
  2. Know they have the problem, but
  3. They aren’t actively looking for solutions to it.

Members of your Early Majority are awesome because they’re already convinced they have a problem; they just aren’t actively seeking a solution to it, usually for two reasons:

  1. The problem isn’t painful enough yet (e.g. a founder who just started reading Lean Startup but hasn’t started to implement it).
  2. They’ve looked for solutions before but didn’t find anything suitable, so they stopped looking.

This group of customers, along with your Late Majority, will make up the vast majority of your eventual customers. It’s great to know that they are there because…

The Early Majority is often big enough to help you achieve Product Market Fit, but they won’t come onboard until you first have Early Adopters.

Early Adopters

who are early adoptersAn Early Adopter meets all the following criteria:

  1. They have the problem you’re trying to solve
  2. They know they have it and
  3. 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 — a product they’ve never heard of, from a company they’ve never heard of — like yours!

In fact, Early Adopters are so excited about solving their problem, they’ll often pre-pay you to build a solution for them. Then, they’ll happily spread the message to other people who have the same problem (i.e your Early Majority).

Think of any successful Kickstarter campaign – they’re supported by hoards of Early Adopters, pre-paying to solve a “problem” (whether physical, emotional, or intellectual), who then share that solution with their friends via Facebook and Twitter. By the way, the same principles apply in B2B scenarios as well (just with less publicly visiblefanfare).

This, my friends, is how you achieve Product Market Fit.

  1. Find your Early Adopters who are already seeking a solution to a problem.
  2. Help them solve it.
  3. Then, they’ll tell your Early Majority about it for you.

Next: Finding Your Early Adopters in Real Life

Now that you know what to look for in an Early Adopter, you can identity them for your startup.

Start by writing down the actions an Early Adopter might make when looking for a solution to their problem.

For instance, if you found this blog by searching for articles on a specific topic, you’re an Early Adopter in our startup founder example because you’re actively seeking a solution for applying Lean Startup principles.

However, if a friend shared this blog with you and you thought, “Interesting, maybe I’ll check it out,” you might be in the Early Majority; you know you have a problem, but maybe you weren’t actively seeking a solution to it.

The bottom line is:

You need to find the people who are actively seeking a solution to the problem you want to solve. These will be your first customers.

Want Help?

If you want detailed guidance finding your Early Adopters, take a look at the Adoption Behavior Curve worksheet. It’s the 4th exercise in the first FOCUS Framework workbook.

With it, you’ll discover exactly:

  • Who your Early Adopters are,
  • Where you can find them, and
  • How to reach out to them.

adoption behavior curve worksheet

Now you know the key to identifying your Early Adopters. Look for people who:

  • Have the problem,
  • Know they have the problem, and
  • Are actively seeking a solution for it.

Now you can go out and find them!

find good business ideas

The Secret to Finding Good Business Ideas

Good ideas matter. It’s hard to start a company if you don’t have an idea.

But… having one business idea is never enough.

Let me show you why.

Imagine you have an idea that you’re really passionate about. You set out excited to validate it with potential customers, but the feedback you get is disappointing. No one’s interested. No one wants to buy. Basically, the world is saying: “That’s interesting.”(which is the polite way of saying “No thank you.”)

find good business ideas


With only one idea, you’re left with 2 choices:

  • Give up on your idea (and your identity as a founder).
  • Ignore what your customers are telling you and press onward.

Both of these choices are terrible. I don’t want you to give up, and I don’t want you to ignore your customers.

You need a third option, and I want to recommend one: backup business ideas.

If you have a set of backup business ideas, you can listen to your customers with open ears and an open mind. So what if the world isn’t ready for first idea yet, as long as you have other ideas you’re excited about pivoting to.

Having backup ideas helps you validate your primary idea faster.

Why are Good Ideas Hard to Come By?

To come up with good ideas, we have to first understand why they’re so hard to come by.

Turns out, there are two types of people in the world:

  1. People who are bad at coming up with business ideas.
  2. People who are bad at coming up with good business ideas.

find good business ideas


People who don’t identify as “creative thinkers” don’t believe they can come up with good business ideas.

While people who do identify as creative (myself included) come up with ideas on a daily basis. The problem is, no matter how excited we get about our ideas…they’re almost always awful.

No matter who you think you are—creative or non-creative—we’re all really bad at coming up with good business ideas. Here’s why.

Imagine someone coming up with a good business idea. What do you think that process looks like?

You’re probably thinking of someone, deep in thought, getting struck by some form of inspiration. At that moment, they’ve come up with some brilliant new app, service, or innovative widget. Unfortunately for that imaginary founder, their great new idea is doomed to fail – their customers, more than likely, are going to reject them. Why?

Customers reject products for one simple reason:

Customers don’t buy products. Customers buy solutions to problems.

find good business ideas


The Secret to Good Business Ideas

We can’t think our way to an interesting product. Since we know customers buy solutions to problems, we have to first start with the problem!

The secret to coming up with good business ideas isn’t to focus on the “idea” at all…it’s to focus on the problems we want to solve.

The ultimate secret to coming up with good ideas is to focus on the problem not the product.

find good business ideas


Problem Storming: Your Secret Weapon for Good Ideas

To figure out which problems you are uniquely suited to go and solve, let’s use an exercise called Problem Storming.

When I do this exercise in workshops with founders, we come up with at least 5 quality business problems to go solve.

Here’s a quick intro into how it works:

  1. Write down 2 groups of people you identify with, e.g. full-time working mothers, recent college graduates, vegetarians, etc..
  2. Now write down 2 different groups of people you’re passionate about helping, e.g. under-resourced children, skateboarders, meditators, etc.. You should now have at least 4 different groups of people written down.
  3. Write 2 potential problems that each group might be trying to solve right now.
    For instance, skateboarders might have problems transporting their skateboard on public transit, working mothers may feel guilty that they don’t spend as much time helping their kids with homework as stay-at-home moms, etc.

find good business ideas


By the time you’re finished, you’ll have at least 8 different problems you are uniquely suited to solve because…

  • you experience the problem yourself OR
  • you’re passionate about solving that problem for others.

This is the beginning of the Problem Storming process. After 8 ideas, you’ll have at least 1— probably 2—promising problems to go investigate.

What’s Next

If you only take one thing away from this lesson, it should be this:

Customers don’t buy products. Customers buy solutions to problems.

So the secret to good business ideas isn’t to focus on the “idea”, it’s to focus on “problems.” When you use your customers’ problems as the inspiration for your “idea”, your customers will be so elated, they’ll pre-pay you for the solution:

That’s how you know you’re on track to a good idea.

Keep Problem Storming until you have at least 3 problems you’re excited to solve. Once you have those, it’s time to prioritize those problems and start validating that people are trying to solve them!

Want Some Help?

Take a look at the full Idea Generation Process. It will help you:

  1. Explore all of the problems you're uniquely suited to solve
  2. Identify the best one for you to tackle
  3. And come up with at least 5 backup ideas you're excited about

The Idea Generation Process is the second exercise in the FOCUS Framework workbook series. 

FOCUS breaks down the overwhelming process of finding Product-Market Fit, into actionable steps.

If you want help applying the Lean Startup or Business Model Validation processes, take a look at the FOCUS Framework.

product market fit definition

What is Your Product Market Fit?

The first step in finding Product Market Fit is to define it. Let’s start by answering the question: What is Product Market Fit?

The term was first coined by Mark Andreesseen. To him, Product Market Fit meant:

“being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.”

what is product market fit


It’s a helpful starting point, but it leaves some unanswered questions. For instance, what does “being in a good market” mean?

The phrasing is intentionally vague because a “good market” means something different for me than it does for you. After all, each of us is starting our companies for different reasons.

While Andreesseen coined the phrase, you get to determine what it means for you.

How do you define your Product Market Fit?

I’m going to give you a 3-step process to determine what Product Market Fit means to you, so that you can go out and get it.

  1. Start at the end. You have to know where you’re headed in order to get there. First, we need to define where you want to go.
  2. Find the path to get there from where you are right now.
  3. Make that path measurable.

Step 1: Start at the End

Starting with the end in mind, you have to define what a successful entrepreneurial journey looks like for you.

Can you imagine what your success looks like? If not, here’s a quick exercise to help illuminate your why.

Exercise: What does success feel like?

I want you to close your eyes and imagine what it will feel like when you become a successful entrepreneur. I want you to dive deep into the emotions you feel when you imagine yourself as successful. Do you feel…

  • Pride?
  • Accomplishment?
  • Security?
  • Freedom?
  • Gratitude?
  • Something else?

Whatever it is I want you to write down your feelings when you imagine your future self as a successful entrepreneur.

This simple visualization tells you exactly why you’re starting your company.

You’re starting a company so you can feel those “success feelings.”

Step 2: Find the Path

Congrats! You’ve already taken the first step to finding your path to success. Ultimately, those feelings are at the end of your entrepreneurial rainbow—feelings like financial and job security, wanting to have an impact.

Whatever your feelings are, that’s what Product Market Fit should help you accomplish.

Your unique definition of Product Market Fit is being in a market that enables you to achieve your success feelings.

Now you need to find those markets where you can achieve those feelings. To do that, you need a way to measure your progress towards achieving them.

Step 3: Measure Your Path

Whatever feelings arose when you imagined yourself as a successful entrepreneur, you need to turn them into measurable metrics. This way, you can track if you’re headed towards Product Market Fit.

Here are some examples:

  • If financial security is one of your success feelings, what amount of money is going to give you that feeling? Is it a certain amount of income per month? Or a certain amount of salary? Or a certain amount of revenue your company generates?
  • If impact is one of your success feelings, what number of customers served is going to give you a sense of impact? Or is there a certain number of people you’ve helped employ in your company?

Let’s use these metrics to create your unique and actionable definition of Product Market Fit. To do this, fill in the blank below with your success metrics.



Here are a few personalized examples.

Product Market Fit means to me…

  • “Being in a market, that makes me $1M income annually, with a product that can satisfy that market.”
  • “Being in a market, where I serve 1K people, with a product that can satisfy that market.”
  • “Being in a market, where I create 100 jobs, with a product that can satisfy that market.”

This is a definition of Product Market Fit you can act on, and it gives you valuable feedback because it points you in the right direction. As you make decisions about your company, you’ll use this definition to determine the best way to achieve Product Market Fit.

What’s Next

You’ve taken the most important step in achieving Product Market Fit, defining it for yourself. The FOCUS Framework can help you take Product Market Fit even further.

  • Your co-founders. How do you get everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction?
  • When life changes. How do you adapt your Product Market Fit definition as things change?
  • Increase your likelihood of success. How do you increase your odds of actually achieving it?

If you want extra help, take a look at the Declaring Victory worksheet. It’s the first exercise in the FOCUS Framework workbook series.

declaring victory worksheet


In this exercise, you’ll learn how to define Product Market Fit step by step, both now and in the future, with or without co-founders, and most importantly, how to increase your odds of achieving it.

Now you know what Product Market Fit means for you…

It’s time to go get it.

Interviews will Teach you How to Sell

The hardest part about creating a successful company isn’t building your product.

It’s selling your product.

It’s easy to spend months working on features, but how are you going to sell those features?

  • How will you describe your product to ensure customers are interested in it?
  • Where will you find enough customers to tell about it?
  • How will you differentiate your product from the competition?
  • What features should you talk about most on your landing page?

The answer to virtually every marketing and sales question you have can be found in…

Customer interviews.

Interviews will Teach you How to Sell

You know customer interviews are an indispensable tool for tech startups, but I wanted to show you just how universally powerful they are by telling you about Dr. Emily.

Dr. Emily was a School Psychologist working intense hours at elementary schools in urban areas. She loved the work she did, but she thought she could have more impact if she worked outside the confines of schools.

She wanted to start a company to assess children for learning disabilities, but one major obstacle stopped her:

She didn’t know how to sell her services.

Dreading having to become a sales-person, which felt uncomfortable and a little sleazy, Dr. Emily tried interviewing her customers hoping to find an easier way to start her company.

What she found, not only shocked her, but her competitors too.

What Did Dr. Emily Ask?

As I mentioned in my last article, Dr. Emily focused on interviewing customers who were already trying to solve the problem she wanted to solve.

Her Early Adopters were parents who already had their children assessed for learning disabilities, but were still searching for answers.

The first question she asked these parents was:

Q: What’s the hardest part about being the parent of a child with a learning disability?

To her surprise, their answers always included at least one of the following:

  • “I don’t know where to start.”
  • “I don’t know how to get support from the school.”
  • “I’m not sure if my child will ever learn read.”

Notice how the answer to just this one question provide extremely powerful marketing copy.

Instead of listing her credentials on the first line of her website (e.g. “PhD, LEP, ABSNP, BICM, PPSC, etc.”) like most of Dr. Emily’s competitors do, she says something relevant to customers, like:

“Is your child struggling to get the support he or she needs in school? Together we’ll take the first step to understanding how to help your child make the most of their reading ability.”

No mind games, no sleaze and no hard selling. Dr. Emily just asked her customers about their problems, and restated the services she provides using their words.

If you listen to your customers…they’ll write your marketing copy for you.

Stand Out from your Competition

Another one of Dr. Emily’s most fruitful questions was:

Q: What’s not ideal about your previous assessment?

Again, to her surprise, when parents talked about assessments received from Dr. Emily’s competitors, the answer was uniformly:

A: We got the diagnosis, but don’t know what to do next.

With the answer to this question, Dr. Emily learned how to differentiate herself from her competitors.

When talking with potential customers, she now tells them:

“When we work together, you won’t just get an assessement, you’ll get an action plan so you’ll know exactly what to do next.”

If you listen to your customers…they’ll tell you how to beat your competitors.

The Results

Simply by interviewing her customers, Dr. Emily accomplished what none of her competitors had:

  • Her competitors typically took 3 – 5 years to fill their client list. Dr. Emily did it in 18 months.
  • Dr. Emily now has a 4-month waitlist for her assessments.
  • And that’s after doubling her price over the last 18 months.

With the power of customer interviews, Dr. Emily was able to build a successful company in a crowded space, with absolutely no sales experience at all.

Interviews will Increase your Sales Too

Whether you’re at a high-tech accelerator in Asia, a social enterprise in Seattle, or are simply a service provider:

Interviews will teach you how to sell.

Remember that building your product is the easy part…selling it is the hard part; and interviews will do the heavy lifting.

Interviews will help you:

  • Describe your product to ensure customers buy it
  • Find enough customers to tell about it
  • Differentiate your product from the competition
  • Decide what features to build first

The answer to virtually every marketing and sales question you have about your business can be answered with…

Customer interviews.

Don’t do it Alone

You can get help creating your sales strategy. The first workbook in the FOCUS Framework will walk you through every step of the interviewing process.

And, if you want hands-on, immersive workshops on mastering customer interviews, join me and the 300+ founders who have already registered for FOCUS Con:

FOCUS Con: Mastering Customer Interviews - A Digital Conference

This first FOCUS conference is December 1st and it’s dedicated to Mastering Customer Interviews.

At FOCUS Con you’ll learn:

  • Who to ask for interviews
  • How to ask for interviews
  • What to ask during interviews and
  • How to turn their answers into a sales strategy

All with live workshops, networking and personal mentoring (and without the expense of plane tickets). 

We’ll see you there!

*Dr Emily’s name and photo have been changed to protect the anonymity of her clients.

How to Avoid the Biggest Customer Interviewing Mistake

The biggest mistake you're likely to make interviewing customers has nothing to do with how you interview — it has to do with who you interview.

The biggest interviewing mistake founders make is:

They interview the wrong customers.

When you interview the wrong customers, a number of problems arise, primarily:

  1. You have a really difficult time getting the interviews.
  2. The problems you hear during your interviews are all over the map and often have nothing to do with the problem you want to solve.
  3. Your interviews don't leave you with clear next steps.

So how do you know if you’re interviewing the wrong customers?

If you interview customers across different customer segments, you are interviewing the wrong customers.

For Example

Let’s imagine we’re building a “Pandora for Exercise" app that will deliver a customized exercise routine everyday to solve the “exercise is boring" problem.

There are so many customers who could benefit from this app:

  1. People who go running at the gym
  2. New moms who want to lose the baby weight
  3. Overweight people who are activated to try to lose weight
  4. People taking classes like pole dancing or Zumba
  5. Etc.

So which ones should you interview?

If you're tempted to interview more than one of these segments, you're probably interviewing the wrong customers.

To understand who you want to interview, you have to recall…

Why do we Interview?

We don't interview to validate a problem exists.

You know exercise is boring, I know exercise is boring, there’s no reason to validate that some people think exercise is boring.

What we need to validate is that exercise is so boring, that it’s worth building a company to make it less boring.

How do we know if a problem is big enough that it’s worth starting a company to solve it? 


Step #1: Validate there are Early Adopters for that company.

We know your successful company will start with your Early Adopters, move on to your Early Majority, then your Late Majority and eventually your Laggards.

Notice how there's no way to get your Early Majority, without your Early Adopters.

Which begs the question…who are your Early Adopters?

Early Adopters are customers who are actively seeking a solution to the problem you want to solve.

In other words, your company will have Early Adopters if, and only if, there are people who are already searching for a solution to the problem your company wants to solve.

Back to our Pandora for Exercise Example…

(…and who we should be interviewing.)

Here’s what we know:

  • We want to interview Early Adopters.
  • Early Adopters are people already trying to solve the problem our company wants to solve.
  • The problem our company wants to solve is “exercise is boring.”
  • Therefore, we want to interview customers who are already trying to solve the “exercise is boring” problem!

So, which of our four segments is already trying to make exercise more entertaining?

  1. People who go running at the gym? No. These people are doing the most boring form of exercise there is. They clearly aren’t taking steps to make exercise more exciting, so they aren't our Early Adopters.
  2. New moms who want to lose the baby weight? Just because someone wants to lose weight doesn’t mean they are trying to make exercise more entertaining; these aren't our Early Adopters either.
  3. Overweight people who are recently activated to try a lose weight? Again, unless they’re taking some action that indicates they’re trying to solve the “exercise is boring” problem, we don’t want to interview them.
  4. People taking classes like pole dancing? This is exactly who we’re looking for! It’s safe to assume (although we still need to validate via interviews) that people are learning pole dancing because it’s more fun than traditional exercise.

    In particular, people who are brand new to pole dancing have a high likelihood of being people who are “actively searching for way to make exercise more entertaining” – and that’s exactly who we’re looking for.

Once you’ve identified your early adopters, you can interview them to validate they are in fact trying to solve the problem you want to offer a solution for.

Who are your Early Adopters?

Your Early Adopters are people who are actively trying to solve the problem you want to solve.

To find yours:

  1. Think about the problem your company solves for your customers.
  2. Brainstorm all the people who are actively trying to solve that problem right now.
  3. Start interviewing the ones who are most intensely searching for a solution.

That can be easier said than done but…

Once you find the people who want your help solving a problem, you'll find the path to Product-Market Fit.

Do you want Help Finding your Early Adopters?

The FOCUS Framework has several exercises that will help you find your Early Adopters, and at the upcoming FOCUS Con, we’re going to take those exercises one step further.

FOCUS Con: Mastering Customer Interviews - A Digital Conference

This first-ever FOCUS conference is December 1st and it’s dedicated to Mastering Customer Interviews. We've designed this conference for founders who are looking for their Early Adopters with…

  • Hours of live, interactive workshops
  • Mentoring from top TechStars, Startup Weekend and Founder Institute mentors
  • Networking with other founders
  • A customer interview conducted…LIVE
  • All with no hotels, no flights, no jet lag required

I hope you join us, and the hundreds of founders who have already registered, at FOCUS Con: 

I want to make sure you're interviewing the right customers, and help you find your Early Adopters.

See you there!