focus framework adoption behavior curve

Which Customers Should you Interview?

In this article you’ll learn exactly who you should be interviewing, where, and how to find them.

In Part 1 of this series on Early Adopters, we talked about two aspects of Early Adopters:

  • What are Early Adopters?
  • Who are yours?

Make sure you’ve read Early Adopters Part 1: Who They Are. It’s fundamental you understand the underlying principles of “Early Adopters” before you dive into Part 2.

In the previous article, we discussed that Early Adopters are customers who:

  • Have the problem you’re trying to solve
  • Know they have the problem and
  • Are actively seeking solution for it.

Today, we’re going to dive in deeper and explore where to find your Early Adopters. We start with the 3rd piece of the Early Adopter definition, “actively seeking a solution.” That’s the secret to finding your Early Adopters,

…and Early Adopters are the secret to building a successful startup.

where to find early adopters

If you can find Early Adopters, people who are actively seeking a solution to the problem you want to solve, there’s an incredible fit between both of your needs. You need them to build a business and they need you to solve their problem. You’ll get to collaborate with your Early Adopters to build a mutually beneficial startup.

On the other hand, if you’re not able to find your Early Adopters, you know from Part 1 that you won’t be able to lock in your Early Majority. This means, you won’t find Product-Market Fit.

If you’re not able to find people who are actively seeking a solution to the problem that you want to solve right now, the world isn’t ready for your business yet.

It doesn’t mean you’re starting a bad business if you can’t find Early Adopters, it just means the timing isn’t right.

how to find early adopters

As you can see, it’s absolutely critical you find your Early Adopters. So let’s talk about…

How Do You Find Your Early Adopters?

You can find your Early Adopters using 2 questions as a guide. The first is:

  1. Where are they seeking solutions?

Let’s say, your startup wants to reduce the impact of climate change, so you want to help people commute to work without the use of cars/Uber/Lyft/etc. You’re targeting urban workers and think if you could help people take their bikes on the subway, it would make a significant impact.

So you hypothesize the problem commuters want to solve is, “It’s a pain to take my bike on a subway.”

To find your Early Adopters (i.e. people already seeking a solution to this problem), first ask yourself, what are the behaviors of someone who is actively seeking a solution to this problem right now?

In other words, where would a person who says, “It’s a pain to take my bike on a subway” look for a solution right now?

These actions make up your Solution Seeking Behaviors list.

solution seeking behaviors

Maybe, they’d buy a folding bike or ride a mini bike. Maybe they’re asking other people for advice on forums. Or maybe they use their normal bike and just wait for a spacious subway car before getting on.

This list answers our first question, “Where are they seeking solutions?”, which will lead us to the answer of our second question:

  1. How do you talk to them?

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.

Just because someone buys a folding bike, doesn’t mean they bought it to solve problems getting on a subway. They could have bought a folding bike because they have a lot of stairs leading up to their apartment. Or the subway was their motivation for buying a folding bike, and it completely solved their problem (i.e. they’re no longer Early Adopters because they’ve found an ideal solution).

You need to interview the people who you think are trying to solve the problem your startup is tackling to confirm they are actually your Early Adopters.

In the folding bike owner’s example, we’d want to talk to several of them to validate whether getting on the subway was the reason they bought their bikes. Of course, we don’t exactly have a list of everyone who has bought a folding bike, so how do we find them?

The next step is to convert Solution Seeking Behaviors to, what I call, Externally Observable Behaviors.

You started with behaviors that may indicate someone is trying to solve a problem.

If you turn a Solution Seeking Behavior into a behavior an “External Observer” (i.e. you) can identify, you’ve probably found an Early Adopter.

how to find early adopters

What if, instead of targeting everyone who has bought a folding bike, you reach out to people who have left reviews on Amazon saying something like, “I bought this to help with my subway commute, but it takes too long to fold up and it’s too heavy to lug up and down the stairs.”?

In this case, you’ll have found someone who clearly is trying to solve the bike and subway problem, and because they’re leaving negative feedback about it, there’s a good chance they’re still actively trying to solve this problem.

What if you find someone who’s blogging about what a pain it is to take their mini-bike on the subway? This person is actively trying to solve this problem and still hasn’t found a great solution. Neither have any of the people who share that blog post on Twitter, or who comment on the blog post!

What about someone who has posted on Reddit asking advice from others about how to solve this problem? This behavior means they’ve self-identified as an Early Adopter and they’re looking to solve this problem.

What if you go hang out in the subway and see if bike riders actually wait for empty cars before getting onboard? You can have a short conversation with these people to see what problem they are trying to solve.

You can see, this 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.

You find Early Adopters in the places that they are trying to solve their problems.

In the biking example, we’d find them on Amazon, Twitter, Reddit, and in the Subway.

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

externally observable behaviors

Finding Your Early Adopters

When you’re thinking about Early Adopters, keep 3 things in mind:

  1. Focus on the people who are seeking a solution to the problem right now.
  2. Ask yourself what behaviors these people would take to seek out a solution to their problem.
  3. Turn those Solution Seeking Behaviors into Externally Observable Behaviors and go where the Early Adopters are.

Once you know the Externally Observable Behaviors of people actively seeking a solution to the problem you want to solve, you’ve discovered where to find your Early Adopters.

Want a Hand?

If you want a little help to figure out…

  • Who your Early Adopters are so that you can answer the question…
  • Is the world ready for your company, and
  • How to talk to them once you’ve identified them…

Check out the second half of the Adopter Behavior Curve, the 4th exercise in the first FOCUS Framework workbook series. It will take you step by step through the process of identifying your customers’ Externally Observable Behaviors, so that you know where they are and how to reach out to them.

focus framework adoption behavior curve

Alright, my friends, now that you know where to find your Early Adopters, go help them solve their problems!

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.

For Part 2 of this series on Early Adopters, check out Early Adopters Part 2: Who you should Interview.