Many companies, especially game companies, build out their products based on how early customers like the product but this approach can inhibit growth. An article in the Harvard Business Review, “Focus On the Customers You Want, Not the Ones You Have” by JP Eggers, shows that the hard part in creating a successful product or game is not appealing to users early but sustaining.
The problem with early users
Early players are by definition early adapters. They probably have a higher preference for innovation and are more likely to take risks. They may have different ways of making decisions, including whether they monetize in a game, if they invite friends or if they come back. An early player may be very enthusiastic and tell friends but then go on to the next shiny object, so basing decision on their play would suggest you should focus on getting them to bring in as many users as possible before they leave.
Companies run into problems if they base product decisions on these early adopters, which is often the case. Eggers also points to research that shows early adopters are different. According to Eggers, “early adopters are typically younger, more willing to take risks, more eager to try new things, more affluent, and substantially less numerous … First, what worked with early adopters isn’t likely to work with later adopters. In launching new products or services, start-ups tend to accumulate deep knowledge about customers at the leading edge of a technology. But that knowledge doesn’t necessarily apply to other consumer groups; that’s one reason so many new firms struggle to create second rounds of offerings. To be successful, companies need to innovate for the consumers they want, not the ones they have.”
Another issue comes up because early adopters do not want to see the product expand to the mass market. A chess app may appeal strongly to grandmasters but if it becomes something the mass-market plays, the grandmasters may no longer want to use the product. Similarly, Facebook lost some of their young users when their parents started using it, but there were hundreds of millions more adults than teens. Although it worked for Facebook, the influx of users so alienated the early users of MySpace, you may no longer even remember MySpace.
There are several strategies to combat the problem of having a product that either is not attractive to new users or alienates existing users:
- Innovate for future users. Build features and new content so it appeals to new users, what people not currently using your product would want.
- Engage early adopters. By engaging your customers, you ensure they feel connected to the product. Letting them have a voice, even if you cannot always listen to it, keeps them engaged and likely to cope with changes they do not consider ideal.
The key is understanding that what appealed to your first users, and their behavior, is not necessarily what will drive your growth.
- Early users will not have the same preferences and consumption patterns as customers you attract later in the product’s life cycle.
- If you slavishly build features and new content for existing users, it may not appeal to new users.
- The key is to innovate for new users while keeping your early adopters engaged so will tolerate the changes to the product.