Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore is one of those rare books that every aspiring tech entrepreneur should read right before going to that first luncheon with soon-to-be co-founders.
Moore’s third edition of Crossing the Chasm brings it up to date with dozens of new startup successes and failures. It also includes fresh marketing tactics for a modern digital world. Tom Byers, faculty director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, laudes the book as “the bible for entrepreneurial marketing.”
Moore’s thesis is based on an idea known as the technology adoption lifecycle (TALC), a bell curve that breaks down the process of how high-tech products become absorbed into the mainstream market. Crossing the Chasm categorizes tech consumers into the following segments:
These people are the technology enthusiasts and they are the smallest group of people in the TALC. They were the very first to join LinkedIn, get their hands on the first iPhone, test out Google Glass, and download Instagram. They have few qualms with early bugs in systems, so long as the product is the newest one on the market and they are the first to get it. Moore says innovators are crucial because they act as the gatekeepers to the mainstream market. He also highlights how important it is for startups to impress them, as approval from this group will ultimately decide a product’s fate.
This group is second in line. Moore refers to early adopters as “visionaries.” They are often industry professionals who are looking for the next breakthrough product to give their business a competitive edge. The book claims these people’s importance lies in their ability to fund development as well as publicize the product within key industries.
According to Moore, this stage is the danger zone of the TALC – the gap between visionary acceptance and that of the early market majority pragmatists (ie: consumers at large). This stage is the focal point of the book, and serves as the playground for Moore’s marketing advice. Highlighting the difficulty of traversing the Chasm, he writes:
Pragmatists do not see a complete solution to their problem, plus there is no group of references that have formed that they trust. In addition, they want to see the solution working live at customer sites. Revenue growth ceases or even recedes in the Chasm. The length of this market lull is uncertain.”
Moore’s advice for startups entering this “Chasm” is to target a “beachhead niche” in the mainstream market (similar to the Western Allied forces invasion of Normandy in World War II). Within the chasm, Moore stresses the importance of carefully gaining a foothold to survive.
The book calls this market segment “the bowling alley.” Here, a product’s momentum picks back up, as early pragmatists in certain segments overcome their reluctance toward discontinuity and adopt the new tech to solve niche problems. The term “bowling alley” is appropriate as it describes the idea of knocking down one specific “kingpin” (capturing one powerful segment) in order to cause a domino effect. The book suggests that by dominating several of these segments, your company may start to emerge as a sector leader.
This segment is much more conservative than the early majority. They don’t see value in technology just for technology’s sake. They tend to stay out of the market as long as they can, finally making the leap because they fear being left behind. Conservatives are sensitive to price and demanding of value. Moore says the key to success in this segment is to offer the add-on products that can command a price premium from conservative customers.
This group, which Moore also calls “the skeptics,” represents the most difficult, but less crucial audience to capture. These consumers will unconsciously or begrudgingly accept the technology. Skeptics are defenders of the status quo and want solutions that have no risk. Historically, these folks could be categorized as those who continued to ride horses even after cars were being mass produced. However, Moore claims that if your product can successfully win over this segment, then you’ve achieved “total assimilation,” or universal societal acceptance, which is of course is the end goal of any tech startup.
Moore’s extensive research on this topic has opened up many doors for him professionally. Moore’s resumé includes founding his own consulting firm, and holding a venture partner position at Mohr Davidow Ventures. He is a founder of both The Chasm Group and TCG Advisors, where he serves as chairman executive of those firms along with the Chasm Institute. Moore’s client base includes firms like Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Nokia, and Cisco Systems.
It’s extremely difficult to criticize Crossing the Chasm, as Moore’s expertise and delivery of information hit the mark in both the shallow and deep ends of the pool. Tech startups would do well to drink this book in as the overarching theorem behind their marketing activities.