In Colorado, every year Liberty Media has a day long program where prominent startup people get together to hear interesting talks from interesting people and eat a solid lunch.
One year, a super smart dude, whose name i have forgotten, talked about product design.
In the world of the internet, he said (I’m like 95% sure it was a dude), we have a culture of catering to our early adopters, and its one of the worst mistakes we make.
He went on to tell the story of the Toyota Prius. The darling of the tech set, early adopters demanded that the central interface gave data on things like energy to individual wheels, battery usage, etc.
As Toyota implemented these features, early adopters rejoiced.
But, the funny is, there are only so many early adopters. As time passed, the primary purchaser of the Toyota Prius was the soccer mom, and when asked, the soccer moms said, “Just give me a tree that has leaves that grow so that I can see the positive effect I am having on the environment by driving a Prius.”
Later that year, when Ford came out with their hybrid, it had a tree. With leaves that were added as your fuel efficiency increased.
When I read Erin’s post, I thought about trees with leaves. The post, while meandering around Instagram’s launch on Android, and SXSW losing the hipster set, makes a solid point by using Digg as the penultimate example of death by hubris, and the reality of leaving your core base as your extend into a mass market.
So how do you, as a young company, know when to damn the early adopters and go full speed ahead into the mass market? You don’t.
And thats the rub.
The best entrepreneurs handle it simply. Pretend you are always mass market. Instagram and Facebook are both great examples of companies that force their users to evolve with them, not vice versa. Apple as well.
You dont owe your users anything other than building the best business you can and the most amazing product that supports that business. But, you do need to show your user base respect. Give them transparency and the ability to exit gracefully. Give them information and understanding.
But dont give them control of your future.