In the world of technology, there’s an idea that there is a chasm that every product must cross in order to be successful. This is the gap between having a small group of early adopters and having mass market acceptance.  The customers at each end of the gap demand different things of your product and you need to shift your marketing strategy as you move across the gap.  This is much better explained in the book Crossing the Chasm.

This theory makes sense when you’re looking at the product from a macro level, at the whole market.  But there’s a different type of adoption curve when you look at a micro level – at one user.   At this level products that are truly revolutionary have what I call the ‘Religious Adoption Curve’.  Either you get it or you don’t, and once you’ve seen the light, there’s no turning back.  Let me explain using TiVo as an example.

When I first heard about TiVo years ago, it sounded interesting, but I didn’t really see the value.  Look at the core features:

  • Record any show – So?  My VCR does that.
  • Pause live TV – Sure, that might come in handy, but I can usually wait for the commercial to go to the bathroom
  • Suggests new shows for you – That’s just creepy.  Besides, I watch enough TV

But one day a friend gave me a TiVo he though was broken.  He figured I could get a few bucks for it on eBay.  Curious, I hooked it up to my TV.  Not only did it work, it had a lifetime membership.  So I dug in and started playing.  And then I saw the light.

It wasn’t just a way to record shows.  It was a totally new way to experience television.  Each feature on its own may not sound like much, but the way they all came together in a beautifully simple product was a symphony.  I was a convert, and never went back to regular TV.

So what I’m trying to figure out is if you’re working at TiVo during this early stage, how do you get more people to become believers?  For me, it took actually installing one.  Obviously you can’t just give them away.  But the way to get people to have that religious awakening is to get it into their hands.  How do you tell people (without sounding crazy) that this product fundamentally changes everything you know about TV?

The product I work with is much the same way.  Once you really get it, you’re a customer for life.  So the struggle is getting more people to get their hands in there and really understand the technology.  Spread the gospel and hope they see the light.

Cut to giant SUV driving through something that looks like a modern Tron interpretation.  Booming voiceover begins:

When a cross-over gets 24 MPG and has room for seven, suddenly, everything looks a litte different

Two problems:

1) 24 MPG isn’t that good.

2) How does this car, that as  far as I can tell has no unique features (and is ugly as sin), change the world?  Do the guys at Ford really have an answer to that?  Or are they just saying stuff because it sounds dramatic?  

Surely there was something they could say about this SUV other than “it gets mediocre gas milage and has seven seats”.  And if that’s really all there is to say, why the heck did they spend millions of dollars to design and build these things.

Video is here in case you like watching train wrecks.

Years ago I had an idea that I never did anything with (aside from blather about it to my friends).

In most major cities, there are multiple routes to get you from downtown to the suburbs and back.   During rush hour I’d like to know which way would be fastest based on real time traffic.  You could check online before you left and see if there is a major issue.  And now some GPS units will report that same information.  That doesn’t give me the fastest route, it only helps me avoid the slowest one.

What I really want is down to the second stats.  Tell me exactly how fast are cars moving on all possible routes, and given that data, automatically put me on the quickest path home readjusting as I go.  You can use my location and speed to refine the data.  As more people buy the units, the better the data is.

Imagine a city where every car has access to this data.  Each car would be routed for the best path possible in real time meaning the roads are always handling the traffic as efficiently as possible.  It’s like a massive distributed load balancer for the city.

A quick Googling shows that there are a few solutions out there now.  One that looks promising on paper is Dash Express.  Why hasn’t this caught on more?  Americans waste so much time stuck in traffic every day, and people are buying up GPS navigation devices left and right.  I would think that this would be a hot product.  And yet Dash is struggling.  From TechCrunch in November:

Dash Navigation is getting out of the hardware business and cutting 55 jobs, or 65% of its workers.

There’s a clear need for this.  The cost of traffic to business and consumers is high and rising.  And yet Dash struggles.  Was the problem the hardware cost?  It is pretty expensive ($300 + 11$/month).   It also sounds like there were some usability issues.  And the fact that I’ve never heard of these guys until now is telling as well.

This is good proof that meeting a need in the market isn’t an automatic road to success.  Product design is critical.  Where was Product Management on the usability issues?  Getting the word out is critical too.  Where was Product Marketing?  This has the potential to save you several hours every month.  Tell that story.  Get these deployed in rental cars where people can see how great they are.

This is not Field of Dreams.  You have to do more than just build something.