The cycle of customers who care
Organizations that grow start by selling their services and products to people who care.
These organizations are staffed by people who care making something that demands "caring-about" for people who have chosen to care.
It can be colored shoelaces or vinyl records or handmade medicine balls. These aren't for everyone, and they require effort to find, to buy and to maintain, but for those that care about the cutting edge or innovation or style, they're perfect.
Then, over time, many of these organizations start to make products and services that are carefree. The people who produce them care so much about what they're making that they get good at it, the design becomes simpler, the pricing becomes better, and more people use it. The result is efficiency and distribution.
Until soon, the product or service is used by people who don't care so much about the original intent, they just want something easy and functional and available and cheap.
This is the classic diffusion of innovations process. (Learn more about this key concept here, here and here). Those in the mass market choose to be the mass market because they're too busy or distracted or bored to be the innovators and the geeks. They don't care enough to be on the edge.
Some examples: ebooks were first sold to just a few people. They were tricky to download, they weren't cheap and they required more effort. Over time, the price of the reader comes down, more books are available and it becomes more attractive to the mass market.
Or the car transforms from something for millionaires and hobbyists into the Honda Civic. You don't buy a Civic because you want to do your own tune ups. You just want it to work, and to be inexpensive.
Or the charity that starts out on the bleeding edge of technology, raising speculative money from a few philanthropists, but then moves into the mainstream and becomes an easy cause to explain and support.
Or the musician and his band and his label who goes from hand-crafting music to mass-producing live spectacles.
Apple, of course, is the classic example. The Mac was, for the longest time, only bought by people who cared a lot about which computer they bought. And the iPhone transformed the market because it became a phone for people who wanted to care about their phone.
The recent launch of the iPhone5 disappointed the geeks, but that was on purpose. Apple introduced a phone for their target market, which is people who don't care as much about the phone as the geeks do. They introduced a phone that worked, not one that was fascinating because it was loaded with untested new features.
But here's where it gets interesting…
The first step is people who care making a product for people who care.
The second step is people who care making a product for people who don't care.
And the third step, so difficult to avoid, is that the growing organization starts hiring people, not necessarily people who care, to grow their ever-industrializing company. And since they are servicing customers who don't care, those employees who don't care can get away with it (for a while).
Think General Motors, 1986. No one pushed back on the horrid design and build quality of the Cadillac. No, the people who cared all bought a Mercedes instead, and those that didn't care, didn't care. Until it was too late.
You're not going to have hordes of disappointed mass market customers cursing you out about quality or design. They don't care enough to do that.
It's totally okay for an organization to have the mission of making a carefree, ubiquitous product or service for people too busy or focused elsewhere. Totally fine to make something that's popular largely because it's popular. The danger creeps in when your team listens to their (mass) market and stops caring as well. When that happens, a new company comes along to care again.