Avoiding the curse of the low-hanging fruit
A new organization launches and finds excited and willing customers.
These are the early adopters. The nerds. The people who knew they had a problem. These are the easy sales, the folks who will wait in line.
And then the curse can set in.
You will certainly exhaust this group. Too many competitors are seeking them, and you’re running out of places to look.
At this point, you can make the choice to move to a new town or a new submarket and begin again, finding more geeks who can’t wait for what you’ve got.
And if you can keep it up, you can do great as the ‘new one’.
But for many, this is how you die in the chasm.
Sooner or later, you’re going to run out of the early adopters. Probably sooner. Suddenly, your cost per customer goes way up. Suddenly, you’ve shifted from keeping up with demand to running on fumes.
That’s because you ran around too much. You spread the core market too thin and never did the hard work of figuring out how to change the culture, which was your goal all along.
I’ve seen this firsthand with social entrepreneurs. They bring an innovation to a village, sell it (a clean bathroom or a solar lantern or a new, better sort of seed) and then, when the easy sales are done, move on to the next village, figuring that it’ll all work out.
There are two alternatives:
- acknowledge that you are in the business of serving the early adopters. Make something for them and then, when it fades, make something else for them.
- acknowledge that you are trying to reach for more, to transform the market.
If that’s the case, don’t leave the first village. Stick around and stick around and stick around. Create enough energy and value that your core customers can’t help but spread the word. Not only spread the word, but insist that their peers come along.
The best way to move beyond the low-hanging fruit is to discipline yourself to not run to the next tree. Get a ladder instead.