Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

The Indian Startups’ Nightmare: Where are the Early Adopters?

Posted on: May 18, 2008

So I’ve been through this roller coaster of a ride so far in these past four years working with Startups here in India. There seem to be seasons of issues that seem to “plague” an entrepreneur from starting off. First it was the funding, then it was the lack of mentors. Lately it has shifted to the struggles everyone is going through to hire people. But if you really think about it, none of these issues are unique to India alone. Everyone in Europe, and Asia are going through the same issue.

In the midst of all these dubious claims and silly excuses, I think there are issues that are unique to India and to the emerging market and we seriously need to think about it in terms of how we are going to tackle them. I think an Indian startup’s nightmare is not with funding, mentors or with talent. Its with the Early Adopters. Or the lack of them.

The theme of the sessions that we are planning for the upcoming edition of are all surrounded around the topic of Selling. I strongly believe that we’ve lost focus on actually making money and have decided to instead focus on the wallet of the investors that even the dead rat in our closet isn’t smelling anymore. Startups, or any company for that matter, need to sell. Sell their products or services and make money. If they don’t then we do have a problem – web2.0 or not.

But how does a startup go about doing all that? Do we understand as to what ‘cost of sales’ means? Do we know what is the differentiation between sales and marketing? Do we have any idea as to what is the acceptable marketing budget that a startup can afford to allocate? Do we know the best means to engage our early adopters? Ah, the last one is the killer and let me focus on that for the moment.

Whether you are a company who is building something for the web, the telecom sector, robotics, anything related to consumer hardware, you have a slight issue of gaining traction here in India. The mammoth of the corporates are essentially using their financial muscle to entirely skip the part where “the early adopters turn into influencers and create traction” and are heading directly to take up that responsibility on themselves. But can startups afford to do that? Can a startup even dare ask an investor for that sort of money to match up with the marketing power of the reliance and the likes? I hope not. In a sensible world, a startup cant.

The early adopters are always that 1% of the population. So in a country of a billion people, there are 10 million early adopters running around. Where are they? How do we get in touch with them? Is there a common access point where they all gather around? Is it the web? Is it the mobile platform? Is it television? One really doesn’t know.

What differentiates the Silicon valley from the rest of the world is not the money, the experience, the risk-appetite, the greed for quick bucks, the talent or any of whatever else you might say. or it might. But What really sets the Silicon Valley, and the US for that matter, apart is the density in which you find early adopters and how thanks to the revolution of the personal computers, the software industry, the two generations of internet applications, and the plethora of communication channels available, that it is a possibility to reach them.

So does focusing on the US instead of India solve the problem? Actually not. Most of the services and products that are built in India are also built for Indian customers (which also applies to all of the emerging markets). As such we need a emerging market which can adopt this technology/product early on and provide the relevant feedbacks which will go into the building up of that technology.

I cannot stress this enough, but if India needs to get an edge in innovation, it HAS to build this network of early adopters. We have already in someway made that possible in the pharmaceutical industry, also since health is personal and the network of closely linked doctors and hospitals make it relatively simpler. We are gonna have to wreck our brains to bring together a similar arrangement for the technology community. I know that the community of barcamps, MoMos, etc do have a relevant role in this scheme of things, but this is a topic that sure needs some thought.

Lets see, if in two months I can wrap my head around this, I might even talk about what I think needs to be done at, and even set a couple of things in motion to make that happen.

Related Articles:
Wikipedia: Early Adopter
Technology Adoption Curve


11 Responses to "The Indian Startups’ Nightmare: Where are the Early Adopters?"

You have applied K – Means clustering technique on the numerous so called problems and narrowed down the problem to one point “Focus on Customer Base”.

I would like to add also that if u are doing good then you will have chances of getting bought. Not everyone is a yahoo!!!

Well said – thats why I love the book Crossing the Chasm. And early adopters are a key to a business’s entry into the mainstream market.
In my experience (with marketing DeskAway online), most of our early adopters are from the US. They give us feedback, requests, ideas and pretty much drive our product development. Unfortunately, haven’t leveraged that from the Indian audience. Its probably because people have gone through the process you mentioned:

“thanks to the revolution of the personal computers, the software industry, the two generations of internet applications, and the plethora of communication channels”

Very accurate. For a startup, finding early adopters is as hard as it can be. That said, however, I don’t understand how you claim that US startups have no such problems.

Paras: “Relatively simpler”, not generalized to the point of total redemption where they dont have issues at all πŸ™‚

I understand the problem, Can some one please also provide some solutions …

Seriously, I think, It requires lot of marketing efforts to get that particular (right) early adopter (who just dont buy but also use n provide feedback.)

a) The funds are there
b) The operational muscle is there

The early adopters could be:
a) a paid customer
b) Another one to help you reach a ‘critical mass’

A quick story here: When Murdoch (media) was taking on his rival (names not mentioned here), in the dish tv game – he very quickly realised that the game was about how many people ‘saw’ that ‘others’ are using one particular service. One night – he asked his guys to go and hammer his dishes into the walls of over 30% houses in the prime target areas of London (even though there were no users). He won because he went over the hump of ‘critical mass’ in the mind of the customer.

Moral of the story: Think of innovative ways to get over that early adoption curve. If its difficult to get that early adopter – create the perception that you have already have them in the mind of other customers, and you will usually get your early adopters and more. This doesnt always have to hold true only if you have the monies locked down..

@ Mrigank: The funds and the operating muscle are the other nightmare areas for Startups. The funds and the operating muscle can work for the established players, though.

Every vertical will have its own way of finding the early adopters, I feel. For example, for a personal finance web app, a way could be to carry out workshops and seminars for the targeted groups.

Looking forward to more thoughts here

Interesting post Vijay but I think there are two issues with the definition of early adopters.

1. Early adopters would be different for different segments. A tech early adopter would be different from a fashion early adopter. And hence talking to them would be very very difficult.

2. Lets say you can reach all these early adopters in your vertical, do these early adopters really have the kind of clout considering Indian mentality?

Would be interesting to read your perspectives on this.


P.S.: On that 1% number, am not really sure πŸ˜€


1. Would these early adopters be different for each vertical? Yes. Why would someone who wants to try out an experimental version of cancer treatment be the same as a guy who is trying out a copy of the next windows version? They wouldnt. I think that definitely goes without saying.

2. “Talking to them would be difficult”. If you know your audience, i dont see a problem.

3. The Indian Mentality: Dont know what to say. You are an entrepreneur right? break that mentality!

The 1% is a standard when it comes to Technology adoption curves in stats. Check it out sometime.

As Saurabh has pointed out, the 10 million (even assuming its a true representation) is fragmented since different products/users have different audiences.. which actually could be a blessing in disguise when battling the reliances of the world… i, for one, believe that if a product/service is built such that it offers a tangible difference to the potential customer, the early adopter may not be a problem… but yes, i also agree with the ‘indian mentality’.. though not a start up, i’ve had experience with an entity called Worldspace where sales of a satellite digital service (with some 40 odd radio stations) was difficult because the audience was used to getting free radio… and thats a product with a clear tangible difference..

@Manu: Yep, those 10 mil are definitely fragmented and are a little higher or lower depending on what vertical you are talking about.

As for Worldspace, I think their TAM itself would have been much smaller. How many people actually listen to anything apart from their regional language radio stations? I’m not surprised.

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