Don’t confuse crossing the chasm with product-market fit

Giff Constable startups

Andrew Chen tweeted a link this morning to a post called “Twitter used to be a crappy idea – 3 lessons learned“.  I agree with many of Henrik’s core messages, such as staying lean and building products you love, but I got stuck on two sentences. They both tie back to the title of this post: don’t confuse crossing the chasm to mainstream adoption with product-market fit.

1. Henrik leads with the statement that “it’s fair to assume that the [Twitter] traffic was flat from 2006-2008.”  The implied message is that Twitter experienced a binary dynamic — no growth, and then huge growth.  I disagree.  The curve on Henrik’s graph looks flat because of the time frame and the massive growth of 2009.  From where I stood, Twitter saw pretty good growth throughout, steadily expanding from social media insiders to a broader audience.

In May 2007, Biz Stone told Kottke, “We have been doubling the number of active users about every three weeks for a sustained period of months.”  This post reported that Twitter grew from 250K to 650K users in the second half of 2007, and reported that Twitter then grew to almost 4.5 million by the end of 2008 (via Mashable).

I feel like there are skewed perceptions out there as to how long it takes to truly get a startup off the ground.  We quickly forget, but if you go back and look at the ramp-up time for today’s success stories, you might be surprised at how long it took for them to turn “mainstream”.

2. Henrik writes, “Had Jack Dorsey read Steven Gary Blank’s book he might have attempted to change the product into something that had more ‘market-fit’.

I don’t think Steve Blank and Eric Ries are suggesting that if you don’t find immediate mainstream adoption, you should be pivoting your product.  Actually, one of Blank’s biggest problems with the classic tech adoption curve, popularized in Crossing the Chasm, is that it makes entrepreneurs focus on solving mainstream adoption issues when they haven’t yet solved early-adopter issues.  One step at a time.  The key is getting strong, positive signals from the marketplace that you are delivering something people want, and not scaling your business expenses ahead of those signals.

You want to see growth commensurate with your company’s stage, but don’t lose your head if you don’t have millions of users overnight.  Just make sure that your confidence in getting to millions is based on real market feedback and adoption.