May 27, 2022

Finding Early Adopters for an MVP

Identifying early adopters truly starts with the inception of your product idea. Ideally, you’re starting this process concurrent with the earliest stages of making the business case for your product—and, therefore, your minimum viable product (MVP). Exploring the market opportunity starts with identifying the market segment, potential users, and buyer personas. Then, armed with essential details of who your buyers are, the question of where to find early adopters for your MVP is a simple matter of reviewing where your personas spend their time.

However, sometimes even the best-laid plans go awry due to myriad factors ranging from miscommunications to global events. If you find yourself without a plan to engage early adopters of your product, or if you inherit an MVP project, you won’t be the first company to find yourselves wondering where to find early adopters mid-development. With that in mind, we’re sharing best practices for diving in and engaging your target audience.

Finding early adopters for your minimum viable product (MVP) can feel like an unsolvable paradox. On the one hand, people are more likely to try something new if there’s good word of mouth. On the other hand, you need to generate word of mouth before anyone has actually used your product.

Early adopters are essential for gathering data even before you begin product development. After all, before you invest time, energy, and capital into developing your product, you want to make sure you have a practical market for it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, understanding where to find early adopters is essential for the market research process. Once you confirm that you’re creating a solution for a real problem, the people who test your product early on will be more than use cases—they’ll be your biggest heroes.

Yet, as Start Up Juncture points out: “Not every future customer is ready for your product or service just yet. The majority of the people you can cater to in the future won’t forgive you if your product isn’t perfect yet. Therefore it’s important to start by finding people who will love your early stage product as well—people who can help you improve the product over time; those who don’t mind that your product doesn’t have all the bells and whistles yet, as long as the early stage product is better than their current solution and they believe in your idea/vision.”

Figuring out where to find early adopters is a bit of an art form, but it isn’t your biggest hurdle. So what’s the most significant challenge to overcome? Gaining their trust. Without knowing you or having any proof that your solution actually works, why should they trust you?

And possibly even more significant: how can you engage with early adopters to identify product-market fit?

How to Engage Early Adopters for a Product

As we mentioned above, your early adopters should be on board before you get into the development phase because creating a solution before validating the problem results in a technology push rather than a market pull. The legwork involved in finding the best candidates for early adoption includes defining:

Finding the best candidates for early adoption means doing some legwork upfront and defining:

  • Who your early adopters are, along with criteria for identifying them
  • Where to find early adopters so that you can connect with them
  • How you’ll engage with them so that you have a plan of action for every phase
  • What you’re hoping to learn from them each step of the way

You’re essentially creating a buyer persona and then going out and validating your assumptions about who your market is and whether or not they have a need for your product. From there, once you know that your early adopters have a concrete problem that you can solve, it’s a matter of uncovering the minimum action that will get results.

So let’s dig in and explore how to put your strategy into play.

Understanding Who Your Early Adopters Are

Before you can figure out where to find early adopters, you must determine who they are. And while early adopters of your product may not fit every single criterion below, there are some common characteristics. Once you understand those, it will make it easier to find early adopters.

Interaction Design Foundation explains that early adopters “tend to be the most influential people within any market space, and they will often have a degree of ‘thought leadership’ for other potential adopters. They may be very active on social media and often create reviews and other materials around new products that they strongly like or dislike.”

Look for observable behaviors that indicate someone would be likely to try out your MVP. Early adopters of a product generally:

  • Recognize they have a problem
  • Have tried to solve it and failed, sometimes multiple times
  • Are willing to spend money to fix it
  • Feel enough pain to be motivated to find a solution at just about any cost
  • Will use a product that isn’t complete.
  • Like to feel unique and love sharing new products

The Lean B2B Blog says: “Sometimes [early adopters] exert some kind of technological leadership in their companies (although they may not be in a leadership position).”

In addition, Angel Almada, Director of Solutions Engineering at 3Pillar Global, describes early adopters as “Users who are suffering for the problems you are trying to solve. Also, these users should be the ones you know (or assume) will provide feedback to you. Ideally, these users are partners or current loyal customers.”

Locating Your Early Adopters

Once you understand how to spot an early adopter, where do you go to actually find them? Start by carefully observing places where they might gather. Get active and begin conversations to attract them. Asking open-ended questions starting with who, what, when, where, why, and how often prove fruitful when it comes to engaging early adopters. These w-questions get people talking and generate better data than yes/no questions.

Entrepreneur Steve Blank offers this advice: “The best way to find internal champions is through your network, no further than one link away (i.e., friends of friends).” To that end, here are a few approaches that may help you uncover where to find early adopters:

Existing Users:

People you already work with who fit your target audience probably know others who fill the criteria. So reach out to them to ask for a warm invitation.

Social Media

The next best option is people who already have a personal connection with you. Post to social media channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to explain what you’re building and ask if anyone is interested in the product, open to a conversation, or knows someone who might be a good candidate.

Additionally, you can start conversations on social media and look for people using specific hashtags.

Industry Events and Conferences

Events—both in-person and virtual—offer great opportunities to connect with early adopters as well. Some examples of these gatherings include meetups and conferences—places where people in your industry congregate.

Co-Working Spaces and Casual Locations

Don’t discount connections from more casual locations like people you meet working at coffee shops, co-working spaces, or schools.

Organizing Meetups

You can also create your own networking opportunities by organizing meetups and webinars and marketing them on social channels and email lists.

Guest Visibility Opportunities

Guest posting and podcasts offer additional opportunities to gain visibility with potential early adopters by giving you exposure to other people’s audiences.

The Good News

You already have a good idea as to where your early adopters might hang out based on the user research you did when you were looking for product/market fit.

Even better? Early adopters seek out and sign up for early trials and betas. If you put yourself out there, they’ll probably start to find you.

Learn From Your Early Adopters

Once you know where to find potential early adopters, you’ll have to persuade them to try out your product and share feedback so that you can learn and iterate.

According to Kathryn Rosaaen, Manager, Product Development, at 3Pillar Global, one of the best ways to engage with early adopters is to “Reward them. Make them feel like they are part of something special. Put their name in lights (if they want it). The Skimm does a great job at this. People who sign up for The Skimm daily newsletter immediately feel as if they are part of an inner circle.”

Don’t forget to implement a feedback loop. Remember, your MVP is about learning. And early adopters are usually eager to offer feedback.

Whatever you do, don’t give up, and don’t get discouraged. Keep making contact, and you’ll find your core group of early adopters. Felix Winstone, co-founder at Talkative, offers this advice: “Early customer feedback will help you better understand your customers and give you invaluable insight into how to better position your product. The more contact you have with early adopters, the better. You must remember, it’s a numbers game. Not even the best products have a 100% conversion rate. Persistence is key.”

Solving the Conundrum of Early Adopters

Ultimately, uncovering where to find early adopters for your MVP should be part of your process from the get-go. If you find yourself partway through the project and just starting to identify your early adopters, know that you can still gain valuable data from early users.

Even if finding early adopters feels impossible when you first start out, the job is much easier once you understand their characteristics and where to find them.

Think of finding early adopters as an opportunity instead of looking at it as a problem. Kathryn Rosaaen, Manager, Product Development, at 3Pillar Global explains, “As a startup or MVP, you have the ability to form 1:1 connections with your audience. This is a strategic advantage you have over the ‘big guys’ who have to worry about PR, brand image, and scale. Use it. Reach out to those users, form a bond with them, and turn them into raving fans.”

To learn more about 3Pillar Global’s services and how we can help you create a minimum viable product to test and validate your assumptions with real customers, contact an expert today.

Special thanks to these members of FORCE, 3Pillar’s expert network, for their contributions to this article.

FORCE is 3Pillar Global’s Thought Leadership Team comprised of technologists and industry experts offering their knowledge on important trends and topics in digital product development.