How to identify early adopters for a new business idea? The Uber case study.

Picture from UberCab 2008

Identifying early adopters of a new business idea is the key to achieve traction and validation.
Even if a new business idea is targeting a broad market, the best way to introduce a new service or an innovation is to start from the segment of customers that are more eager to use it. (Everett Rogers has written a interesting book about this)
The more they want to use it, the easiest will be to sell it, it’s as simple as that.
In fact, in an initial phase, the Minimum Viable Product (or MVP) of a new product is going to be mostly designed around early adopters, so that the business can get enough traction and validation with them and then scale up to attract a broader customer base.

Customer development interviews are the cheapest and fastest way to validate assumptions about the problems that a new business idea is intending to solve and about who are the customers affected the most. (Here are few tips on how to recruit customers to interview and how to conduct successful interviews).
However, once the round of interviews is completed, how to identify who are the early adopters?

The trick is to review the notes from customer development interviews and spot the common features within the customer profiles that show these four elements:

So this is the theory. How does it work in practice?
Let’s have a look at how a successful startup identified their early adopter segment to get traction for a new business.

As in September 2017, the taxi app Uber was available in 84 countries and over 734 cities worldwide, fulfilling 5 billion of trips so far and scoring $20B revenue in 2016 (source here and here).
It’s fair to say that Uber is a very successful service today, but they must have started from somewhere back in 2008. Who were the early adopters that they targeted first?

Uber co-founder Garrett Camp posted the very first pitch deck of what was their new business idea back then, called UberCab.
According to the deck, they were adressing the following customer problems:

So UberCab intended to use advanced technologies to match drivers with potential customers, and to guarantee them a pickup in a short time plus a safe and pleasant trip. All good for now.
But where to start first?

Let’s go back to the four elements identifying early adopters to review how they made their choice. Based on the above they needed to find:

By combining the options, professionals in American cities were their perfect early adopters as they clearly match all the four elements.

In fact, as from their first deck, the value proposition of UberCab was “The convenience of a cab in NYC and the experience of a professional chauffeur: faster & cheaper than a limo, but nicer & safer than a taxicab”. Back in 2008, Uber decided to target professionals and execs in San Francisco and NYC first… and you know already what happened next.

So now it’s your turn to identify the early adopters for a new business idea:

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Innovation Programmes Director | Venture Builder | Exited Serial Entrepreneur

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Davide Turi

Innovation Programmes Director | Venture Builder | Exited Serial Entrepreneur