- Patrick Hogan, Burton Miller
Pivot to the only people that matter for your breakthrough product or service.
Updated: Apr 12, 2021
About 90% of innovative projects fail.
Innovation is inherently risky. Current industry methods are costly in terms of time and resources. Because they take so long to find a successful path, they usually don’t find one.
The root cause of most project failures is a fuzzy understanding of the target customer and their problems. Market feedback is crucial to any product development, but bad feedback is the culprit for a large share of misdirected effort. Teams often waste their time talking to the wrong people.
So, how can innovation teams both streamline their time to market fit while reducing their risks?
Engage the Right People: The unique people that determine where the market is going
90% of market feedback is potentially harmful. This leads to a faulty feedback loop, and to effort spent on the wrong objectives.
Engaging the right people will help you create a compelling offering much faster.
Patrick Hogan, a functional expert in landing new concepts into nascent markets, has developed a new approach to accelerate high-risk innovation. Patrick is a veteran product manager, robotics engineer, and a graduate of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. He has worked almost exclusively on V1 projects for more than 25 years.
Patrick’s work has culminated in the Gateway Adopter LLC Innovation Framework, backed up by years of research and battle-tested on real products at large enterprises and startups alike. This breakthrough approach leverages insights into the market catalysts, the leaders that transition rough new concepts into proven solutions.
The Gateway Adopter persona is at the center of Patrick’s discoveries and the resulting innovation framework. This group leads market adoption and they are the only people you should be talking to. Most validation and customer development strategies are blind to this critical minority that is present in every market. And that is where this new framework comes in.
The Gateway Adopter Innovation Framework has a single, powerful purpose: Quickly deliver a compelling offering to the people that lead the market.
The framework breaks down the path to faster market fit into the three pillars:
Target the right people
Identify and engage with the people who lead market adoption, the Gateway Adopters. Then fashion your value proposition to appeal to this critical segment. Engaging with the wrong people can be a fatal mistake, because you will build the wrong product, and sell to the wrong people.
Define a Compelling Offering
Align effort to focus on what customers find compelling and will value most. Don’t overinvest in less-than-compelling elements of your offering. Viable is not good enough to drive adoption, compelling is a must.
Don’t waste time working on things that don’t matter right now.
Mitigate the greatest project risks, before making bigger bets. Go beyond Agile and Lean, and align development with greatest customer value and mitigate highest risks in a systematic way.
These pillars are simple, but powerful principles for product innovation.
The remainder of this article will focus on the first pillar of this formula: Targeting the people in every market that are the catalyst for breakthrough concepts. We will explore what makes these Gateway Adopters unique, and how you can leverage these insights to land your breakthrough offering in the mass market.
Pivot to the Only People that Matter
Teams working on breakthrough projects all face one problem: notoriously fuzzy feedback from the market. The vast majority of true innovations fail because they run out of resources, build the wrong product or both. Innovation teams waste a lot of time getting bad guidance and acting on it.
This leads teams to create great technologies that just don’t solve a problem that is compelling enough — or they build great solutions to real problems that are just not important.
This chaotic situation results in teams making decisions based on conflicting intuition and ego. And it’s hard to get teams to align when guesswork and opinion are driving the conversation, impacting both results and the health of the team.
The key issue is that people within a market are not all the same, they think and act differently, and their feedback is not all of equal value.
At the core of this confusion, is the fact that product teams don’t understand the difference between early adopters and market leaders. But they are completely different. In every market there is a small, unique group of leaders that are the catalyst for new concepts, and they are not the early adopters.
These Gateway Adopters think and act differently than everyone else.
The Technology Adoption Curve
To understand how to identify these Gateway Adopters, we must first touch on the Technology Adoption Curve. Every visionary aims to work their way through this curve to mass-market success.
The Technology Adoption curve is often misinterpreted as a timeline, but this is dangerously misleading. In his research, Patrick discovered that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of this trusty old tool. The groups represented on the curve actually represent different psychographic profiles, with different capabilities, behaviors, and vastly different impacts on market adoption — not phases in time.
Geoffrey Moore did a great job popularizing the Technology Adoption Curve concept and highlighting the Chasm, the danger zone where sexy new concepts go to die.
New offerings get highly enthusiastic feedback from Innovators and Early Adopters, particularly products from Startups. This part of the market loves anything novel!
On the other side of the chasm behavior is just the opposite, where Early and Late Mass Market Adopters won’t buy anything that is not already proven and popular. This part of the market “follows the taillights.”
The current reaction to these misleading signals is to spray and pray, using current tools to iterate as fast as possible — but often in the wrong direction. Teams of smart, disciplined people are trying to jump this Chasm and get to the mass market, effectively with their eyes closed. While some high-profile exceptions make the leap, 85–90% don’t make it. The Chasm has effectively become a “bridge of death” for most new concepts.
The Bridge Across the Chasm: the Gateway Adopters
This is where Patrick’s research comes in — solving the problem of the Chasm. Through years of qualitative and quantitative big data research and experimentation, Patrick has identified the psychographic profiles and indicators represented on the curve. Each group has different capabilities, behaviors, and vastly different impacts on market adoption.
The most critical part of these findings is that the Chasm is not a gap. It is a psychographic segment, one of the seven profiles that compose every market.
When it comes to fast fit with innovative projects the psychographic profiles collapse into just three (on the technology adoption curve).
The first two groups we are already familiar with, but Patrick redefines them in terms of risk analysis:
Innovators and Early Adopters are drawn to novelty and are virtually blind to risk.
The Mass Market is extremely risk-averse and will follow only established paths.
But, the third type is the most interesting:
The people that live in the Chasm transform early-stage concepts into high-value outcomes.
These people pick the winners. They are the gatekeepers to the mass market, and transition compelling, but rough concepts into proven solutions the rest of the market follows. This newly revealed, and most important group of people are the Gateway Adopters.
Gateway Adopters comprise roughly 10% within every market.
Gateway Adopters will help you focus and shape your product to get you to market fit faster. Engage them to get specific, actionable feedback that indicates where the market is going, not where it has been.
This group plays a pivotal role in the adoption of new products because they think very differently from the rest of the market. They have a unique combination of goals, methodologies, and decision models that help them gain a competitive advantage. They can quickly assess if your new concept is a compelling solution to a critical challenge.
These Gateway Adopters are people that you must identify and communicate with, to find market-fit and land sales quickly. Gateway Adopters are the primary voters that decide the candidates that the Mass Market will choose from.
What makes Gateway Adopters unique?
The answer is that the unique traits of the Gateway Adopter are the way to find them.
Through years of rigorous structured research, Patrick has developed and proven a highly-confident filtering approach to discover the Gateway Adopters in any market - and more importantly - filter out the rest. The approach was inspired by psychological research at Harvard medical school and UW medical school.
The results are based on hundreds of interviews with decision-makers and the data from 3,800 high-impact projects, 200,000 decisions by 1,350 people. The data was analyzed with a radical combination of quantitative models: the Shapley Value Game Theory Model and the Pseudo Kano Value Model.
A healthy, constructive relationship with risk and uncertainty.
They don’t simply take risks that most people wouldn’t even consider. They diligently pursue them.
Gateway Adopters have a unique combination of three traits:
1) Goal: Driven to win through competitive advantage
Gateway Adopters are market leaders because they are perennial market disruptors. They change the game for everyone in their market by leveraging new, unproven concepts. Others must then follow, or be left behind.
They always know the top three challenges they are facing to gain a competitive advantage. They focus on finding novel, breakthrough solutions to these top challenges.
This group’s metric for success is effective business impact, not efficiency. They focus on effect and value, not price.
They want to do something new, not make incremental improvements.A Gateway Adopter views technological novelty as a means to an end. Novelty is not pursued as a goal in itself.
“We only think about the things that will help us gain and maintain a competitive advantage. …we have a whole team I pay well to consider everything else.” — CTO and CFO of a major global bank
2) Methodology: Rigorous risk management
Gateway Adopters' most unique characteristic is their understanding and management of project risks. They do not avoid risk and play it safe. Instead, they identify and continually take calculated risks.
This group has expert knowledge of the risk types in their domain.
Gateway Adopters have a collection of risk mitigation tools for each type of risk.
They innovate how they innovate, continually building risk mitigation skills and tools. They know the top risks for each project, and sequence a project plan to address each risk, from highest to lowest.
“In my domain I see about ten different types of risks. No project has them all — most have three, some have two, others as many as 4. For each risk type I have two to five different kinds of mitigation models. I select the mitigation model depending on how big the risk is on a specific project.” — CTO of a fortune 1000 firm
3) Decision Model: Seek pragmatic solutions to top problems
Gateway Adopters do not over-optimize any subsystem. They satisfice solutions in both project selection and risk management.
To create a competitive advantage they employ novel solutions to solve their top challenge until it’s no longer the top challenge. The ‘new’ top challenge then becomes their focus.
They manage their project execution risks by giving Lean and Agile a mission — to mitigate their top risk (type). They address the top risk until it is no longer the highest risk, then they shift their resources to the ‘new’ top risk.
They perceive partners as one of their top mitigation tools. They have specific partners for every risk type — partners are not just additional capacity. They build a portfolio of people or teams that they can engage for specific challenges, such as security, ML/AI, or change management.
“Polishing this solution would be a waste of resources, who knows if it would ever pay off? It was successful. Now I have bigger issues to address.” — Bay Area apparel retail IT manager
While some people have one, or rarely two of these traits, only Gateway Adopters have all three. This combination means they are focused on where the market is headed, not where it is, or where it has been. They look for pragmatic solutions that are better than what is available now, and they are good at it.
Gateway Adopters projects are all risky with lots of uncertainty, but they almost never fail.
“I don’t do projects that don’t have risk in them. There is no opportunity to learn, lead and win if there is no risk.” — CTO of a midsized industrial distributor
How can you quickly leverage these insights?
The Gateway Adapter LLC Innovation Framework transforms these key traits into filters to both identify and engage Gateway Adopters in your market and exclude the rest.
The Gateway Adopter LLC Innovation framework has battle-tested tools, templates, and methodologies to quickly harness your team’s expertise and apply it in three customer/market-focused areas.
With this new methodology, you can create a vision for your offering that is compelling to the Gateway Adopters in your market in days, not weeks.
You can then use these tools to drive customer development and validate your vision in weeks, not months.
Where can you engage Gateway Adopters to get the highest impact?
These insights have the most impact on three business functions: Development, Marketing, and Sales. Within each function, you can filter out the wrong people and focus on the right people to reach your mass market.
Get the Right Feedback for Fast Market Fit
Qualify the people you engage, filtering out the 90% that will give you harmful feedback on your breakthrough concept. Use customer development to quickly validate (or invalidate) that your vision is compelling to your market — and then make adjustments before you make big investments.
Marketing Messaging to Attract the Right People
Tailor your marketing message to be compelling and match Gateway Adopters’ goals, and how they think. Message how your innovative concept will give them a competitive advantage, and how they can manage their risks by incrementally adopting new capabilities.
Gateway Adopters are averse to both dramatic “rip-and-replace’’ and highly polished offerings backed by a collection of case studies and big customer names — followers want these things, not leaders. This kind of messaging will either fail to attract the right people, wasting media spend, or it will attract the wrong people, creating leads that will never close.
Sell to the Right People
Use Gateway Adopter profile questions to give your sales team precise targeting to focus and engage the people most likely to buy, adopt and prove your new concept.
Of course, take checks from anyone willing to buy. Just don’t spend sales efforts on Early Adopters, because they will taste your offering and move on. And Late Adopters just will not buy until the offering is highly polished.
From V1 startups to new enterprise platforms, the Gateway Adopters Framework typically cuts time to market by 75%.
Even the large scale Microsoft Office API program cut time to a compelling offering by 65%, and Satya Nadela called the new Office 365 API concept Microsoft’s most strategically valuable API.
The Gateway Adopter LLC Innovation Framework provides tools and techniques for each of these areas. The framework has been applied to over 15 offerings: from game and AR/VR startups to multiple dev platforms to analytics services.
Augment, not replace — what you do today.
How will the Gateway Adopter framework help your team and your process? The tools enable better high-value decisions by any team based on customer value. And the framework is technology and process agnostic — it does not replace your development process. Instead, the tools augment your process by helping you decide what to create and when, at critical decision points.
How can I leverage Gateway Adopters to win right now?
90% of the people who started reading this article are playing not-to-lose, and they don’t even know it. They are trying the same old approaches and keep expecting different results.
Play to win. Take a hard look at this novel set of tools that has proven results getting breakthrough concepts to market fit faster than anything done today.
Systematically developed and tested over decades in Patrick’s product development roles and consulting, Gateway Adopters LLC Innovation Framework and insights is now available to your team via a consulting engagement, or hands-on bootcamps that unleash your team.
The Gateway Adopter LLC framework is built on three pillars (see above) leveraging 47 tools and a systematic methodology to create the biggest impact. Each specialized tool will clarify the best choice in a particular scenario. Your team can stop debating all the things they could do, and focus on the one thing they should do now.
Cut your time to market by 75% by creating a compelling offering for the right people, while systematically mitigating your biggest risks.
Learn more at GatewayAdopters.com.
And look out for articles on the next two pillars of this new, innovative approach to accelerate market fit and manage risk.
Patrick Hogan is an innovation expert, a veteran product manager, robotics engineer, and a graduate of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. He has over 25 years of experience at startups and enterprises launching new software, hardware, and professional services offerings into nascent markets. Contact me at Patrick.firstname.lastname@example.org
Burton Miller is a serial entrepreneur, product leader, engineering manager, and Y Combinator alum, who has spent most of his career innovating V1 products. Contact me at email@example.com