Rule # 14 – Impress your mother, not your friends

Techheads are an interesting lot. Despite protestations to the contrary, there is more ego in the programming/startup community then most anywhere else I’ve ventured. You’re as likely to see the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and a Unicorn playing Scrabble on a moon made from cheese as you are to find a software developer willing to admit, “I don’t know.” As a result, when folks start building products and companies and applications, they almost invariably head straight to the message boards and blogs looking for attention – get the approval of other super smart programmers, and you’re on your way!

TechCrunch, Mashable, digg, etc. There appears to be no prize with a higher value then getting a write-up on a validated Web 2.0 site. On the positive side, this attention will no doubt get a few thousand sets of eyes to click on the site and possibly sign up for and try the product. Yippee! Mission accomplished! The “Early Adopter” crowd is on board!

….and 3 months later, when another similar service comes along, or when you add payments to your service, the Early Adopter crowd you were so eager to impress will move on to the next Next Big Thing.

It boils down to this: the problem with people who understand the internet and understand software is that it is near impossible to turn them in to a sticky audience. They are interested in what’s new, not your aging product. They are interested in what’s getting attention TODAY on TechCrunch, not what was written about yesterday. And worst of all, the Early Adopter isn’t likely to pay for your service since there is likely a “free” option lurking somewhere on the web, and of all people, the Early Adopter will be able to find it.

So, who should you be building for and catering to? Mom. More specifically, “soccer moms” in the suburbs who spend less then an hour a day on the computer. These folks are seeking a solution that makes their days of carpooling, cooking dinner, balancing the family checkbook, and all the other hundreds of things that go in to being good at their jobs easier. They don’t have the time, and more importantly, the inclination to hop around looking for the “best” solution to their problem. They are simply looking for a solution that works. How else do you explain Hotmail and AOL continuing to sign up email accounts when Yahoo! and Gmail have tools and software that are far superior? With the “Mom” crowd, you don’t have to be the best. You simply have to be good enough and they will stay with you. Offer a solution that solves their immediate problem and you can bet they won’t leave your product for a competitor any time soon.

Even better, this audience is not averse to paying for a product that helps them. What’s $10 a month for an online tool that helps Mom and Dad know what child needs to be where and when? What’s $49 a year for a product that sends a report of all the websites accessed by Junior’s computer each week? What’s $30 a year for a place to upload photos and share them with friends? So on and so forth. Make a simple solution for a real-life problem and you’ll find an audience loyal to your application and rarely demanding of having the next big thing (Ajax, Flash, etc.) worked in to the product.

Quit trying to impress the programmer crowd. It’s a losing battle and aside from some short-lived instant gratification on the off-chance you can end up in the discussion, the only thing you’ll be left with after the Early Adopters come (and go) will be an abnormally high hosting bill. Instead, focus on the customer that is the easiest to find, the easiest to keep, and the easiest to extract money from: Mom.

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5 Responses

  1. I think that your site is fabulous and have learned a lot about your business ventures. But, you might want to reconsider the last post considering that I am the only family member who knows enough about the Internet to find your blog. And I am a stay at home mom!!! You made my day!!! 🙂

  2. Touche’, Natalie. My point is/was that if a person is building a web application and wants to make money from it, a better audience to cater to is one that spends less time on the internet and uses fewer applications; a more “efficient” audience. It is difficult to build loyalty among the agile web-surfer/software community.

  3. No offense taken. 😉 I just wanted to let you know how much I like your blog. We miss you TONS!

  4. Very interesting… thanks.

  5. i love her

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