0261 – Solve For Adoption (Consider Esperanto)

I just wanted to remind myself that getting something adopted– getting something implemented– is every bit as hard as coming up with something worth implementing. A better mousetrap is worth little if everybody is incredibly happy with their existing mousetrap, and isn’t interested in changing their mousetrap experience.

This is a marketing problem. Marketing is about the customer, not the product.

The customer is a novel and stable pattern of human behavior. If the pattern of human behavior is incredibly satisfied, trying to win it over with a marginally better offering is a bit of a losing game.

We can get into some nuance about commodities vs products– the crux of which is this– a marginally better offering is NOT a better product. A better product finds a better way to solve the problem, optimizing for some dimension that was previously unoptimized for. The first thing that comes to mind for me right now is the vertical monitor that I use at work. A monitor that can be swivelled to be vertical is functionally, qualitatively different from a monitor that has slightly better resolution, slightly better clarity than another monitor. It solves a different problem. It satisfies a different customer.

The cool thing is– when you solve a problem with this new dimension, you don’t actually need to be as good as the other offerings on the other dimensions. The iPhone doesn’t have to have the best possible phone service– people use it for the apps, for the Internet, to access Facebook, to Whatsapp their friends. Similarly, the first iPod didn’t have to have amazing audio clarity– it’s selling point was that you could carry your entire music library in your pocket. The audio quality could come afterwards if necessary. (I can’t remember the details– they might have sold on it too, which makes the decision-making much, much easier for the consumers. But Apple is a massive company. If you’re doing this as a solo individual or as a small team, you’re going to have to prioritize. That means focusing on what makes you special to the customers who would want your still-scrappy product.)

I was thinking about all of this this when my wife showed me this potential startup that wanted to build a sort of holistic end-to-end solution for businesses, with a whole list of tools.

The problem with that is– even if you build the perfect multi-purpose tool (which is really quite impossible), you need to get people to start using it, to keep using it, to pay for it. And that involves a whole bunch of decisions from a whole bunch of people who have existing patterns of behavior, all of which are suboptimal in some way or another. It’s really, really hard to get people to adopt your stuff, even if it’s good. Think about the most basic things, like sleeping and eating well. There are loads of people who acknowledge that it’s important to sleep and eat well, and who say that they would like to sleep and eat well, but simply don’t get around to doing it because change is difficult– even when it’s good for you. It’s doubly hard when it’s a product or service of some kind, which requires substantial investments of time, money, goodwill, effort, etc etc.

I found myself thinking of Esperanto– a language that was specifically designed and constructed to be as “perfect” as possible. Specifically, it was crafted to be an “easy-to-learn, politically neutral language that would transcend nationality and foster peace and international understanding between people with different languages.” Noble aims, and something that’s definitely sorely needed in the world. (If you want to strive for SOME sort of perfection, it will almost definitely have to be along some narrow constraint. It will be have to be perfect at solving a very specific problem in a very specific context for a very specific customer. If you do that stupendously well, you might earn the privilege of expanding into other contexts, maybe other customers, maybe other problems. Usually related ones.)

Yet despite being around for over 100 years, less than 0.02% of the world speaks Esperanto– even though it’s reportedly easier to learn than English, and that learning it makes it much easier for people to learn any other language subsequently! Almost a rounding error. Why? The simplest reason is that not many people speak it, and people aren’t typically interested in learning a language that hardly anybody else speaks. Yes, it’s a chicken-and-egg problem, and it’s very hard to solve. The same thing applies when you’re trying to sell a product– people don’t want to use a product that’s been untested, unless it’s incredibly good at solving a problem that they urgently need solved– so urgent that they’re willing to try an untested version made by people they don’t know.

If everybody learned Esperanto, the world would be better off for it. But people don’t care about they world. We care about ourselves. And none of us really has a “I need to learn Esperanto” problem.

So you can’t just design the perfect language, the perfect product, the perfect fitness routine, even. It’s worth almost nothing by itself– it’s just a sort of academic, intellectual exercise. It can be interesting to contemplate or study, but it might even turn out to be a huge distraction– it might mislead you from figuring out adoption patterns. It’s startlingly easy to get attached to a theoretically-perfect model of how things should be, and then defer to that theoretical-perfection instead of the needs and wants, the behavior of of imperfect people. We live in the real world.

Solve for adoption. Solve for real customers who are messy, tired, busy, have a ton of problems as it is, aren’t interested in sitting around and comparing your product to other people’s products (though you better make damn sure you facilitate this for those who want to do it– because they’re so close to buying!).

This is hard to remember when you’re making stuff. You’re never just making stuff. You’re also making a customer– helping people modify their behavior. Behavioral change is Very. Fucking Hard.

Working on it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *