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Struggling to get adoption for your product? How to identify and overcome the roadblocks

Published:  Jan 12, 2023
Anthony Rose
Anthony Rose

A member of a startup founder group posted this question:
“What are the best strategies you’ve used to engage users if you’re struggling with user adoption?”

That got me thinking… how to convince people to use your product or service is the biggest question at the heart of every startup, right after Should I leave my day job and do a startup?

In this post, I share my thoughts on the biggest barriers to product adoption, how to spot them, and what to do about them.



Troubleshooting product adoption: questions to ask yourself

Taking a step back, it seems the high-level problem falls into one or more of these categories, in decreasing order of severity.

1. Will anyone ever want this, or should I give up now?

The cold sweat that every founder wakes up to periodically. There’s nothing wrong with realising that your dream is simply not something that people want.

Of course, it’s better to figure that out before you raise money, hire people, and spend months or years on it.

2. Does it solve a real problem?

Too many ideas are clever but don’t solve a problem anyone has… and until it does, the only uptake will be from short-term PR or PPC-driven incomings who take a look and then leave.

3. Do people understand what it is?

I’ve spoken to many founders who passionately and eloquently describe their product. But then their website totally fails to convey their idea, so nobody visiting the site would know what it is or why they want it.

4. Would it take off if it had more features?

“If only we added this extra feature…” This is probably the biggest trap that people – including me – fall into.

Beware that constant push to add features in the hope that the next one will change everything – it might be the opposite. More features can just blur the product proposition. And spending time on more use cases and functionalities can blind you to the realisation that your problem is one of the more fundamental ones above.

5. Would it take off if more people knew about it?

A huge issue for any app that relies on having a network (like a dating app) or two-sided marketplaces. It’s this thought that leads you to spend huge £££ on marketing, Facebook and Google PPC ads, in the hope that getting to critical mass will change everything – when actually the problem is one of the above.

6. Do people love the idea, but don’t have a good enough reason to switch?

We all dislike our bank / telco / electricity provider but, well, are you really going to spend your day today dealing with it?

Your potential customers might feel the same. If they’re already tied in with a competitor, you have your work cut out convincing them your product is worth the effort of switching over. To make it worth their time, you’ll need a high-impact or time-critical trigger that will encourage users to want to change providers or try your new technology.

Without that ‘must do now’ trigger, your customer acquisition cost will be forever higher than sustainable, and higher than your competitors.

7. Are there technical issues that make it hard to use?

If you made it through all the high-level challenges above, congrats! Your problem might be as ‘simple’ as fixing a usability issue.

Now if only your designers and developers could come up with a login system that works, with app navigation that people can understand, with page load times of 1s not 10s, without breaking things each update…

Fail fast, fail cheaply
Find out more about what I've learnt from my experience with product development and testing

Talk to your users to find out what to fix, and how

So, now you’ve thought through the possible problems. But what’s the answer?

Obviously that’s open-ended, but the most impactful thing that you as the founder can do is talk to your customers.

Far too many founders sit in isolation, fixed on the idea that if they build something, people will discover it, use it and tell their friends. But that leads to the company spending time and money on things that nobody actually wants. You want to discover that before you build it, not afterwards.

The most important piece of advice for founders is to get out there and talk to your customers. Be the first salesperson in your company - before you go out and hire sales people. That way you’ll know exactly what customers do and don’t want, and you won’t spend money hiring someone who discovers that they'll have nothing to sell for months yet.

In the early days of SeedLegals, I literally sat on a beanbag in the corridor outside our office (so I didn’t disturb the team) doing customer sales calls.

I quickly learned:

  • Nobody cared about or wanted half the features we were planning to add. That was good to find out before we spent time building them!
  • The messaging on our website that people found attractive, and what was irrelevant or just plain confusing
  • The product and features that people were actually after
  • Intel on competitors. It turns out customers are delighted to give feedback on their discussions with your competitors. You can find out why they prefer you or, if they don’t, what sticking point you can address to win them over
  • Whether our pricing was helping or hurting us


Test, test and test your marketing messaging until it lands

If it becomes clear your website home page copy isn’t resonating, try a new tagline and new above-the-fold copy immediately – like that day. It takes just minutes to change in WordPress, Webflow, Squarespace or other website hosting software.

If you can take your messaging testing cycle down to a few days, it will take very little time to find wording that resonates with your users.

Or, conversely, you might discover that no matter what wording you try, there’s no real understanding of, or desire for, your product… and then you get to learn that sooner, rather than later.

Product just not working out?
Read this before you before you offer to give your investors their money back.

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Anthony Rose

Anthony Rose

Serial entrepreneur and startup champion, Anthony is our CEO and Co-Founder.
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