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