Product Design: Who’s Your Initial Audience?

November 12, 2010

1:25 pm

Like it or not, accept it or not, we are different. We read RSS. We use Twitter, Facebook, and any other bright, shiny, social media and various other tools we find along our travels of the interwebs.

But it is vital to remember that as an entrepreneur building a new product, YOU ARE NOT MAINSTREAM. While it is hard to imagine, its true. Over the past week it I read one post and had a real world experience that made this fact abundantly clear to me.

Lets start with the post. It was an article that GigaOM wrote last week asking if Location Based Services were ever going to go mainstream. Of course, to most of you reading this, the question almost seems rhetorical, right? But try to think outside of our echo chamber and we see that very few people know what these applications are, and if we extrapolate beyond to other social media and new applications the percentages most likely go down even more. Om quotes a Pew Research Center study:

The survey found that only 4 percent of online adults use any service that allows them to share their location with friends, and on any given day, just 1 percent of Internet users are making use of such services. The multimillion-dollar question is whether the launch of Facebook Places, and particularly its recent mobile Deals feature, will change those numbers and make location services go mainstream.

The later part of the quote above is worth repeating. With the user base that Facebook enjoys, over 600 million, the odds that a larger majority of its users will use Places, goes way up – it is almost a statistical certainty. However, when entrepreneurs start the process of building and launching a product, they need to build a user base first, and more than likely it starts with other like minded people, a group far from the flow of the mainstream.

Now my real world experience. Early last week I sat in on a Graduate level Public Health Policy class my friend teaches at GW University. I was there to watch Shana Glickfield, Principal at the Beekeeper Group, give a presentation on using new social media channels to distribute related health news. The class consisted of roughly 55 people between the ages of 25 to 32’ish – an audience you would assume is at least a bit tech-savvy. Before the presentation, the professor was going over some health news that one student had brought up about new apps specifically for health uses. I was pretty shocked when one student raised her hand to ask, “What is an app ?” At first I wasn’t sure she was serious, but she was absolutely serious. Many other students nodded in affirmation, like they were curious as well. After a brief explanation, they got it, but another surprise hit me when most of them indicated they did not have a smartphone in order to run these new apps anyway. The semi- surprises continued as Shana asked the group how many people used Twitter. Three people raised their hands. The hands for Facebook were a bit more, which is understandable as we mentioned previously that Facebook is as mainstream as mainstream gets.

So what does all of this mean to you, an aspiring, bootstrapped entrepreneur ? Never forget who you are building your product for. Never forget that your audience, depending on how and where you launch it, may be more early-adopters and not the mainstream, at least initially. With that in mind, modify your thought and design process to ensure that the product will be positioned to not only take advantage of the early adopters who will help launch your product and garner you a wider user base, but also have the ability to reach out and connect with the mainstream. When that happens for you, smile, you’ve made it.

Image courtesy of velkr0.

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Jimmy Gardner is a Senior Unix/Windows Engineer, a lover of technology and photography. Follow him online at @jjgardner3 and enjoy his portfolio at

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