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Crossing the Chasm: Reaching Startup Success

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In the startup world, it’s not just convincing your first users to test out your product or service that presents your company’s biggest hurdle. Rather, it’s appealing to an audience beyond those initial early adopters to reach the much larger group of mainstream adopters that can make or break your small business. In Geoffrey A. Moore’s seminal  books for technology marketers, Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers, first published in 1992 and updated in the early 2000’s, he explains why startups often fail to reach that mainstream market and provides insights into how your business can avoid this outcome to succeed and take a leadership position in your chosen market.


Moore defines the chasm as the space between the early adopters and the beginning of the mainstream market, known as the early majority.  This chasm exists because early adopters oftentimes have different buying criteria than the mainstream market, especially if you are selling technical products to B2B markets. In fact, one of the primary tenets of the Crossing the Chasm model is that your solution to your audience’s problem, known as the “whole product”, will evolve as your market evolves from early adopters to mainstream users.   Unfortunately, this is the stage where many startups inevitably fail, as their offerings, tailored to early adopters, don’t meet the criteria for the mainstream.

Determining if your products or services are viable, scalable, and can fulfill a want or need in the mainstream is an imperative to crossing the chasm. Moore has specific thoughts on how to approach your mainstream market by focusing on one segment at a time, what he refers to as the “beachhead” in your “Bowling Alley” of segments.  By being smart with your approach to the mainstream, one segment leads to another as your market and offering expands.

Startup darling AirBnB is an example of a company that successfully “crossed the chasm”. Originally known as airbedandbreakfast.com, the local rental marketplace began with a narrow focus on opportunistic moments when housing accommodations would be in higher demand, (such as for a trade show or local business event).

While airbedandbreakfast.com generated a small following, the business model ultimately proved to be not sustainable or scalable, and the company needed to rethink their business to cross the chasm to reach a larger audience.  Realizing this, airbedandbreakfast remodeled their business to become what is now AirBnB, changing their sights to focus on local rentals at large.

To learn more valuable insights on how to make your small business “cross the chasm” and get the growth you’re after, join us for our Guest Expert Series webinar on Wednesday, October 21, at 1:00 PM EST. Derek Lidow, Princeton Professor and author of Startup Leadership, will be joining us live to share insights from his experience working in the startup world. Register now to reserve your seat!