The Entrepreneur’s Book Guide #7: Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore

Book Reviews from one entrepreneur to the others

It has been forever since my last book review. I have been really heads down with my company, MinuteHero. But now, I have decided that I do need a small break from it all. To fill this break productively, I have decided to write a new review. I hope you enjoy it!

Another well-worked book

Starting with my fourth review, I pushed the long intro about the Entrepreneur’s Book Guide to the end of the article to go directly into the book. I hope this makes the review more fun to read, especially for regular readers who have read some of my earlier reviews.

So here we go! Let’s dive straight into this book, Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey A. Moore.

About the author

Geoffrey Moore, born 1946, is described by Wikipedia as “ an American organizational theorist, management consultant and author.”

Moore’s books and work have focused on the market dynamics surrounding disruptive innovations.

While this description is certainly factually true, it does not really capture the essence of what Moore is about. Maybe this quote is more enlightening:

“Geoff Moore is the master at creating a vocabulary for management strategy that captures the competitive dynamics of the times.”

— John Chambers, Chairman of Cisco Systems

This is a much better definition of Geoffrey Moore and great (business) authors in general — they create a vocabulary with which we can analyze, describe, communicate and ultimately apply phenomena we observe in the real world. “Disruption” would be a whole lot harder to grasp, had Clayton Christensen not defined the term. The “Hook” as described by Nir Eyal (a book I hope to cover soon) has shaped a whole generation of startup marketers and “lean” has gotten a whole new meaning thanks to Eric Ries.

Geoffrey Moore definitely belongs in the same category. He has coined the term “the chasm” (and some others, like “escape velocity”). But the one that most people in the tech and startup world may be familiar with is: the chasm.

The “chasm” describes the gap — in behaviors, buying patterns and many other things — between “Early Adopters” and mainstream customers. Moore’s book, Crossing the Chasm, is all about how to cross this daunting divide. So let’s get to it.

About the book

Crossing the Chasm is Moore’s first and arguably most famous book. Originally published in 1991, the book has sold more than a million copies to date. A third edition was published in 2015, giving the book a much needed update. The third edition (which is the one I read) updated most of the book’s examples and case studies to bring them into the internet and mobile age.

Crossing the Chasm focuses on the challenges start-up companies face transitioning from early adopting to mainstream customers. Because in the mainstream is where the vast majority of all customers — and therefore revenues and profits — reside.

The Technology Adoption Life Cycle as many imagine it to be

However, this image, which is often shown in marketing lectures and books, is actually misleading. It’s not a smooth transition from one market segment to the next.

The reality looks a lot more like this:

The Technology Adoption Life Cycle as it really is

There is a gaping hole between early adopters and the mainstream. Marketing and sales tactics and strategies that worked with innovators and early adopters just don’t work anymore.

The chasm is where many initially successful startups go to die — the examples of companies who gained a lot of initial traction with early adopters but never made it to the mainstream are legion. And mind you, this does not apply to startups alone, it happens to seasoned tech veterans as well. Just think about these examples:

  • Google Glass
  • Segway
  • Second Life
  • One may even argue that Twitter never really crossed the chasm.

The verdict is still out on a couple of emerging technologies like VR / AR, crypto-currencies or electric vehicles. Companies such as Snapchat or Tesla still have to prove that they can really pull it off.

All these above mentioned examples are fascinating an maybe even “no-brainers” for all of us who are technically inclined and find shiny new objects thrilling. You know, people like these guys:

From left, Marc Andreessen, Bill Maris and John Doerr. Credit: Eric Laurits

But just ask the rest of the world what their last purchase using Bitcoin was…

Fortunately, Moore does not leave us hanging. Most of his book describes strategies and tactics to bridge the gap. It introduces a three step strategy which can be applied to face this daunting task.

  1. Pick a beachhead market segment: Focus efforts on a small, well-defined segment of the Early Majority — ideally the one where the pain you are solving is the highest. Exclusively focus on this segment and go all-in on it.
  2. Introduce a “whole product”: When crossing the chasm, you need to broaden your definition of what “Product” means. To cross the chasm, you have to offer the “Whole Product” (remember that thing about defining vocabulary?): A Whole Product is not just the technology or app, but the complete experience around using that technology — support, integrations, consulting, customization. 
    Early adopters are fine without all of these, as long as they are ahead of the pack. But mainstream customers DO care — to them these things matter a great deal.
  3. Win by comparison: Mainstream customers like to compare their options and pick one that is not only good but also “safe”. You need to be that safe option.
Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. 
— thought of a typical mainstream customer

So you do have to make yourself comparable — but obviously in a way that makes you come out on top in this comparison. You do this by making it easy to compare you to other options that mainstream buyers recognize.

The key is to position yourself in a way that the comparison highlights your strengths and contrasts you against the other options. An often cited example is box comparing itself to SharePoint — Enterprise features but difficult to implement and use — and Dropbox — very easy to use, but lacking things enterprises might need. So their comparison might look something like this (based on a template from the book):

For businesses
who are dissatisfied with the complexity of SharePoint
our product is a cloud-based content management and file sharing service
That provides easy to use file sharing, storage, and collaboration.
Unlike Dropbox,
We can provide enterprise-grade security and features.
(Obviously, I am spit balling here. This is actually really hard to get right)

By putting yourself in the neighborhood of offers mainstream buyers understand and can relate to, you dramatically boost your chances of successfully closing these deals.

What do I think about the book?

This book is extremely helpful when starting a company, especially in tech. I really believe that everyone who has anything to do with product management, marketing or sales should read this book.

Things that seemed frustrating and inexplicable become obvious when looked at through the chasm concept. The book can help to answer questions like

  • “Why did we stop growing?”
  • “How do we take this company to the next level?”
  • “How do we go after the big fish?”
  • “What should we add to our product next?”

I find the book only lacking on two aspects:

A clearer differentiation between B2B and B2C companies. While I am convinced that the general concept of the chasm rings true in both domains, decision making is VERY different. It would be great to see more on this.

Along the same lines it would be very cool to dig a bit deeper into aspects like consumerization of technology” or how cloud services — specifically Software as a Service (SaaS)— have changed the game here.

The cloud — and with it the disappearance of the requirement to install software locally or on a company server — removed the need for purchasing decisions to be made by central decision makers and gatekeepers like a CIO. Modern SaaS sales strategies instead enable individual teams to sign-up for, try and even buy enterprise technology. If teams can buy their own software this gives a new entry point to companies focused on user experience rather than sales teams. One of the pioneers of this approach has been Atlassian. Slack would be another prime example for this, but there are multiple others.

Maybe this is something for a fourth edition…

My Rating

  • Entertainment: 2 out of 5
     This is book is extremely helpful and full of great insights — but it’s not really a fun read. It took me a while to get through even though its only about 250 pages. Language-wise, the writing is fine. But it is also somewhat mechanical and a bit dry. It does not have the same devil-may-care fervor of Zero to One by Peter Thiel or the emotional intensity of Horowitz’ The Hard Thing about Hard Things that make those books hard to put down.
  • Novelty: 3 out of 5
    This book has been around for a while, so by now the chasm concept has made inroads into technology marketing and sales. You could say it has crossed it’s own chasm. But the update given to the book in the third edition really helps with some fresh and novel case studies.
  • Usefulness: 5 out of 5
    This book is very useful for anyone who wants to sell technology — the chasm concept and the insights gained from it can be applied to marketing and sales for startups and established companies alike. Especially the follow on steps of the crossing the chasm strategy — the “whole product” and “compare and contrast” — are immensely valuable frameworks to inform your marketing.
  • Applicability: 4 out of 5
    Crossing the Chasm is almost a “How to” guide. The book helps your chasm-crossing with step by step guides and templates to frame your thoughts and apply the concepts. Obviously you will have to adapt the concepts and frameworks to your own situation, but it’s a great way to get you started.
  • Overall rating: 4 out of 5
    I really can’t come up with a good reason why you should not read this book. It is very insightful and immensely useful. If it were just a bit more entertaining, I’d give it 5 out of 5. Read it.
  • Must-read factor: Definitely
    If you are in marketing or sales of a startup or if you are a founder building a tech company — read this book.

Over to you: What did you think about the book? Did you enjoy this review? Want me to change something? Let me know in the comments!

About the Entrepreneurs Book Guide

As I am building my company, MinuteHero, I am trying to fill some of my vast knowledge gaps by reading lots of books. Over time I have recommended or given as a gift quite a few of these to friends or business partners.

Soon people started to ask me for book recommendations. This gave me the idea for the Entrepreneur’s Book Guide. I wanted to write book reviews specifically for those of you who want to start your own company or are already running a startup. In the reviews, I will try to explain what I liked or didn’t like, what was useful and actionable and how this book helped me in building MinuteHero.

The reviews are in no particular order, but I do plan on creating an index that is sorted by author and by topic once I have a few of these under my belt. for now, here are the links to my previous book reviews: