25 Years Later, ‘Crossing the Chasm’ Has Withstood the Test of Time

Insights from My Conversation with Geoffrey Moore (AKA “The Chasm Guy”)

Twenty-five years ago, I read the book ‘Crossing the Chasm’ by Geoffrey Moore and took away insights that have had a lasting impact on how I think about the startup industry even today. When I recently found myself face-to-face with Geoffrey for a conversation around his most recent book, Zone to Win, (a nice, full-circle moment for me I might add), I was struck by just how relevant many of these insights have remained over the past quarter-century.

Though much of our 40-minute conversation was dedicated to discussing his more recent work (which is focused on helping established enterprises improve sales performance), I did have a chance to ask him about the startup challenges he set out to address in his classic bestseller, and how they differ from what we see today. His answer: With over a million books sold, and it being in its third edition, he has only made small updates to the book (including new company examples). However, the frameworks have remained consistent and continue to be completely applicable to today’s B2B businesses.

That’s pretty impressive in an industry that has been experiencing “Moore’s Law” for more than 50 years and prides itself on the speed of change it drives in the business world, and it got me thinking about the ways today’s startup leaders can benefit from revisiting ‘Crossing the Chasm.’ Below are a few of my key takeaways (and some important quotes) from our discussion.

What worked well for you in the early days of your startup may work against you further down the line.

‘The technology adoption lifecycle goes from early adopters to the early majority, but instead of that being a graceful transition, there was actually a big chasm — because early adopters and pragmatists have very different values.”

What Geoffrey identified in ‘Crossing the Chasm’ was a significant drop-off that occurs when startups start to scale from early-adoption to mainstream customers. This drop-off can occur for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the startup must shift from centering efforts around a founder (with a deep knowledge of both the technical and visionary) to delegating work out to a larger team. This can be a challenging transition, and one that requires finding the exact right people for the job. But beyond that, businesses must also accept the fact that many of the tactics that first brought them to success could work against them in this next phase, and be willing to embrace an entirely new mindset — which brings us to key takeaway number two.

Moving from early adopters to the early majority requires a complete shift in mindset.

“You have to change your mindset, change your marketing, your distribution, even your whole product focus — everything has to change. And that was hard for people to pick up on.”

The key to this shift in mindset is moving from visionary to pragmatic. Founders tend to be optimistic; they excel at painting a vision of how their product can change the world. Early adopters are attracted to this vision — they tend to be cut from the same cloth, and that mindset and messaging are inspiring for them. But moving from early adopters to early majority customers is a big jump. Early majority customers are less concerned with the vision and more concerned with the practical results. In approaching a new set up customers with a different mindset, startups have to be ready to look at their entire strategy — product, messaging, and distribution — with a fresh perspective, and be willing to embrace change across the board.

Your messaging must shift, too — but not away from the customer.

“The value proposition has to switch from ‘look at all the great things that can happen’ to ‘look at all the tough problems you can solve if you’re willing to step up to the new technology.’ It’s a very different message; it’s much more muted in one sense, but it’s very customer centric.”

What that shift in mindset means on a more tactical level is that you need to be able to think from the perspective of each and every one of your customers; you need to be ready to address their specific concerns. I loved the example that Geoff used in our conversation of a banker evaluating a technology platform, and wanting very specific answers for how their problems would be solved. It can be difficult to shift from high-level visionary messaging to this extremely pragmatic approach, but it’s an absolutely critical shift if you want to cross the chasm to mainstream customers. Essentially, it’s the shift to becoming customer centric — and if there’s any insight that can withstand the test of time, it’s that.

Geoffrey Moore is one of the most influential high-tech advisors in the world, as well as the author of ‘Crossing the Chasm’ and ‘Zone to Win.’ To learn more about his latest work, please check out our full conversation.