The passionates vs. the non passionates

Every morning now I start out by reading FriendFeed. This morning there was a post by Steve Spalding called “the Web’s dirty little secret” which is about how small the audiences are here in the tech blogging world.

Back in May Dare Obasanjo wrote a post about early adopters and how software developers should discount them.

I’ve been doing a bunch of thinking about both of these things. How can entrepreneurs reach both passionate and non-passionate audiences? Do both matter? When? (Clearly crossing the chasm requires going from the passionates to the non-passionates, or the early adopters to the late ones, if you would rather use that lingo).

So, what’s this talk about passionates vs. non-passionates?

Well, one thing I’ve learned over and over is that you can build an interesting business if you have 100,000 people passionate about something. Anything. I used to be an associate editor at a magazine about Visual Basic back in the 1990s. We had millions of dollars in revenue and our distribution was 110,000 copies. That launched conferences and all sorts of things that made money and brought in revenue. Life was good for a while.

On the other hand, if you pick a business model that requires huge numbers of people, like Facebook advertising that might only pay $.25 per 1,000 views, then you gotta go big or go home. How do you do that, though? I wish I knew, cause most companies who try doing that go under before they can acquire enough customers. Passionate users are easier to get than non-passionate ones. It’s why Amazon and Google don’t do much advertising. Reaching the non-passionates is very hard and they’ve decided to just invest in making a better product, reaching through the passionates to the larger audience. Other companies, though, feel they can convince the non-passionates and advertise heavily. Lifelock is a good example of that. Lifelock isn’t something I ever see bloggers or Twitterers talking about, but the company is constantly advertising that product and, from what I hear, raking in big revenues.

Same happens on the Web. People who can build audiences of the 100,000 size can build decent businesses on the Web. Just talk to Gary Vaynerchuk, who does He has audiences of 60,000 to 100,000 watching each show.

Getting to 100,000 engaged users is reasonably easy to do pretty quickly. But the VCs are needing companies that have 10s of millions. iLike, in Seattle, for instance, is touted by Facebook as one of their favorite applications, which got to 30 million users in a very short time. I remember meeting founder Hadi Partovi shortly after they started right around the time I left Microsoft and they didn’t have a single user. How did they get so big so fast? They had a great app that was out on the first day of Facebook’s new app platform launch (took many sleepless nights to develop that app and then keep it up as it got to six million users in the first few weeks after launch).

Even with iLike, though, I bet that most of its users are passionate about music. 30 million users is a drop in the bucket compared to people who listen to music around the world. Convincing non-passionate users to try something is really difficult.

Some things that I’ve noticed about late adopters (er, non-passionates) and how they use computers they really are much different than the passionates who I usually hang out with. They really don’t care about 99% of the things I care about. FriendFeed? Yeah, right, they haven’t even heard of it, and if I try telling them about it, they say “why would I do that?” See, most people just want to work their 9 to 5 jobs, go home, pop open a beer, sit on the couch, watch some movies, play with their kids, etc.

Stay up all night talking to strangers? No way, no how. Most of the non-passionates I know are just barely trying out Facebook (90 million users). Twitter? Yeah, right. (Two million).

Heck, these people don’t even know how to use an address bar in a browser. Think I’m kidding? I’ve watched how normal people (er, non-passionates) use computers. You go to a search box, and type “Yahoo” even if you are already on Yahoo. Think I’m kidding? Ask the engineers over at Yahoo how many times a day people search for Yahoo on Yahoo’s own search engine. Same over at Google.

When I travel, I look at what people use — thanks to being on planes a lot in the past few months I get to see what people use. Most are using technology I used back in 2000. That’s eight years ago, or 100 in Internet years. I look at them the same way you’d look at them if they told you they just started using a telephone.

The exception? Blackberry. But show me a Blackberry user that knows how to look up Google Maps or uses the Web more than once a week? I’ll show you a passionate. I’ve talked to hundreds of people in airports and I haven’t found a Web-using Blackberry user yet that’s not a passionate (meaning, someone who is really passionate about technology).

And let’s not forget the fact that of the six to seven billion people in the world only about a billion even have a computer in the first place. So, that means that five to six billion people really don’t care about Windows or OSX or all that.

We can be so arrogant sometimes to forget that there are more people who are NOT like us, than who are like us in the technology world.

That said, is Dare Obasanjo correct? Should new companies ignore early adopters?

No, and no.

If Bill Gates had done that Dare would not be working at Microsoft today. Microsoft TOTALLY served the passionates for the first decade of life. Heck, its first product was a compiler!

Early adopters are the ones who will adopt your product or service without you spending hundreds of dollars to get them to try it.

A Kraft food executive once told me they spend about $40 just to get a new customer. Think about that. For FOOD!!! Something that we all need to survive!!!

So, if you want to build a profitable business with very few resources you MUST forget about the non-passionates. They won’t adopt your product unless you are lucky enough to be something like iLike. And even then your chances are pretty slim. I remember when Buzz Bruggeman, CEO of ActiveWords, had a great review in USA Today and only got 40 downloads of his product. You think their ads are going to work any better? No, and no and no. Give it up, the non-passionates will probably never adopt your product and if you get them, it’s probably through some very good luck (iLike couldn’t happen if it were launched today, they needed the Facebook paradigm shift to happen for them to be successful).

So, where do we go from here? I don’t know, I’m doing a lot of work to find out how the tech industry can reach more of the non-passionates. There aren’t a lot of easy answers.

Some tips for getting seen by more people, passionate OR non-passionate.

  1. Believe it or not, Valleywag has a great one. Make your page load faster! It’s amazing to me when I find a blog that doesn’t load fast.
  2. Make it work great on mobile phones. So many blogs load slow on even my new 3G iPhone. Mashable, I’m looking at you.
  3. Get more celebrities that the non-passionates care about to use our technology. I remember when one of MySpace’s founders told me that’s how they got to be the biggest social network in the world. They got musicians and others in Los Angeles to use their service. That led to the non-passionates joining up (my brother’s bar is on MySpace and he’s definitely a non-passionate).’s CEO tells me that getting 50 Cent to use his product was a sizeable breakthrough.
  4. Make your blog easier to find by Google. Normal, non-passionate users use search engines (mostly Google, according to my friends who study such things). Here, do a search for “blog commenting systems.” Why does Disqus come up first? Why isn’t JS-Kit or Intense Debate even on the home page? (Other than in a TechCrunch article?) If we want to grow our audiences we’ve got to be better about appearing in Google.
  5. Write more well-thought-out posts. My traffic has been going up in the past few weeks because I started writing longer posts, again, and getting off of the PR treadmill of trying to just cover every PR story out there. Louis Gray is seeing the same trends, because he’s been doing longer “thought pieces” instead of just writing about the latest shiny object.
  6. Get the advice of other people who have large audiences. This was Tim Ferriss’ advice after our cameras were off when he was on WorkFast.TV recently — he wrote the Four Hour Workweek. He said to look at last year’s hit book author and call them up (if they are hot right now they probably won’t have time to talk with you in depth, he said).
  7. Carry a video camera everywhere to get those cool little stories. Why? Check out this story from the Knoxville News Sentinel.
  8. Register your blog on FriendFeed. Many bloggers are noticing they are getting pretty sizeable traffic from FriendFeed. Why? Because that’s where a lot of passionates are now spending their time and they are the ones who are likely toclick on links, try things out, talk about them with other people, etc.

What am I doing? Well, I’m trying to point my camera at people outside of the tech world, but who are influencers in their own circles. Like today’s video of Tim Ryan, congressman, who also Twitters. As everyday people hear more stories about how the new technology is being used by innovators, they are much more likely to try it out themselves.

So, how are you getting non-passionates to try your stuff out? What is working out there? Do you even care? Or do you care more about reaching passionates? And, if so, what’s working for you?