By Andrew Neitlich

The horrible suffering of early adopters who have to sell to the mainstream

By Andrew Neitlich

I had a wonderful coaching session with a client today who is trying to get his IT consulting work kick-started. We discovered that he is a technology aficionado, like so many of us. This has led to some problems:

1. He designs solutions based on leading-edge technology because he loves to do it, regardless of revenue or market potential.

2. His passion for technology does not always translate to specific needs/problems he can address in the general market.


3. When we get down to the brass tacks of actual industries or demographic groups to target he loses interest. It is uninspiring for him to drill down from technology to industry/customer. Hmmmm…..

Here is what we concluded:

1. Right now he has a hobby, not a business.

2. No matter how much you love technology, if you aren’t solving a specific problem for a specific customer group, you don’t have a business.

3. As an early adopter who loves technology, he has to — if he wants to reach a large target market — get used to dealing with specific customers, even if it is boring to focus and drill down.

Does this conversation apply to you?

  • Doug

    But playing around with new technology is fun. It is what I like about this business. Don’t other people want to have the newest and coolest stuff?


  • Some people are idealist, and in the long run they are the ones who shape the world. We should show the highest respect to them.

  • drakke

    This is why many successful business are stated by people who experience frustration with the current market and devise a better solution; they are already viewing the business from the user’s point of view.

    I recently created a product but then realized that by customer base did not have the resources to purchase it. Hard lesson to learn.

  • I certainly agree. In a services/consulting setting, we can milk money if we win something (big if!). The first contact and followup framework meetings are important, not least for business process analysis. I think modelling a solution for a customer, in their business context is far more important than implementation. There’s been many times when a large functional specification has been written by a complete donkey, only to be signed off and then contractually bound to delivery.

    But when you get it wrong for a product, ignoring routes to market and a strategy for sales and support is simply foolish.

    I think pure tech buffs like this end up as “enablers” or “drones” for others who use them to drive something big of their own, often selfishly.

  • I was also a technology guy. It took me around 14 months to learn being an IT consultant (no, not the technical part; that took 13 years but that’s okay). The hard things to learn are to manage your time, try out different things and see what you actually like to do, see if there’s need for it on the market, find clients, work smart etc. In the past I used to hang around all day leaving the job to the evening and in the evenings I didn’t wanted to work because it was after business hours. I had lots of bad habits. You need time to get upset and be fed up with yourself again and again, probably through many months, to learn managing yourself. At least I needed it. This was the hardest period in my life, from August 2003 to November 2004. It just got worse as time passed by. I even wanted to give up everything. Not only the business, everything.

    The worse thing I did when starting my business was to leave the daily job without having spare money for the next (4-6) months. I feel this important to mention for those who are just starting out. I didn’t take it seriously and had very-very hard times. Delayed payments, things to correct before payments and so on. Remember one thing: the money is not yours until its not in your hands. You better don’t count on it.

    Last November I’ve got an offer for a daily job; they wanted to pay me more than any other PHP development company in the country. 9 days. I couldn’t stay any longer. Sitting there 8 hours/day plus loosing 4 hours/day by travelling without a laptop–started to get crazy those days. I had some other problems in my life so I left them.

    Answering Andrew’s question: no, this conversation doesn’t apply to me anymore! I feel lucky because I was able to get out of the “trap” that was created by myself, for myself. After leaving the company at the beginning of December I completely changed. Almost everything’s on track now and I feel alright. There are some small problems of course but they’ll always be, it’s fine.

    I worked hard to get here. Took more than a year being continously frustrated and nervous. I finally found my target niche: companies needing enterprise portal solutions in PHP. It’s a very wide market if you work online. Currently
    this generates money for my living.

    I’m one more step further now. I realized that I can make more money if I come up with solutions or products that can be sold multiple times. Two great plans are on my mind: an online solution and a complete solution for FM radio stations. Three completely different niches (including web portal development)–I know that I can’t manage all of them at once. I plan to have a slow transition between the first, the second and the third solution I provide. I give it 6-9 years.

    I think those people will succeed as an IT consultant in their own businesses who spend a huge amount of time thinking about themselves, finding their problems, the roots of those problems and ways to avoid them in the future. I always make notes of my thoughts because I tend to forget them on the other day. If you face the same problems weekly again and again, try it out, it helps. But time is what you need in the first place, in my opinion.

    Two things left I have to learn: English, and writing short comments.

    I wish you all the best with your businesses.

  • doug

    Amen, amen, amen.

    I have several friends working in IT that fit the description you gave Andrew. Technophiles are generally just that: hobbyists, not business people.

  • pdxi

    I think that this topic has a lot to do with other situations, when speaking of a small business. My business plan took a 180-degree turn for the better when I realized that I didn’t have much of a chance to be successful in the market that I was pursuing. It all had to do with recognizing the faults in my original plan and making changes to take advantage of the opportunities in front of me.

    This is a broader application of the same idea. The fellow in question made a mistake in believing that there was a market for what he wanted to do – write software with cutting-edge techniques and tools – and then recognized that he needed to change his strategy.

    Too many people go into business thinking that it will be a walk in the park, or think that they have everything figured out. What it really takes is being on the “ground floor”, knowing what makes business work, and going forward with it.

  • wildscribe

    Wow! Reading Andrew’s piece and the comments afterwards have opened up my eyes.
    I am a technology junkie and love to play with the latest and greatest hardware
    and software. And like the person Andrew mentioned, I have yet to figure out
    how to translate all the time I spend playing with new technology into money.

    After thinking about it, my problem is time management. I would much rather spend
    the time figuring out new functions in Flash MX 2004 than update a website, but it
    is updating the website that pays the bills, not experimenting with Flash.

    I am not saying that experimenting with new technologies isn’t important. I think
    it is necessary for anyone working in web development to learn the latest and greatest.
    But I think most of the time should be spent on marketing and doing work that brings in
    money rather than playing around with the latest programming tools and languages. I am
    changing the way that I freelance.

  • JMorrow

    These are precisely the type of people I like to hire. In fact, a guy like this was the foundation of my first company. He loved tinkering with virtual reality to make fantasy games. In his spare time in 1999, he had written a VR engine that, to this day, remains unsurpassed.

    I saw the potential to modify his engine to the language learning market. So, I hired him and a bunch of other brilliant folks to build the VR environment. About six months later, I got a call from a Vice President at PBS. Then the U.S. military. Then the President of Ecuador.

    That product ended up being worth about $13 million. Since then, I’m always looking for people that are brilliant tinkerers but poor marketers. You can easily shift their technology from one market to another and make a killing.

  • My company has turned away from our evil past of being an early adopter and pushing technology. We used to be all about Flash. Flash this, Flash that. To us Flash was great for everything. Then we were wondering why we were not getting that many clients. I realized that the people in our target market were not interested in all Flash sites. So we stepped back from Flash and back into development. This past x-mas we finished the development of a product line that can be resold to clients over and over again. We still use Flash, now only when needed, and develop solutions that meet the client’s needs. Most of our solutions are now hybrid (HTML and Flash).

  • Here I would like to mention about mind set of the people who are tech savvy. I remember one of my designer who is that kind of person that fit the description Andrew mentioned. He is very creative person, but he can not focus on task which has been assigned to him. The reason: he is technology savvy and posses excellent skills of searching creative stuff or designing related software from the web and install it on his system. Every time I used to ask him to show me the work I assigned to him, he showed me new creative images created with some software. But he did not know where that can be used. I agree with one of the person stating here that he hires these kind of people who are technology savvy. They can be hired for Research and Development. You should have enough staff to do tasks for your business.

  • comfixit

    I think you need to decide if you want to have fun, make money or both.

    If you want to have fun then just develop stuff and who knows maybe the mareket will need it and you will hit on a winner.

    Want the money find the greatest need in the marketplace and fill it regardless of if the work is drudgery or not.

    Or do both. To do both in his situation he would probably want to partner up with someone in the technology marketing field who understands the marketplace and can get the business. Let the technophile have the fun developing the product while the marketing person does what they enjoy, exploring the market, finding new customers, customer support and billing them.

  • I have several friends working in IT that fit the description you gave Andrew. Technophiles are generally just that: hobbyists, not business people.


  • websmythe

    JMorrow said: These are precisely the type of people I like to hire. In fact, a guy like this was the foundation of my first company… In his spare time in 1999, he had written a VR engine that, to this day, remains unsurpassed… I saw the potential to modify his engine… So, I hired him and a bunch of other brilliant folks to build the VR environment… That product ended up being worth about $13 million. Since then, I’m always looking for people that are brilliant tinkerers but poor marketers.

    Thanx to JMorrow for saying what ya said. It’s a breath of fresh air!

    I’ve been around the block already. So, I actually do know, from practical experience, that there is a difference between business and creativity/play… and that each has it’s place. But in the end, I’m just a little fed up with all the focus on business, business, business, that leaves a final impression that if you don’t drop your “artsy” attitude and take up business you’re a low life bottom-feeder.

    Doing business is just as creative as designing. Finding people who have the right mix, or ability to learn, to make it successful are definately not the majority. Just read business surveys to find out just how many businesses crash and burn within the 1st year.

    My cut on all of this? If your weak on the business side of things… stay smart, admit your weakness… and hook up with someone who’s strong. Two heads are better than one :-)

  • Nice article Andrew, I think a finer point may be made between having a hobby and being self-employed than being ‘in business’.

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