Evil EntreKnievel

This side of the chasm: a few geeky clients. The other side: everybody. Ready to jump?
This story appears in the 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

They call him the Chasm Guy, because he can leap over one in a single bound. But the chasm that mild-mannered Geoff Moore traverses is on the edge of the technology world. If you own a high-tech firm and want to market to low-tech people, you'll want to see more of Moore, the founder of The Chasm Group, a consulting firm in San Mateo, California. He's also a venture partner at Mohr, Davidow Ventures in Menlo Park, California, and the author of books like-what else?-Crossing the Chasm (HarperBusiness).

Explain what this chasm is, and why entrepreneurs should care.

Geoff Moore: "Chasm" comes from the technology-adoption/life-cycle model. The early adopters, whom we call the technology enthusiasts and visionaries, love to buy something before anybody else does. They're before the chasm. The next adoption strategy is pragmatism-which says, "I want to buy when I see everybody else doing it." That creates a lull in the market, because the pragmatist is waiting for the other pragmatists, and they're waiting for him. So you have this effect we call the "junior high dance" problem-who's going to get on the dance floor? Crossing the chasm becomes a really critical point in developing high-tech markets.

So how can entrepreneurs persuade customers to get on the dance floor?

Moore: What we've learned through our research is, we need to focus on finding pragmatists in significant duress, and typically it's a business problem and not a consumer problem. For instance, a department manager in charge of a broken mission-critical business process may have realized none of his options is going to work, and that makes him susceptible to adopting new technology, even though he'll be the first pragmatist to do it.

Is the uncertain economy in the wake of the dotcoms making it difficult for entrepreneurs to reach these pragmatists?

Moore: I would argue that it's even more important to fix a problem in a bad economy than in a good economy. But if you're an entrepreneur who's past the chasm, you might have problems. The next phase is the bowling alley. You win one segment of consumers, but does that segment help you win the next segment? If it does, it's like pins knocking over pins. Then there's the tornado, the mass-market adoption where everybody gets a cell phone or a laser printer. When the economy is in an uncertain period, the people in the tornado, who don't have a pressing need to make a purchase, say things like, "Well, that can wait." If you're selling to those consumers, you'll just have to buckle down, cut costs and watch your cash burn.