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 WineLibrary.tv. 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). Kyte.tv’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?

136 thoughts on “The passionates vs. the non passionates

  1. Pingback: Passionates
  2. I’m passionate enough to code whenever I can steal the sleep.. This means, on a nightly basis, trying to outlast the kids and the wife, and finding enough energy remaining to slave in the wee hours..

    This means I rarely get the time to try out everyone else’s widget or platform or read all the yapping blogs… I’m scooping memes up from a variety of APIs and assembling them in novel ways to support Topics/Posting, Searches, Tagging, SYM’ing, Feed-sharing and more across several sites. How fun is it to watch Google Reader implement features I had in place months before..?

    Of course, I have no talent for promotion.. that goes with the tunnel-vision of coding.. someday, maybe, it all pays off :)

  3. I’m passionate enough to code whenever I can steal the sleep.. This means, on a nightly basis, trying to outlast the kids and the wife, and finding enough energy remaining to slave in the wee hours..

    This means I rarely get the time to try out everyone else’s widget or platform or read all the yapping blogs… I’m scooping memes up from a variety of APIs and assembling them in novel ways to support Topics/Posting, Searches, Tagging, SYM’ing, Feed-sharing and more across several sites. How fun is it to watch Google Reader implement features I had in place months before..?

    Of course, I have no talent for promotion.. that goes with the tunnel-vision of coding.. someday, maybe, it all pays off :)

  4. Robert,

    I don’t lack passion, I lack resources. As a single father of two with one in college, I have to be risk averse. As much as I’d love to buy the best new gadget or fly off to the next conference, I simply can’t. I need to be home for my daughter and keep my son in the required books at IUPUI.

    Being passionate is a choice, but being able to fulfill that passion is a gift from God that I hope you’re thankful for every day. I have a few thousand readers on my blog and I’m proud of that number – it’s taken my a few years to get there – while I juggle all my other responsibilities.

    It’s a good post that stirred up a lot of folks, including me. Keep doing what you’re doing, and once in a while say a prayer of thanks at the opportunities you’ve had.

    Doug

  5. Robert,

    I don’t lack passion, I lack resources. As a single father of two with one in college, I have to be risk averse. As much as I’d love to buy the best new gadget or fly off to the next conference, I simply can’t. I need to be home for my daughter and keep my son in the required books at IUPUI.

    Being passionate is a choice, but being able to fulfill that passion is a gift from God that I hope you’re thankful for every day. I have a few thousand readers on my blog and I’m proud of that number – it’s taken my a few years to get there – while I juggle all my other responsibilities.

    It’s a good post that stirred up a lot of folks, including me. Keep doing what you’re doing, and once in a while say a prayer of thanks at the opportunities you’ve had.

    Doug

  6. OK, I don’t think it’s necessarily accurate to portray anyone as either passionate or non-passionate – I know a few passionates who know every product and are at the forefront of the technological revolution… I also know a few “cave dwellers” who don’t even know how to use a computer…

    Then there’s everybody in between… and that’s a hell of a lot of people, and a hell of a lot of shades of grey here…

    as for the idiots vs. the non-idiots, Owen Byrne made a point above that particularly resonated with me…

    cheers

  7. OK, I don’t think it’s necessarily accurate to portray anyone as either passionate or non-passionate – I know a few passionates who know every product and are at the forefront of the technological revolution… I also know a few “cave dwellers” who don’t even know how to use a computer…

    Then there’s everybody in between… and that’s a hell of a lot of people, and a hell of a lot of shades of grey here…

    as for the idiots vs. the non-idiots, Owen Byrne made a point above that particularly resonated with me…

    cheers

  8. There’s also a network effect, in that non-passionates may put even passionates off a technology – for example, I might use Twitter, but actually it’s much less use to me because not one of my family (and only one friend outside of work) use it.

  9. There’s also a network effect, in that non-passionates may put even passionates off a technology – for example, I might use Twitter, but actually it’s much less use to me because not one of my family (and only one friend outside of work) use it.

  10. Of course, when I say ‘geek’ I mean that in the best sense of the word… ;)

    So, ya, I was actually replying to your very interesting article re. passionates vs. non-passionates which I read in full…

    However, I would categorise even further than just passionates and non-passionates, because I know some pretty hardcore passionate Linux guys who wouldn’t know anything about friendfeed or twitter…

    Me, I’m a passionate internet user, in that I’m passionate about the internet, and what it’s done for our culture and society… So I guess even further categorisation is due… But when it comes to twitter and friendfeed, I guess you could say I’m a non-passionate… I was however extremely impressed with how friendfeed integrated everything from my facebook, to my gmail, etc.etc…. I wasn’t overly impressed with what happened after that…

    However, having read your article re. friendfeed’s hiring policy, I’m extremely interested to see what comes next, and will be watching this space in the coming months…

    thanks for educating me

    cheers, and if you’re ever in Ireland, i’d love to show you around…

  11. Of course, when I say ‘geek’ I mean that in the best sense of the word… ;)

    So, ya, I was actually replying to your very interesting article re. passionates vs. non-passionates which I read in full…

    However, I would categorise even further than just passionates and non-passionates, because I know some pretty hardcore passionate Linux guys who wouldn’t know anything about friendfeed or twitter…

    Me, I’m a passionate internet user, in that I’m passionate about the internet, and what it’s done for our culture and society… So I guess even further categorisation is due… But when it comes to twitter and friendfeed, I guess you could say I’m a non-passionate… I was however extremely impressed with how friendfeed integrated everything from my facebook, to my gmail, etc.etc…. I wasn’t overly impressed with what happened after that…

    However, having read your article re. friendfeed’s hiring policy, I’m extremely interested to see what comes next, and will be watching this space in the coming months…

    thanks for educating me

    cheers, and if you’re ever in Ireland, i’d love to show you around…

  12. Hi Rob,

    I have to admit, I’m not convinced by friendfeed, it really doesn’t offer me what I think it should… I’m not a passionate, but I am an early adopter… i.e. I try everything about as soon as everyone else does… I read blogs, I keep up with what’s happening, BUT I get bored extremely quickly… So, I guess you could say I’m a good filter for the “non-passionates”… Incidentally, I was on the case very early with myspace and facebook, and they managed to keep me… Not so with twitter and friendfeed – (The whole twitter phenomenon is really something I don’t get at all, I really see it as a geek thing and nothing more)… I guess I’m interested to see what friendfeed do next… But as it stands, it pretty much ranks with Twitter…

  13. Hi Rob,

    I have to admit, I’m not convinced by friendfeed, it really doesn’t offer me what I think it should… I’m not a passionate, but I am an early adopter… i.e. I try everything about as soon as everyone else does… I read blogs, I keep up with what’s happening, BUT I get bored extremely quickly… So, I guess you could say I’m a good filter for the “non-passionates”… Incidentally, I was on the case very early with myspace and facebook, and they managed to keep me… Not so with twitter and friendfeed – (The whole twitter phenomenon is really something I don’t get at all, I really see it as a geek thing and nothing more)… I guess I’m interested to see what friendfeed do next… But as it stands, it pretty much ranks with Twitter…

  14. Good post, interesting topic. However, I feel that putting techie people and passionates in the same bucket category doesn’t do complete justice to either one of them.

    If you can identify people in your targeted niche that are passionate about an activity – they will be the best people to target initially to get onboard. The more your product feeds their passion, the more they will benefit your launch (and will also evangalise for you). But these people may take time to catch on. If the benefit of using your product evidently improves/enhances their passion – they will trod along. And will certainly stay with you longer.

    As an example, if you are launching an app that can improve the interior designing process, then the better people to target initially will be people who are passionate about interior designing (regardless of how tech-friendly they are), rather than just techie folks trying out new stuff. Because the techie folks won’t get you more traffic or even good testimonials.

  15. Good post, interesting topic. However, I feel that putting techie people and passionates in the same bucket category doesn’t do complete justice to either one of them.

    If you can identify people in your targeted niche that are passionate about an activity – they will be the best people to target initially to get onboard. The more your product feeds their passion, the more they will benefit your launch (and will also evangalise for you). But these people may take time to catch on. If the benefit of using your product evidently improves/enhances their passion – they will trod along. And will certainly stay with you longer.

    As an example, if you are launching an app that can improve the interior designing process, then the better people to target initially will be people who are passionate about interior designing (regardless of how tech-friendly they are), rather than just techie folks trying out new stuff. Because the techie folks won’t get you more traffic or even good testimonials.

  16. LOVE this post Robert. Totally agree with you on your decision to keep focused on “‘thought pieces’ instead of just writing about the latest shiny object”, i.e. stay away from the Echo Chamber of the blogosphere.

    I really like your breakdown of the “passionates” and “non-passionates” – this is a continual paradox of user classification. I am definitely a “passionate” early adopter (FriendFeed / Blackberry user). I’ve been in technology for 20 years and never looked back. What you’re classifying here is really a breakdown of “technical” and “non-technical” folks in our society. For example, I’ve see 90% of the population out there as “non-passionates” (think non-tech), i.e. folks who only use say LinkedIn; ok they’ve heard of Facebook and MySpace, but have *never* heard of twitter or FriendFeed at all! – nor do even they see the value in using them. Moreover, they are horrified at the thought of sharing their lives online in such a community…never!

    So, what I’ve surmised is that we really are seeing three distinctions:
    1. technical saavy
    2. willingness to be open to sharing of one’s self online
    3. commitment to learn new technology and manage self / brand online.

    Think about, a LinkedIn profile is almost idiot proof – super simple. That’s exactly the comfort zone 90% of our population has right now. So if you want to target mass audiences, be sure to find that right fit. Or be happy to get the 10% “passionates” that are toting blackberries and iPhones.

    The numbers are there, we see them everday. Now, how do you build a product or service that accurately targets your audience…that’s business smarts!

    Susan Beebe
    @smbeebe

  17. LOVE this post Robert. Totally agree with you on your decision to keep focused on “‘thought pieces’ instead of just writing about the latest shiny object”, i.e. stay away from the Echo Chamber of the blogosphere.

    I really like your breakdown of the “passionates” and “non-passionates” – this is a continual paradox of user classification. I am definitely a “passionate” early adopter (FriendFeed / Blackberry user). I’ve been in technology for 20 years and never looked back. What you’re classifying here is really a breakdown of “technical” and “non-technical” folks in our society. For example, I’ve see 90% of the population out there as “non-passionates” (think non-tech), i.e. folks who only use say LinkedIn; ok they’ve heard of Facebook and MySpace, but have *never* heard of twitter or FriendFeed at all! – nor do even they see the value in using them. Moreover, they are horrified at the thought of sharing their lives online in such a community…never!

    So, what I’ve surmised is that we really are seeing three distinctions:
    1. technical saavy
    2. willingness to be open to sharing of one’s self online
    3. commitment to learn new technology and manage self / brand online.

    Think about, a LinkedIn profile is almost idiot proof – super simple. That’s exactly the comfort zone 90% of our population has right now. So if you want to target mass audiences, be sure to find that right fit. Or be happy to get the 10% “passionates” that are toting blackberries and iPhones.

    The numbers are there, we see them everday. Now, how do you build a product or service that accurately targets your audience…that’s business smarts!

    Susan Beebe
    @smbeebe

  18. I’m not passionate about technology. But I’m building what people would call a tech-based company. Why? Because I’m passionate about something else that can only be realized via the Web.

    The key is to reaching “non-passionates” is to understand that there is no such thing. Everybody is passionate about SOMEthing.

    Stop making the technology the most important focus and the mainstream will come. Technology for technology’s sake attracks the early adopters, but it won’t get you people like me who want to engage but not because of the technology.

    Let the technology be a tool to connecting us to what we ARE passionate about and the majority with come. I’m betting everything on it.

  19. I’m not passionate about technology. But I’m building what people would call a tech-based company. Why? Because I’m passionate about something else that can only be realized via the Web.

    The key is to reaching “non-passionates” is to understand that there is no such thing. Everybody is passionate about SOMEthing.

    Stop making the technology the most important focus and the mainstream will come. Technology for technology’s sake attracks the early adopters, but it won’t get you people like me who want to engage but not because of the technology.

    Let the technology be a tool to connecting us to what we ARE passionate about and the majority with come. I’m betting everything on it.

  20. “Make it work great on mobile phones. So many blogs load slow on even my new 3G iPhone. Mashable, I’m looking at you.”

    Robert, I wonder if you’re aware that scobleizer.com doesn’t work on Windows Mobile 6 devices? Interestingly, mashable.com does, albeit slowly – and badly.

    It might be worth getting someone to look at your code – the iPhone is not the only mobile device being used to access the Internet. :-)

  21. “Make it work great on mobile phones. So many blogs load slow on even my new 3G iPhone. Mashable, I’m looking at you.”

    Robert, I wonder if you’re aware that scobleizer.com doesn’t work on Windows Mobile 6 devices? Interestingly, mashable.com does, albeit slowly – and badly.

    It might be worth getting someone to look at your code – the iPhone is not the only mobile device being used to access the Internet. :-)

  22. It’s not always about technology, Robert. Sometimes economy and lack of resources is a reason for the influx of “non-passionates.” And a lot of the time, people would be passionate if they knew what the heck the internet is.

    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.

    Your analogy is poor, pun not intended, because a lack of infrastructure and/or government empowerment is the usual reason for the approximate 5 billion Planet Earth citizens for not having computers or not being jacked in.

    Surely, Robert, you are not comparing a Silicon Valley family with a rural Parisian family to a western China family? And guess which of the three has more people?

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