Saturday, May 10, 2008

Crossing the Chasm

I just finished reading 'Crossing the Chasm' by Geoffrey A. Moore. It is one of those books that you hear a lot about in the high-tech industry and especially in MBA programs (well mine anyway). One of my co-workers even mentioned that it was 'required' reading for everyone at one of his former companies. While I wouldn't call this a 'must read' for anyone in the high-tech industry, I did get a lot of take aways related to product management, marketing and general product strategy that I felt like sharing.

The general concept of the book revolves around bringing high-tech products to the market. His observation is that most products will have a fair amount of success initially with early adopters but consistently struggle making the leap across the 'chasm' to be accepted by the mainstream consumer. Even though the book was written in 1991 (updated in 1999) it still holds very true today; so many products especially in the more recent 'Web 2.0' boom never make it over the chasm and become adopted by the mainstream. I would even argue that recentl successful offerings such as Twitter and Facebook have still not truly crossed the chasm in terms of becoming accepted and used by the mainstream Internet 'consumer'.

What I really liked about the book was his strategy for actually creating and delivering a product that can cross the chasm; by choosing a 'beachhead' target market and aggressively positioning your product to attack that market. It really got me interested since I have been more and more interested in Product Management as a career path. I can think of so many products that I've been involved with which are great technical ideas but struggle to really address the needs of any specific target user. This book give some great concrete examples of how to find your 'beachhead' market and then go after it with a 'whole product' solution.

Another aspect of the book which I liked was his skepticism of quantitative market data for unknown and new markets. The example he uses: "It will be a billion dollar market in 1995. If we only get 5 percent of the market ..." struck me because I've seen others using that same logic and been tempted to use it myself in analyzing markets and industry for business plans. He gives some good examples of how to use market data (and lack of it) to make a 'high risk low data decision' as to what market is best to attack.

My only real gripe with the book is that the examples are getting rather dated so its tough to even recall who those companies are (most have gone under or been acquired) at this point without looking them up. Also I'm not sure the chapter on sales and distribution channels is really applicable today particularly for Internet based products.

All in all I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to anyone starting a business or developing strategy for new products. This will definitely be one that I keep on my shelf to read again throughout my career.

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