Every founder I know (including the one writing this blog post today), thinks that their idea is a perfect fit for an extremely large audience. If not, why would most of us even start this journey? Our hope – and I trust not the plan – is for this extremely large audience to find our new product/service with a minimum of marketing effort. Again our hope and not the plan. But do we have the patience to see this play out? Do we understand the concept and have the skill for the long tail?
Hope Marketers refer to this as “viral marketing” where users/customers naturally with little prompting share information about the product, services or company to their network. The more viral – the better chances you position your company to grow rapidly.
The visual we all reference is the hockey stick. Work some magic for a few months or maybe a year and then – BOOM! – user acquisition takes off and life is good.
But almost every founder forgets about the long tail. They see the blade work quickly turn into the shaft result. Typical growth does not happen that soon into the startup journey. If you want a hockey stick reference that is more appropriate and common, it should probably be laid on its side.
The shaft of the hockey stick is what I call the long tail of user acquisition. What I hate about the general media is that they tend to tell the blade version of the story (maybe 1 out of every 5000 startups) and not the more typical long tail. This then sets up new founders to think that the first image is the norm and that they are not doing it right if they have a long tail.
Many of us think about the Facebook story as one of very quick incredible user growth.
You might be surprised to know that Facebook was only available to users with a .edu email address for the first 36 months of its existence. Or that their user growth looked something like this:
Two years of a long tail for even the vaunted Facebook until their meteoric rise. And they are the exception not the rule. The lesson here is to have the patience to work through the long tail. Facebook is a generational company and it still took them 2-3 years to find their hockey stick moment.