Seth Godin reminds us today that the critical mass of users depends on the idea.
For a site directed at consumers whose tastes pass quickly, critical mass may be millions of users; for a site directed at professionals who are herd-like, critical mass may be in the single digits of the right people. Seth says:
In the idea business, critical mass is the minimum size of the excited audience that leads to a wildfire. People start embracing your idea because, “everyone else is…”
For every idea that spreads, it turns out that the critical mass is different. For example, if I want to start a yo-yo craze at the local elementary school, critical mass might be as small as a dozen of the right kids yo-yo-ing during lunch. In an environment that small and tightly knit, it’s sufficient.
On the other hand, the critical mass for a better word processor is in the gazillions, because the current standard is so deeply entrenched and the addressable market is both huge and loosely knit. The chances that you will launch a new word processor that catches on because everyone else is using it are small indeed.
Creating that reaction also requires smarts from the entrepreneur. Godin says, reminiscent of Paul Graham’s “building something a small number of people want a large amount”:
If your idea isn’t spreading, one reason might be that it’s for too many people. Or it might be because the cohort that appreciates it isn’t tightly connected. When you focus on a smaller, more connected group, it’s far easier to make an impact.