Brad Hargreaves | Building Things

Brad Hargreaves on entrepreneurship, community and life

Capturing the Union or the Intersection?

with 5 comments

I hate seeing startups make the same mistakes I’ve made. When I see it once, it sucks. When I see it over and over again, it’s worth a blog post.

When I started GoCrossCampus with a few college friends, we set out to build a simple strategy game that could engage any college student with at least a bit of campus pride. I’ll forgo an extended explanation of what GoCrossCampus was (you can check out the link above if you’re curious), but you could think of our intended market as two distinct audiences:

a) Strategy gamers
b) College students

Initially, we were able to capture the union of those groups — large (30%+) percentages of students at Ivy League and tech schools were playing the game. If you had pride in your campus, you played. We also had a big, dedicated group of strategy gamers not associated with any college that played the game because they liked the game.

But at many colleges, we ended up capturing the intersection of those groups. That is, college students with campus pride who also enjoyed playing strategy games. This wasn’t a terribly big group of people, especially for a company that had raised $1.6 million in venture capital. In other words, we ended up capturing the space on the diagram where the two circles intersect rather than any space covered by either circle.

Are you capturing the union or the intersection between two audiences?

This distinction cost me a company. While the union of the circles — gamers and college kids — was certainly big enough to justify raising venture money, the intersection — college kids who played games — wasn’t even big enough to build a lifestyle business without a radical change in business model.

So how do you know when you are aiming to capture the intersection rather than the union of two groups?

There’s probably no way to tell for sure, but that’s not going to prevent me from throwing a few things down on paper. Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself before committing to a two-audience strategy:

1) Is there a major psychographic disparity between your intended audiences? In woot.com, there isn’t. People who like consumer electronics also like deals. In theNethernet (formerly PMOG)? I’m not sure I see why Steampunk fans also want to play an ultra-casual game. But I don’t have their analytics at hand, so please correct me if I’m incorrectly throwing them under the brass-and-mahogany bus. In short, if it is hard to imagine that there are a lot of people that fit into both your audience categories, perhaps it is best to focus on one or the other.

2) Is my product compelling enough to wholly attract at least one of my targeted audiences on its own merit? GoCrossCampus would’ve succeeded if we had spent a bit more time creating a game that was compelling to strategy gamers on its own merit; that is, if the college rivalries element was just a gimmick to get people to play rather than a necessity.

3) Is “technically savvy” already one of my desired audiences? If it’s not, you better build a damn good UI. Many startups claim that they are going after one particular audience (say, “Soccer moms”), when in fact they are building a product that goes after the intersection of their core audience and “technically savvy people”. And that may be well and good for your beta, but if you’re throwing a third category out there — say, “People with an interest in crafts” or “Gamers”, you may be setting yourself up for a much smaller audience than you are anticipating.

4) If my audiences are X and Y, is there a disdain/revulsion/annoyance towards X by Y? If so, run, do not walk, to the nearest exit. College students with bucketfuls school pride tend to think poorly of gamers. It did not bode well for GXC.

That’s all for now. I’m sure this may warrant a follow-up post at some point, since I think it is one of the most under-appreciated mistakes that startups make.

Written by Brad Hargreaves

March 1st, 2010 at 6:26 am

  • http://flavors.me/sachin Sachin

    Great post Brad. I think point 3 cannot be stressed enough. I’ve seen a few startups do exactly this — go after a market and not take into account how comfortable the user is with tech — and utterly fail. We’re definitely keeping this at the forefront of our minds as we integrate Parse.ly tech on the publisher’s side.

  • Sean Mehra

    Great lessons captured in a solid blog post. I can personally testify that Brad hit squarely on the product marketing issue GXC faced — which is surely applicable to many other startups.

  • bonnie sandy

    With a focus on bringing my fashion friend and constituents and colleagues online I wholly agree with no 3. Designers are artist, whether fashion or tech, they create products for themselves (based on passion) first, They discuss and test it with others who share their same passion and perspective. Then wonder why “others’ cannot get it and sales are slow. Union and intersection… for many the consumer they identify is simply the end “all” the only one that exist or matter. Even if they are tech savvy, will they buy… what is currently happening is that the tech savvy are signing on, reviewing, playing with and exploring each others “toys”. On the other hand those with a need or interest are extremely loyal and will actually “PAY” for “products that solves “a need or give them pleasure”

  • Pingback: Online Communities and Defensibility()

  • Pingback: How Not to Pitch Hackers()