From Start-Up to Scale-Up: Crossing the Chasm

It’s been 29 years since Crossing the Chasm first guided tech disruptors to grow out of Start-Up Mode and leap into Scale-Up Mode. Do innovators face the same marketing pitfalls now?


Technology has certainly changed since then. Today’s disruptive fields – like AI, fintech and greentech – didn’t exist when Geoffrey Moore’s classic business book was first published.

People – customers – perhaps haven’t changed so much.

Source: Wikipedia

The ideas in Crossing the Chasm are underpinned by Everett Rogers’ innovation diffusion curve. It’s a model of how disruptive ideas...

  • Are first adopted by a handful of Innovators and then Early Adopters, who will take risks to try new things
  • Enter the mainstream if accepted by the Early Majority, who need proof the idea works (as tested by early adopters) to get on board
  • Are finally accepted by the Late Majority and Laggards; each being more conservative and less interested in The New than the group before

And this model is still used today, illustrating behaviour patterns that are still very much evident. Also known as the technology adoption lifecycle, it has influenced everything from the Gartner Hype Cycle methodology to the marketing strategies we build here at TBT.

That bell-shaped curved makes the journey to the mainstream look lovely and smooth. Unfortunately, the shift from start-up to scale-up marketing, from early adopters to the mass market, isn’t always so smooth.

Where is the chasm?

Crossing the Chasm is all about that difficult transition from early growth to mass-market success. (It’s right between Early Adopters and the Early Majority.)

It’s a pit that many B2B technology companies end up in. After creating something exciting and new, earning business from fellow innovators and maybe a bit of media coverage, suddenly everything just... stops.

Marketing tactics that used to win new customers stop working. Growth slows down. The next good idea seems very hard to find.

That’s the view from the Chasm.

How do we get out of it?

Technology disruptors get out of the Chasm when they...

  • Understand the differences between Early Adopters (they’ll take a punt on something cool and new) and mainstream customers (they’re financially conservative and need an idea to be proven)
  • Adapt their marketing strategy accordingly

And there are so many ways you can adapt.

The target needs to change. The Early Majority is a big group – it makes up 1/3 of the entire market. Finding a well-aligned and under-served niche within it, which lets the business play to its strengths, is the smartest strategy.

Marketing content needs to change. While early adopters love buying into wild ideas, the Early Majority are much more pragmatic. Give them proof points, case studies and testimonials. Sell more of the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of the solution, less of the creativity.

The offering needs to change. Knowing the target niche’s needs, the business can put together a standard package that meets them all and beats competitors.

And what if we’d rather avoid the chasm altogether?

The risk of falling into the Chasm is part of a well-trodden path from creating a disruptive new technology to actually disrupting the market.

To cross the chasm confidently, you need to know the risk and how to strategies from the start.

A good marketing partner will have made the journey with many different businesses. An agency like TBT can help you plan a long-term strategy that takes you all the way through:

  • The R&D phase – creating the right brand and awareness with PR, advertising and strong creative work
  • Commercialisation – Getting the offering and value proposition right, establishing the content strategy and communication channels
  • Go to market – adaptive strategy and lead generation based on data insight, as you ramp up the marketing and sales engine

The Chasm hasn’t gotten any narrower in the last 29 years, but our knowledge of how to cross it is certainly a lot deeper.


If your business is in the Chasm, or facing it, why not contact the TBT Marketing team for a chat? We’d love to help. Get in touch with us today [email protected]