“Lock picking is a craft, not a science.” - The Mit Guide to Lock Picking
The winning playbook for how crypto projects gain mainstream adoption has not yet been written. So how should new crypto founders start getting traction? How does that traction inform other functions like product? And what unique considerations does crypto introduce to traditional go-to-market? This post will attempt to answer some of those questions.
Admittedly, the comparison is imperfect. Crypto isn’t singularly a web development tool and the crypto data excludes substantial closed-source projects like exchanges, miners and wallets. Furthermore, crypto is delivering impressive metrics, many unique to crypto in both category (e.g., hash rates, miner fees) and their radical public availability (on-chain transactions). But eventually, the dev numbers and resulting end users will need to materialize for crypto to cross the chasm to the mainstream.
This post will focus on three areas to help teams think through gaining traction:
In addition, this post is intended to be helpful for crypto-native projects (L1’s, L2’s, on-chain applications) whose primary audience are developers vs. more consumer-driven applications that incorporate crypto (Square Cash, Robinhood) but likely benefit more from traditional growth approaches.
Crypto-native projects are in relatively uncharted waters when it comes to adoption, hence “incomplete” in the title of this post. Feedback on Twitter on things that should be added for future versions of this playbook is greatly appreciated.
Most decisions are path dependent on core product, meaning the product’s nature will determine the most important choices (vision, goals, culture). It’s worth being very clear upfront about what the product is trying to achieve. In crypto in particular, what the product expresses directly informs how and why it gets adopted. For example, Bitcoin’s mission, as self-sovereign money or however it’s interpreted, is front and center in its adoption even as it gains mainstream attention far from its cypherpunk roots. One exercise to articulate the product vision is through the lens of subversion which is embedded in crypto’s DNA. Understanding what you’re subverting is a useful tool in articulating the new world the product will introduce (e.g., Bitcoin subverting trust in financial institutions or Uniswap subverting exchange rent extraction).
Any adoption strategy’s primary goal is to inform and improve the product, with a growing and increasingly engaged user base as an externality of the better product. Feedback cycles in crypto can be especially powerful. While it’s common for early users of traditional web services to get rewarded through incentives and subsidies, with crypto, users have a direct ownership stake in the product. This alignment creates fervent engagement that is especially useful to early stage projects where the feedback process can be an end in its own right. One of my favorite examples where you see this in action is in incentivized testnets that Cosmos’ Game of Stakes nailed and as a result became part of the network launch playbook (Celo’s the Great Stake Off, Near’s Stake Wars).
In addition, a successful adoption strategy should eventually become embedded and find its home in the product itself. You see this in several crypto projects where their target audience is explicitly expressed in the product, namely in how they abstract crypto’s complexity with interfaces tailored to specific developer groups such as game devs (Flow and Forte) and artists (Zora and Foundation).
If you don’t know who you’re building for, you don’t know what you’re building. But there is an inherent bind in defining target users: if you’re building something new, then the user base has yet to be aggregated by the product. You don’t really know who wants to be a taxi driver until it’s accessible. There are two common ways to address this dilemma, both riddled with challenges:
But there’s good news. Crypto products have an inherent competitive advantage: the lack of an established community is a growth opportunity for new users. This means ruthlessly targeting users whose number one priority is growth. Bonus points if existing solutions have actively hindered their growth. For example, banks deplatforming crypto exchanges was Tether’s opportunity. Now that the growth opportunity for crypto exchanges has materialized, banks compete to service exchanges and Tether liquidity is through the roof. Targeting high growth users is hard because at first, the audience will appear small or non-existent. But taking a risk on your customers is the best way to get rewarded by them in turn. So, how do you identify high growth users?
There will be many ideas on how to go about gaining adoption and the problem will be that many of the ideas are pretty good. One tool to sort ideas is timing: while the idea makes sense, probing whether it makes sense right now can surface the right decision. Some ways to think about timing:
Another tool is simplicity. Adoption strategies that work can be stated simply. This allows them to scale across team members who understand it, partners who implement it, and users who repeat it. As an example, Facebook’s adoption strategy to get to 1 billion users was essentially summed up as “get any individual to 7 friends in 10 days.”
And finally, be opportunistic. When the product launches, pay attention to more emergent behaviors. This is especially true in crypto where most projects are in fairly unchartered waters and signal will most likely come from unexpected sources. This applies to more traditional considerations such as product / market fit but also challenges that are of particular focus in crypto such as community building.
While we can see rays of light on crypto crossing the chasm, the playbook for crypto adoption is still being written. The good news is that areas with unwritten playbooks have the best opportunities. To recap:
A big thank you to Ahmed Moor, Alex Pruden, Asheesh Birla, Brett Seyler, Georgios Konstantopoulos, Howard Wu, Joe Lallouz, Maria Shen, Nick Chirls and Philipp Banhardt for their review and helpful contributions.