Early Adopter

Early adopters play an integral role in the shift from untested to critical technology—they’re the first buyers to invest in new hardware, software, or infrastructure solutions for their businesses when tech innovators create them. Early adopters are characterized by their willingness to make calculated decisions and take risks based on a thorough understanding of the market and where it’s headed. Early technology adoption increases the growth opportunities that other businesses will have in the future by testing those technologies and making them more widely available and accepted in the broader business-to-business (B2B) tech world.  

What Is an Early Adopter?

An early adopter is a business, entrepreneur, or technology vendor that incorporates a new technology into their business workflow prior to nearly everyone else in their field. Though early adopters aren’t the inventors of the technology, they’re some of the first ones to test and implement it. 

Sometimes early adopters are viewed in a consumer or B2C light; for example, an early adopter might be someone who is quick to adopt a new device like a computer or smartphone. 

But often, early adopters are making B2B technology decisions—a new software platform from an innovative startup, for example, which B2B early adopters then purchase and implement ahead of the curve. In the B2B space, early adopters often have to do more than just buy a new device. Adopting new technologies or strategies can require months of planning and months of implementation, as well as budgeting significant money toward not only the solution but also the people who must be trained and hired to make it work well. 

Characteristics of Early Adopters

Financial resources and expertise

Early adopters often have the financial resources to invest in a new technology, whether they’re funded well, have been in business for decades, or are simply willing to allocate their budget toward a worthwhile technology. They are also knowledgeable about their field and related technology, with enough foresight and understanding to see what will improve their existing technology stack

Willingness to take risks

Early adopters are willing to take risks if a new technology opportunity means improving within their industry or gaining a competitive advantage. With many new technologies, it’s possible that the final product will not go into widespread use or that the industry will take more time than the adopter expects to implement it. Early adoption requires entrepreneurs or enterprises to make educated, informed guesses about whether a technology will be practical and desirable before they choose to use it. 

Younger teams of leaders

Early adopters are often organizations or teams with many young leaders and employees. Although tech vendors with older teams also choose to become early adopters, younger to middle-aged workers with thought leadership tendencies are more likely to take a risk on a new product. 

Patience and infrastructure for long implementations

Early adopters are willing to invest time, including employee time, into exploring and implementing new technology because they already understand the value that will bring to their organization. Companies with adventurous teams or flexible work schedules may be more willing to invest resources to explore new technology. Sometimes, these early adoption solutions can involve something as big as an entire infrastructure rehaul, which takes extensive time and meticulous planning. Early adopters also need to invest time in following up with the solution to ensure that it truly works. 

Benefits of Being an Early Adopter

Early adopters have the potential reward of advancing in their fields before competitors. As an example, data storage provider Pure Storage, founded in 2009, chose to develop and sell exclusively all-flash storage arrays at a time when most providers were offering both flash and disk enterprise memory solutions. 

As a result of this risky early adoption move, they’re now one of the top storage providers in the world, ranking with vendors that were founded decades before Pure Storage. Although the storage industry didn’t realize at the time exactly how important all-flash would become, Pure Storage decided to take a risk that paid off for them. 

Early adopters also have the potential to receive more focused customer support from the provider. When only a few enterprises have adopted the technology in its early stage, the early adopter may receive more of the vendor’s attention as they help the vendor tweak the product for mainstream use.

Disadvantages of Being an Early Adopter

Early adopters risk losing money if the product they adopt doesn’t become as popular as they hoped or doesn’t integrate well with their existing infrastructure. They also have less industry knowledge about the product that they can reference, which means they will need to experiment with their chosen technology with a larger learning curve; without a wide range of other adopters to learn from, they have to make more of their own mistakes in order to understand how they can and cannot effectively use this new technology. 

The Technology Adoption Lifecycle 

Different stages of the technology adoption curve can happen over many years. For example, artificial intelligence has been a concept for decades, but enterprises that implement AI heavily now are still considered early adopters in the AI technology adoption lifecycle. The tech adoption lifecycle is a progression of technology implementation that encompasses five stages: innovator, early adopter, early majority, late majority, and late adopters. 

While innovators and early adopters are both quick to implement new technologies and ideas, these are two separate stages of the technology adoption process. An innovator typically develops or invents technology systems or patterns and is the first to adopt a new technology.

Early adopters, on the other hand, are quick to recognize new technologies through a combination of heightened industry awareness, experience, and deep understanding of that particular technology. Early adopters make up the second group in the technology adoption lifecycle.  

The early majority, the third group in the adoption lifecycle, tends to wait until a technology is established and they’re confident they can profit from it. 

The late majority, the fourth group, consists of enterprises that continue to avoid a technology after it’s well established. Late adopters are hesitant to implement new hardware, infrastructure, or applications, even years or sometimes decades after it’s grown popular. This hesitation can be due to limited finances or employees who are accustomed to legacy systems or old IT methods.

And the final group in the technology adoption lifecycle, laggards, delay adopting a technology usually until they’re forced to implement it. Their initial delay might put them decades behind leaders in the field because they still need to take the time to successfully implement the new technology, as it is still new to them. 

Learn more about enterprise technology adoption: Why IT Faces Difficulties in Adopting New Tech from CIO Insight

Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal is a freelance business and technology writer covering Internet technologies and online business since the late '90s.

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