There's a nice piece in the Times about Yelp and how it has achieved nice growth and a small critical mass by focusing on the fanatics.
They quoted Jeremy Stoppelman:
“We put the community first, the consumer second and businesses third.”
That's paying off for them and it does make you wonder whether or not you can continue to be that way to attract the mainstream audience.
I was thinking about this the other day now that I have an Eee PC. I'm liking it so far, but the keyboard is definitely maddeningly small. Still, I'm getting better at it. Anyway, one thing I'd really like on it is the ability to read feeds offline. I currently use Newsgator products to read feeds--both Feeddemon and Newsgator Mobile. I love the syncing capability.
But unfortunately, Newsgator doesn't have a Linux product. It does, however have an API into their syncing infrastructure. However, without a Linux product in the first place, most of the people I know that are using Newsgator are corporate types. Newsgator Go!, their mobile product, is for Blackberry and Win Mobile.
With no Linux client and no iPhone app, what are the chances that the developer community is going to care enough about their product in the first place to develop on top of their syncing api. Developers tend to build things to solve problems for themselves. Not surprisingly, NO ONE has built a Linux RSS desktop client on top of their API. Even a Thunderbird plugin would be nice, b/c Thunderbird can handle RSS feeds and it works in Linux. So far, nada, zilch.
Salesforce has the same problem. Salesforce has no Thunderbird plugin because they say it's not a big enough chunk of their potential audience to make a business case for. Perhaps, but think about the particular audience they're missing. If you're not trying to reach out to the group of people who have rid themselves of Outlook in favor of an open source e-mail client, you're really missing out on a potentially passionate, creative, and innovative userbase. If you're a platform company like Salesforce, you need those folks to stay on the cutting edge.
So when you're building, the geeks might never get you to profitability or critical mass, but don't underestimate their importance in your community, especially if you're trying to get people to develop on top of and around you.