In business, Critical Mass refers to a chain reaction – customers sharing their positive experience with others who then also become a user – that happens after a certain volume of users is reached. Reaching Critical Mass is the point of a business’s lifespan where it becomes self-sustaining and can continue to grow by its own revenue and profit from user generated chain reactions, no longer requiring external investment.

Creating Ripples

The most important thing when striving for Critical Mass is the user base – a minimum amount of users required for a product to function as intended. A social media or live video game typically requires hundreds of thousands or millions of people to work as intended, whereas a small town market may only need a few hundred customers to begin thriving. Ergo, estimate the minimum user base requirement of your product or service. Here are three examples:

  1. The video game Fortnite achieved 350+ million registered players at one point: the challenge and fun of the online game is to play against new people each time. Had there only been 1,000 players, the gamers would have encountered the same opponents multiple times creating less of a challenge and grown bored quickly. Fortnite reached Critical Mass because the players enjoyed the product and shared it within their networks (ripples).
  2. When Facebook began, its purpose was for Harvard students to connect with each other, almost like a real-time yearbook. But as students shared the platform amongst each other and others wanted to join, Facebook began to allow students from any college to join – after that high school students, and then anyone over the age of thirteen, all while continuing to make product improvements and new features. If there weren’t those first students at Harvard that had joined and gotten excited about the product, others wouldn’t have been motivated to join and Facebook would have never reached Critical Mass. (Would we still be using Myspace?) As the user base of a product/service continues to climb, the more users it will attract.
  3. For a smaller scale example, we have farmers’ markets who are heavily reliant on Critical Mass to be successful. Three vendors register: the good products will get sold out quickly by the few locals that show up – anyone after that will be disappointed and likely not return. There has to be a critical amount (minimum) of vendors at the market to satisfy variety and availability of products so that attendees continue to come back and share with others. On the other hand, there has to be a critical number of people showing up for the vendors to justify registering in the first place.

Use a variety of content to collect a large user base. Utilize multiple avenues. Knowing the target audience and the consumer’s journey is pivotal. The goal is that someone continually comes across new ways to interact with a company through different forms of content. If the ads, texts, emails, etc., aren’t well constructed, users can become frustrated and leave the funnel (not good). The diversified forms of content need to be well enough interconnected to construct a natural user journey and lead to ripples of purchasing and sharing with others.

It’s a feat to get a user base to the point of self sustainment. Critical Mass is the point between a business that is failing or one that is succeeding We understand how momentous and vital Critical Mass is for a business; the definition lives on our home page serving as a constant reminder for us and our clients of what to strive for.

Let’s Pivot towards Critical Mass

A gif of a scene from the show Friends of the character, Ross, yelling "Pivot" at his friends who are helping him carrying a couch up a narrow stairway.

Want to learn more about Critical Mass? Check out these references!

  1. Investopedia
  2. Interaction Design Foundation
  3. Cleverism
  4. Scoro
  5. Mindtools