Netflix introduced a new way to rent DVD's. Zappos introduced a new way to buy shoes. When both ideas were just starting out, they must have seemed crazy to most.
How does one take a "crazy new idea" from obscurity, to early adopters, to mainstream acceptance?
Additional examples - especially of less mainstream, niche companies - would be appreciated!
The key is finding those fanatical early adopters who you built your service for.
I am a movie and buff and netflix was a way to reduce my monthly video rental bills, increase convenience and get access to a wider variety of movies. Once I found the service useful I would go and tell everyone I know about how cool this service was and that is what begins cycle.
If you haven't read Crossing the Chasm I would strongly recommend that you get yourself a copy.
Crossing the Chasm is a fantastic book, as Usman suggested, and it fits well with your question.
Start with some people that have a need that isn't truly being met and try to get your solution to work for them. Once you have early adopters using it then you will get feedback and see how to not isolate them but try to get more general users to try your service.
But, it may be a big hit and you may need to scale quickly. Twitter got more popular faster than was expected, I believe, and they still have problems at times.
But, to make the jump from early adopters to mainstream is what the book above discusses, btw.
To start with early adopters have a beta version that people can see, and then find groups that will have members that will be helped by your application, and try to see if they would find it of use to try.
Every time there is a disruptive technological innovation, there are entrepreneurs that find a way to take advantage of it and invent a new way of doing things
Decommoditizing products is one strategy for doing just that. The encyclopedia business had been re-invented several times. First, people bought the encyclopedias when they were sold for a lot of money, door to door. Then came the CD-ROM, and Microsoft came out with Encarta for $100 - more people bought it for less money. Later there was a website that was cheaper then the CD, and even more people bought it for even less money. Finally we have Wikipedia, which is free, and everyone uses it. In each case, the field was re-invented, and the old dinosaurs died out.
The same happened with music, which ended up being free (though illegal) until apple came up with the IPod, which is the opposite of the last example, since it is more expensive then other MP3 player, just like the IPhone is more expensive then simpler phones (especially if you take into account the fact that you need AT&T to use it, and you pay for apps)
There are different reoccurring strategies that seem to work every time there is a shift in technology, and there are new strategies developed as well (such as blue ocean, judo economics and others)
What problem do you solve? The bigger the pain, the more I'm likelier to listen to a crazy idea.
When I heard you could rent DVD's without having to drive to a store to pick them up or drop them off, I was hooked and the rest took care of itself.
The next question will be, I think you idea will work, but can you pull it off consistently?