The Myth of the First Mover

Innovation is exciting, no doubt about it. I personally love to create something that people haven’t seen before. However, I try to keep my unproven inventions to the kitchen, and stick to formulas that work in business.

In the mobile industry, we’re seeing many “firsts” on a regular basis. First to use GPS technology, first to use QR codes, firsts for loyalty programs that make you the “mayor” of a business. These firsts are great, but empirical data shows that “first” is rarely synonymous with “success.”

There are many factors that play into the commercial viability of a new product or service. Is there demand for it today? If you’re first, how can there be? Is it better than what people have been using? Better than what? Can it solve a problem for people in a new and unique way? Yes? Great – how do you educate them about it? Challenge after challenge will haunt the “firsts.”

An example: auto makers. The first 20 years of auto manufacturing must have been exceptionally challenging, both on the demand side, and the operational side. Do people know what an “automobile” is? How do I get enough steel to build it? What’s the best way to sell them?

Fast forward a few decades…everyone wants a “automobile” and manufacturers have a good idea how to build them. New supply chains have developed to support this emerging industry. Does the fact that a company happen to have built the first auto ever make a difference in your buying decision today?

Now, my ego makes it hard for me to admit to playing second-fiddle to industry innovators, but I take comfort in resigning my innovative talents to packaging and marketing innovations to a hungry public, and building sustainable revenue streams from it.

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