Building a great company isn't just about building great products or finding product-market fit--it's also about getting your timing right. Sometimes you can be in the right market but at the wrong time. Just ask companies like Pets.com.
In the end, there's no surefire way to know whether your startup is the right product for the right time, but you can learn from the mistakes of others. Is the technology necessary for your idea affordable and readily available? Do the right platforms to spread my idea or product exist?
There have been countless startups that have fallen victim to bad timing. The startups listed below are just five examples of companies that, in some way, were ahead of their time:
1. DailyBooth: Selfies aren't new. Just ask DailyBooth, the Y Combinator-backed startup that asked its users to post one picture of themselves daily from their webcams. I remember posting mini photo battles with other bloggers, especially YouTube celeb iJustine. DailyBooth never scaled though, mostly because it's hard to get people to take photos on their webcams. It shut down in 2012, just before the selfie craze and the emergence of popular selfie apps like Shots.
2. 12seconds.tv: The premise of 12seconds.tv was simple--share 12 second videos with your friends. Their goal was to become the Twitter of video. The startup, which launched in 2008, was able to get traction among early adopters, but not the public. It suffered the same problem as DailyBooth: it's hard to record video on a webcam. Nowadays, millions of people use Vine and Instagram to share six and 15-second videos.
3. SNOCAP: As Napster sped towards bankruptcy, Napster founder Shawn Fanning teamed up with Jordan Mendelson and Silicon Valley legend Ron Conway to create a platform that could manage and assign digital rights to content--primarily music. SNOCAP's goal was to pave the way for legal file-sharing. Its vision never materialized, despite raising more than $20 million, and in 2008 it was acquired by imeem for a small sum. These days, it's companies like Spotify, Rdio, and Apple that hope to bring digital music to the masses in a way that deters piracy.
4. Virtuality: Virtual reality isn't new. In the 1990s, Dr. Jonathan Waldern created Virtuality Group and its signature product, Virtuality--a VR headset with 3D trackers to track hand movement. It was used in arcade games in the 1990s, but it never transformed gaming or garnered mainstream acceptance. Today, virtual reality has become more and more mainstream, thanks to the Oculus Rift, an advanced VR system acquired by Facebook for more than $2 billion.
5. Webvan: Webvan is the ultimate "ahead of its time" startup. Founded in 1999, just before the bubble burst, it was backed by Silicon Valley's top investors: Benchmark, Sequoia, Yahoo, and even Softbank. It built up too rapidly, its business model wasn't sustainable, and it didn't have the benefit of high-speed mobile ordering. Today, startups like Instacart are pushing same-day grocery delivery into the mainstream. Instacart recently raised $100 million at a $2 billion valuation.