Be a follower, not a leader.
Okay, this is obviously the antithesis of every motivational poster, yearbook quote, and inspirational Facebook meme you've ever seen. Being a follower doesn't sound remotely as sexy as being the innovator; however, being successful sure does.
When 35 out of 50 category leads were not the pioneer of their field, it suggests that there may be something to the late-mover advantage after all. In the world of business, could it sometimes be better to be a step behind?
My business partners and I consider ourselves innovators and pioneers, but we predominantly and deliberately play the follower. We don't wait for the idea, rather we predict where the market is heading, and prepare in the background while the first mover does their thing. This lets us incorporate their learnings, launch to a primed market, and jump in with a boost.
So, instead of worrying that you've missed your chance because someone took your idea to market while it was still just an idea in your head, take a look at some of the advantages of being a follower:
1. The market is already primed.
An innovator often has to spend money to educate their audience about the product as well as the problem it solves. If you jump in later, the audience already knows the problem and is actively seeking out a solution.
For instance, take BlackBerry. Before their launch, nobody thought they would need email on their phone. Gradually, everyone realized how beneficial it is, and now it's a non-negotiable feature for any mobile device.
2. You'll learn from others' mistakes and successes.
When you're a late-mover, you get to watch and wait to see which features customers want. Once you see the customer segments that are getting the most traction, you can start immediately with more targeted marketing, identify their weaknesses, and focus your efforts on differentiating yourself with better delivery on that front.
3. Raising capital is easier.
When you're pitching to prospective investors, one thing they want to see is traction. A successful first mover validates the market for you, saving you this step and the cost to get there.
4. You can be a leader and a follower, while enjoying the home field advantage.
Increasingly, we're seeing successful new companies launch in a market as first movers, having noticed and followed a company that has paved the way in a different market. This desirable situation lets you enjoy the benefits and glory of being the first mover, and still learn the important lessons as the follower.
Even if the competitor decides to expand their business to your market, you were there first -- plus you know the market better. Because it offers the best of both worlds, it's no surprise that we've seen this happening more and more frequently around the world.
This is actually how we started Ultra Mobile. After seeing the same thing done in Europe and Australia, we knew we could be first in the United States. Three years later, we were number #1 on the Inc. 500.
5. You'll enjoy price advantage.
Sometimes, you'll see a successful business charging a premium because there is no competition in their market. They do deserve this premium in the short term, since they've done the hard work of educating and priming the market.
However, once the demand has been built, it opens up the market for more competition. What's more, while the innovator's brand and foothold gives them an advantage, the promise of a lower price can be an easy win when it comes to price-sensitive consumers.
Think of pharmacy-brand products: the only marketing effort comes from positioning themselves alongside competitors who have spent a small fortune to get you to look at that spot at the first time. Someone else has already done the job of education and persuasion, and now the pharmacy brand can benefit from picking up the more price-sensitive customer with very little effort. The same applies for new entrants that come in to compete on price.
Don't assume you've missed out just because someone else has launched an idea you've been working on. Take all the motivational clichés you've ever heard about being a leader, toss them aside, and seize on your chance to be a successful second-mover. You could still end up finishing first!