As entrepreneurs, we love ideas â€” especially ideas that we believe no one else has thought of yet. Those transformational â€œahaâ€ moments tend to be put on a silver platter in the business world. But should they be? Are you more likely to be successful if you’re first or if you’re better?
As I talk with budding entrepreneurs, many have great ideas but are reluctant to launch because their idea isn’t a disrupter. Even established business owners looking to pivot or launch a new idea will hesitate, even if they see that the need exists. I think it’s important to remember that your great product or business can succeed not because no one has thought of it before, but because no one has executed it as well or in the way that you will.
The Obsession With Being First
Watch ABCâ€™s Shark TankÂ or attend any funding or pitch conference, and youâ€™ll notice that one of the questions that investors ask most often is, â€œWho’s your competition?â€ Business founders often feel an intense pressure to be the first, to say no one and nothing in the market is anything like their idea. But why do so many entrepreneurs see existing companies and products that serve as competition to be a bad thing? If thereâ€™s nothing out there like the idea youâ€™ve come up with, whoâ€™s to say thereâ€™s even a market?
Letâ€™s assume that your new, brilliant idea does have a market at the ready. The reality is that by being first, you’ll likely carry the extra burden of educating prospects about a need or want they didnâ€™t even realize was going unfulfilled. Your costs are likely to be higher and widespread adoption tougher to achieve. Consumers are often leery, even reluctant, to try things that are completely new, even if decades later we canâ€™t imagine living without your new idea.
From Simon To Siri
The rise and fall of smartphones over the last 25Â years shows the danger of being first, or even early, when taking an idea to market. The first device that was technically a smartphone was IBMâ€™s Simon, which was released in 1994. Approximately 50,000 units were sold. Fast-forward through the next decade and youâ€™ll recall names like Palm, which was responsible for the personal digital assistant/mobile phone mash-up, Nokia and, of course, BlackBerry.
It wasnâ€™t until 13 years after IBM introduced Simon that Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone. It wasnâ€™t first, but the iPhone did set an entirely new paradigm for smartphones. It made us not only want this device in our hands at all times but need it to be. (Although some Gen Xers can undoubtedly still recall their dependence on their BlackBerry.) Even though it was far from first, because it was simply better, the iPhone cemented Apple as synonymous with smartphones in many consumersâ€™ minds.
Forget Being First, And Focus On Being Better
When a market has already been proven by other companies and products are already competing in it, that just may be the first sign that you might be on to something with your new idea. When taking an idea and making it better â€” especially if you can make it definitively better as Apple did with the iPhone â€” you may not need to hurdle all the obstacles that the inventors did while introducing the idea to the world, educating consumers about it and even battling the stigmas that may have surrounded it. By entering the market once it’s already established, you can zone in on making a truly better mousetrap or finding that underserved niche.
The truth is that some of the biggest, most successful brands that we think of as major industry disruptors werenâ€™t the first to come up with their ideas. They just found a way to execute them better.
Uber, for example, started in 2009 as a car-hailing app calledÂ UberCab. But it wasnâ€™t the first car service app to hit the streets. Taxi Magic, co-founded by George Arison, was launched in 2008. But Taxi Magic made dire mistakes and failed. Uber, however, pivoted in response to the marketplace and ultimately built a better product.
So let someone else blaze the path, build the market and grow the demand. Then execute your new idea and show investors why you’re the better entrepreneur.