There’s an old business axiom that it pays to be third, because pioneers only get an arrow in their arse. And there are definitely times when it’s possible—and more efficient—to be a fast follower, says ASB’s head of technology and innovation, Russell Jones. “Being first in itself is not important. What matters is creating value,” he says.
After all, Henry Ford didn’t invent the car, he just greatly improved the process of making them (pro tip: he also never said that thing about 'faster horses'); Netflix didn’t come up with TV, it just created a different way to watch it; and Google didn’t invent online search, it just did it better (and found a great way of monetising it).
When YouTube started, there were a host of other sites streaming video online. So, why did it beat all of the others out and become the world’s dominant video streaming site? A combination of great execution, good luck and, eventually, its powerful owners, which helped create the ‘network effect’.
As Rod Snodgrass – a man with a long history in the telco realm, departing chief executive of Spark Ventures and a self-proclaimed “screwdriver in the power socket kind of guy” – says: “It’s context and timing. Timing isn’t everything. Customer experience is everything.”
Snodgrass says he’s been too early before, like focusing on internet advertising in 1999 through 2001 and struggling to grow it. Or trying e-commerce a bit too early. The catalyst for those things was broadband. And now it’s mobile.
“But if you think the prize is big, it pays to be first.”
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