First-mover disadvantage. Why being the first doesn’t ensure you won’t end up last.

Posted by on Mar 18, 2013

We all know Henry Ford invented the first car. Undoubtedly revolutionary. Undoubtedly changed the world. And yet, also undoubtedly today, no would actually buy the Model T to drive around in.

Ford, the creator and company of the first car, isn’t even the leader in the car market. To do that, it has to pass GM and Toyota.

You create an innovation that can change an industry. But even in your breakthrough and initial marketplace lead, many times you also unleash a cycle of innovation that will eventually disrupt your lead or even hold you back.

That’s a lesson for companies like Ford, Facebook and Apple.

All invented categories. Ford: the car. Facebook: modern social media. Apple: smartphones.

For them, it was like finding gold in California in the 1800s. You may be the first to find it. But because if you can’t own the whole space, others will see what you’re doing and rush in, find a space and possibly mine more wealth from your discovery than you do, eventually.

Apple is finding Samsung phones and Android mobile software are gaining lane-passing momentum as they find niches in Apple’s marketplace holes like the “Phablet,” and mobile apps not allowed on iTunes. Facebook is finding the people that drove its initial breakthrough growth, youth, have left for Twitter, Instagram (which Facebook bought to keep them in the fold) and Tumblr and Snapchat. The company now finds itself the Wal-Mart of social media – a bigger choice than a better one.

Just a reminder for companies that innovation neither establishes loyalty or a guarantee of success. Just a head start. And if you slow down, or ignore an opening, people catch up.

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