First to Market Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be Being first to market always introduces a product but it doesn't always getting it sold.
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Being a successful entrepreneur means standing above the competition. You want your product or service to be the one that people think of when they need what you're selling. But being the first name people think of in your industry is much different than being the first one to hit the shelves. In fact, there are some serious disadvantages to being first to market before anyone else.
While it makes for great motivational speeches, achieving something before everyone else comes with its own complications. When you're first to market, that's simply not enough reason to immediately start scaling upwards. There are absolutely advantages to being first, but it's not an instant ticket to success. There are many more variables that go into creating a successful product, and while novelty can be a benefit, it's far from a major one. The research bears it out.
For those of us who aren't business professors, there are plenty of illuminating examples of companies and products that didn't thrive when they were first to market. Here are the major reasons to consider before rushing to be the first.
Refinement, not speed, makes for a good product.
For one thing, being first means all your cards are out on the table. Yes, you've got a product or service that nobody else has, but now that it's in the market there's nothing stopping your competition from replicating it, and even improving on what you've made.
Henry Ford didn't make the first car -- he made the one with the best manufacturing process and reliability. The iPod wasn't the first mp3 player with a hard drive -- it was the one with the best design, ease of use and marketing. Their predecessors failed to deliver the best form of the product, and did little more than provide proof of concept for a better plan to take over their market.
First was a novelty, but novelty won't bring reliable sales. A great product will.
Innovation never ends.
Another thing to consider is that the cutting edge isn't a finish line that you and your competition are running towards--it's a constantly evolving state of being. Today's groundbreaking development, no matter what it is, will end up being a jumping off point for something even better down the line.
And "down the line" may not be as far away as you'd think. Competitors can take your great idea, build on it and end up beating you at your own game. One example is the once-ubiquitous Palm Pilot. Palm, Inc., its manufacturer, owned the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) game for several years. Their brand was synonymous with the product. Today, you might only find one in a landfill. Smartphones came around, utilizing all the abilities of the PDA plus much, much more. Only three years after the first iPhone was introduced, Palm was toast.
Related: Reinvent a Product, Not the Wheel
Jumping the gun can mean shooting yourself in the foot.
Even before the competition can improve on what you're selling, you'll need to ensure that it meets your own standards. Rushing it to market can fail for the same reason many rushed things do -- it's simply not ready. Your product or service isn't a major musical composition -- it needs to generate money from satisfied customers or your entire company will be in jeopardy.
You may not have heard of Scanadu, and there's a reason for that. The health tech company's smartphone-connected medical sensor was promoted as a revolutionary piece of equipment: a way for everyone to keep tabs on their vitals without making appointments or filling out doctor's paperwork. The only issue? It didn't work. When they failed to get FDA approval for their $200 Scout units, early adopters were left in the cold. The devices already sold were remotely deactivated by regulatory decree, and #ScanaduScam hit social media. Not an ideal product rollout.
In any industry, there are hazards to hitting the market first. That's why many experts agree that you're best off taking the time to ensure that your product is as good as it can be. Better to be a little late to the scene than to be here today and gone tomorrow. You want to capture imaginations, yes, but being the most-talked about without being the best-selling isn't going to keep your business afloat. What matters more than being first? Being the best quality. And that doesn't happen overnight.