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Why being first isn’t always best

Leadership & Inspiration

Josh Winkles wrote this article


It seems like ever since 1848, we have been in a continual gold rush. Everyone is pushing to get to the next big thing first. It’s all about being first. It even has a term. We call it the first-mover advantage.

The idea is that the first person in an area benefits from being able to take up the necessary resources with little to no competition, setting the standard in their field and operating almost like a monopoly until everyone else catches up.

Sounds good right?

Sounds like what every entrepreneur runs themselves ragged trying to achieve.

Well, there’s nothing wrong with it and if the stars align for you, then great!

However, so many business owners use up their valuable mental energy chasing their tail and trying to be in the right place at the right time when lightning strikes. It’s such a waste of time and business owners are missing out on all of the other great possibilities by getting caught up in what area can they get to first.

Let’s look at a few reasons why first isn’t always best and how second (or third or maybe even fourth) can still yield huge benefits in your business.

1) The pioneer has to lay the groundwork

If you want to build a house, you can buy blueprints already made, you locate the contractors, get together a list of materials and off you go! Well, what if you were building the first house? You would have to agonize over what even makes up a house, what materials do you use, how it is laid out, is it safe, and the list goes on and on.

When you are the first person doing something, you often have to expend huge amounts of time and resources that won’t be required of the people that come after you. You have to map out a process that does not even exist yet. Possibly create brand new technologies to get the job done.

The extreme example of this is the drug industry. Once they have the formula and the manufacturing down, every pill after the first one is comparatively cheap and easily mass-produced. However, that first pill can often cost more than $1 billion in research, development, testing, and manufacturing.

Being first can cost you A LOT.

2) You can be ahead of your time (not in a good way)

When internet messaging was first creeping onto the world stage, the earliest iterations were chat rooms and message boards. A popular tool facilitating this in the early days was a program called IRC. It still technically exists in some forms, but has largely been abandoned. It was a favorite of the super techy community in its hay day. Now, even though IRC has been laid to rest, a reincarnation is taking the world by storm. You might have heard of it. It’s called Slack. Slack is the modern, visually-pleasing, mainstream version of IRC.

Multiple blog articles and podcasts have been done about how Slack is IRC with the final 10% of refinements. The functionality, with the exception of a few bells and whistles is almost identical, but back in the IRC days, the technology wasn’t there to bring it the last 10% of the way to a more mainstream adoption. When something doesn’t exist, can be taking a big gamble on if the world is ready for your widget to exist. If you aren’t first, at least you can benefit from someone else’s market validation work which can often be a lengthy and resource-intensive endeavor.

3) You get comfortable not having anyone to chase

So this one can actually go either way. There is an argument to be made that you would keep working hard since people are coming right behind you, but often that isn’t what happens. The more common response is people are first and not used to competition in their area so they grow complacent and expect that the flag they planted will last much longer than it actually will.

Entrepreneurs underestimate the psychological value of having someone in your space that is more successful than you that you want to overthrow. It is the cheapest fuel for your business that you will ever find.

The overall point of this post is not to discourage you from being the first to enter an area as you might think. We just talked about disadvantages to being first, but there are many advantages. The thing to take away from this is to crush the idea that you HAVE to be the first person to do ABC or build XYZ app for it to be a success.

There are currently multiple Ubers in the world. Two of them are VERY successful. If there is room for more than one Uber, I think your business has a good chance of doing just fine.

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