It might seem counterintuitive, but being a market innovator or, even worse, an evangelist is often not the best path to building something people want.
Often, you will be much better off entering the existing market where others already paved the way. It is known as "The Last Mover Advantage", and it entails also avoiding r&d cycles your competitors have already failed at.
Marc Andreessen, in a16z podcast episode "Why We Should Be Optimistic the Future" points out that this pattern is more common than we think
"Every successful technology I'm aware of, you know the things that are like all of a sudden like the next big thing like the iPhone in 2007 or just an example, they all have this incredible 25, 40 or 50 years backstory to them that you sometimes have to go back and excavate."
As other examples, Marc mentions video conferencing technology that first surfaced in the 1960s, first smartphone concepts by RadioShack from 1982, or even fiber optic technology, which has its beginning in 1840 in Paris.
It's less a question of what the new idea is, as it turns out the idea is probably already out there somewhere.
These were the examples of succesful hardware, that have been around quite for a while before it actually took off. Can we find similar cases in the software industry?
David Cancel, CEO of Drift suggest that Slack is the best example of the right market timing with a relatively little innovative product. The interview he gave in Software Engineering Daily episode is spot-on
There are different technologies that we use but, Slack is from a use case standpoint is not different than IRC 25 years ago, right? I often show people inside our engineering and product team who don't know what IRC is, and never used it, a screenshot of an IRC client from 20 years ago and then Slack next to each other and they're blown away. They're like, “It's exactly the same. Everything is the same.” They have never seen that. I'm like, yeah.
I remember IRC, do you? :) Anyway, it's interesting how many messaging communicators existed before Slack, but somehow none of them managed to achieve such high market share. Sure enough, Slack has done particular things incredibly well, such as an API-first approach and allowing for multiple third-party tools integrations. Still, the core functionality wasn't something new.
We had technology like that 25 years ago, but we had subscale markets as a million of us using it, or five million or whatever the number was. Now billions are using. The reason it matters is that the behavior change has already happened. It's now normal and now you can build something in a much larger ecosystem, and I think for entrepreneurs and engineers who want to build something really pay attention to is there momentum already in the world happening that I can apply this to, versus trying to create your own momentum from scratch.
Leveraging existing market momentum is a shortcut compared to being someone who starts the momentum.
Getting back to Marc Andreessen's talk, I think the following line from the mentioned a16z podcast serves a good wrap up:
It's less the question of is it going to work, it's more the question of when it's going to work.
Next up, I will follow up on the idea market momentum and discuss the importance of choosing the right market.
Thanks for reading!