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Is Time-to-Market really a Key Differentiator?

Why do some product win in the market place and some lose?  Is being first to market the key distinction between winning and losing?

The Agile software development movement has this one aspect (time-to-market) as key differentiator.  Many surveys note this aspect as a reason to adopt Agile methods.  Business people resonate with this value proposition.  The Lean Startup movement has this within its core.  It appears just common sense.  But is it good practice - is it a true cause and effect relationship?  If one is first in the market place with a new product, will it capture market share and become the de-facto standard product in the market segment?

Take the case of the cookie - the Oreo Cookie (introduced in 1912) - have you heard the back story?  It was the perhaps a knock-off of the Hydrox cookie (introduced in 1908), the first in the market segment, yet always labeled "imitator" and never a strong competitor (Oreos to Hydrox: Resistance is Futile).

It certainly did not work for Apple Computer in 1985 when they introduced the world to a computer for the rest of us.  Their graphical user interface was new and created a key differentiator, perhaps the key innovation since they had created a new market segment with the introduction of the personal computer in 1977 (see Apple History Timeline).  Yet Apple consistently a first to market innovator, appears to always run in second place to Microsoft.  That is until very recently (the post PC era).

Why It Feels Like We're Falling Behind It can take years to notice a life-changing invention. - Motley Fool

The typical path of how people respond to life-changing inventions is something like this:
  • I've never heard of it.
  • I've heard of it but don't understand it.
  • I understand it, but I don't see how it's useful.
  • I see how it could be fun for rich people, but not me.
  • I use it, but it's just a toy.
  • It's becoming more useful for me.
  • I use it all the time.
  • I could not imagine life without it.
  • Seriously, people lived without it?
This process can take years, or decades. It always looks like we haven't innovated in 10 or 20 years because it takes 10 or 20 years to notice an innovation.

  One aspect of the difference between first movers and the rest of the pack is not the timing of the introduction (being "first") but in having a better and more compelling story.  Much of the product story has to do with marketing, distribution, partnerships, and customer satisfaction and adoptions of the product story as their own personal story.  A case in point the Teddy Bear.

Steiff Billy Possum
A great story, the origin story of the Teddy Bear is in pod-cast audio on 99% Invisible.  It is told from the perspective of the second mover - the air-apparent to the thrown of the assumed temporary Teddy Bear toy - Billy Possum - the next big thing.  This toy was designed to succeed the outgoing president's (Roosevelt) plush toy with the incoming president's (Taft) product designed and marketing flop toy - a plush possum.

Which would you purchase for your child to play with - a teddy bear or a billy possum?

How's this for marketing - and the rest of the story is not for youngins.  While he would not shoot the bear - doesn't mean he wouldn't eat the bear.


See Also:  
51 Most Popular Tech Gadgets through the Years - Popular Mechanics
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