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Corporate

The myth of first mover advantage

The challenge with being first to market is that your business may end up having to bear the full frontal costs of developing it. photo | fotosearch
The challenge with being first to market is that your business may end up having to bear the full frontal costs of developing it. photo | fotosearch 

Many times when the idea bug bites, the first thought is often how to get to market in the shortest time possible.

There is some form of prestige ascribed to the first mover but I am of the opinion that in this age, being first to market offers no competitive advantage for any operation.

This is since factors of production, outside highly specialised talent, are heavily commoditised and generally available in large supply and at low cost.

A living and well executed strategy is the backbone of any business and should be the focus of the c-suite. It calls for a certain level of mastery and complement across the c-suite functions to ensure that business value is both preserved and grown long term.

The challenge with being first to market is that your business may end up having to bear the full frontal costs of developing the market—making inevitable mistakes and facing customer push back.

It also leaves a business exposed to an expected onslaught of competitors who, if smart enough, are now better informed from your trials, tribulations and corporate missteps.

Relatable examples exist in Africa’s developing technology markets. Take mobile money for example, Airtel’s predecessor Celtel was first with a mobile money product dubbed SokoTele, although it was beat to the launch. But Safaricom #ticker:SCOM, with a mix of luck, pivots, and adaptive learning, took off with M-Pesa.

I see the same trend in e-commerce, with Jumia and their marketplaces plus classifieds; heavily capitalised but with a raging burn rate atop razor thin margins.

My opinion is that there will emerge smaller niche players who will ride off an already activated consumer base with the benefit of stronger unit economics.

In the payments space, pan-African integrated digital payments and commerce company Interswitch founded in 2002 is facing stiff pound to pound competition from young blood players such as Flutterwave.

In truth, there is no long-term advantage to being the first, second or third mover. Even those who came to market after it was prepped cannot let their guard down.

Where we should all aspire to get our companies is that place and state of mind that is “fast mover”; agility on the back of well informed and executed strategy.

Njihia is CEO of Symbiotic | www.mbuguanjihia.com | @mbuguanjihia

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