There has been a lot of talk recently about the myth of a first-mover advantage on the Internet. Who's been doing this? Mainly venture capitalists and industry analysts. Take, for instance, the all star panel of VCs who debated the issue of whether it's best to be first or second to market at a Churchill Club meeting in Palo Alto this past March.
We could get sucked into this debate by first trotting out the first-mover advantage Poster children: Amazon (AMZN), Yahoo (YHOO) and Ebay (EBAY) – oh yes, throw in MCI Mail (MCI), CDNow (CDNW), and any other anecdotal evidence you like. Then we'd argue about who was truly first in their category and who wasn't.
But I find it ironic that many of the VCs and analysts who are now "mythified" are the same people who earlier described the Internet as a "Gold Rush" and "Land Grab". With start-ups hearing that heavily promoted vision and possessing a healthy entrepreneurial spirit, who wouldn't want to be a trailblazer?
In fact, look at many past and present Internet startups and you can see that trailblazing instinct at work. "Boo.com will revolutionize the way we shop. It is a completely new lifestyle proposition," said Kajsa Leander, Boo.com co-founder and chief marketing officer. Or consider a recent press release that boldly proclaimed "eDestiny.com Captures First Mover Advantage Using Partnership With A2Aecommerce.com".
What's the Answer?
So is there a first mover advantage or not? The fact is that we really don't know and probably won't know for several years whether a given Internet company will really have a first mover advantage. That's because the verification of whether the first mover will have that advantage can only be determined over a long period of time.
But we can learn something about this question from distant history.
Have you ever heard of the following names? Fitch's shampoo; Chux disposable diapers, Reychler laundry detergent, Star safety razors, or Bright Star batteries? No? These were all product and market trailblazers at one time, and they're all gone.