Budding entrepreneurs are often advised to find a niche and provide something new to an audience. Finding a new solution to an old problem is a great way to generate interest–something that many great businesses and inventions are built on. But what if you’re late to a trend?
Joining the party late can seem like a thankless venture, as your once, seemingly original, idea is shown the light of day by a number of more established start-ups. This doesn’t mean that you should go back to the drawing board and brainstorm new ideas just because your first one is “taken.” Giving up on a business idea for this reason reflects naivety. In fact, you should embrace the opportunity that comes with being the third or fourth company to launch in a thriving industry.
When you join a trend late, you have something that the pioneers or your potential competitors don’t—a vantage point. You have the opportunity to see what companies are doing in a burgeoning industry and thus, follow patterns and blueprints laid out by them.
Look out for things that the previous start-ups may be missing, or use what they are doing well for your own model. You could reduce your workload considerably by simply taking advantage of “starting late.”
This is not to say that you shouldn’t go with a new idea in a new niche. But don’t be disheartened if you’re “late” to a trend. Take inspiration from Google and Facebook, two of the biggest brands of all time, both of whom joined their respective industries at a later stage.
Google launched in 1996, 16 years after “Archie”—the world’s first search engine. Archie hosted a catalogue of downloadable directory listings. However, due to limited space, the listings alone were made available without the content. In between the launches of Google and Archie there have been a number of search engines vying for the number one spot:
|1991||Veronica and Jughead||Gopher Index System used to search file names|
|1992||VLib||A virtual library set up by Time Berners-Lee|
|1993||Excite||Created by six Stanford university graduates. Purchased by Infospace for $10 million in 2001.|
|1993||World Wide Web Wanderer||Bot was used to capture actual URL’s. However, Bot captured the same page many times, causing it to lag.|
|1993||Aliweb||Users were allowed to submit the pages they wanted indexed, but many failed to comprehend the process.|
|1993||Primitive Web Search||Used the World Wide Web Worm: no ranking used for indexed titles and URL’s.|
|1994||Infoseek||Webmasters could submit a page in real time. Netscape used this as their default search engine.|
|1994||ENet Galaxy||Used many web search features. Had an oversized library.|
|1994||AltaVista||Pioneers in allowing natural language inquiries. Advanced search techniques implemented.|
|1994||WebCrawler||The first crawler to index whole pages. Daytime lags due to being overused. Later bought by AOL.|
|1994||Yahoo! Directory||Creators: David Filo, Jerry Yang. Outsourced their search services until 2002, when they began working on their own. Commercial sites included for $300 a year.|
|1994||Lycos||Went public with over 50,000 documents. By 1996, Lycos had identified 60 million documents. Eventually sold to Daum Communications in 2004.|
|1995||LookSmart||Competed with Yahoo by increasing inclusion rates. Lost a lot of reliability when it transitioned into a PPC provider. Rejected by Microsoft in 2003, losing 65% of annual revenue.|
With 13 companies launching prior to their own, Google had a plethora of competitors and examples to learn from. Google was initially launched as BackRub, a search engine that used backlinks for search. The credibility of a website came from the amount of people that linked to that site, in addition to the reliability of those that linked.
Unlike earlier companies like ENet Galaxy, Google did not have an unnecessarily oversized library, nor did it make a bad move like Lycos that would damage its credibility so quickly.
Had Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, not launched their company in fear of being late to the “search engine” party, the $544 billion company wouldn’t exist.
A household name throughout the world, immortalized by a movie, and owned by one of the most publicized business owners in the world, Facebook is the world’s leading social network. Although Facebook is the premier company in its niche, like Google, it was far from the first:
A very popular platform during its infancy, Friendster managed to acquire 3 million monthly users. Google offered Friendster’s founder, Jonathon Abrams, $30 million in 2003 to buy the site. However, Abrams opted to get venture capital investment instead to scale the company.
The company failed to keep up with an ever-increasing number of users, resulting in slow running web pages and downloads. As a result, the company’s current business model is targeted towards the Asian market, with 90% of its users based in Asia.
Facebook grew steadily since Mark Zuckerberg launched the website in 2004 and managed to avoid the major technical pitfalls that summoned Friendster back to social networking obscurity.
Arguably as popular as Facebook at its peak, MySpace exploded onto the start-up scene in 2003. It was conceived when its co-founders, Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolf, grew frustrated with Friendster’s weak infrastructure.
To improve on Friendster’s evident flaws, MySpace was created with a strong impetus on scalability. Its popularity commanded a $580 million purchase by NewsCorp in 2006.
Struggling to keep up with the instant nature and increasing popularity of Facebook, MySpace was sold again for just $35 million to advertising network Specific Media, with celebrity performer Justin Timberlake owning a substantial stake in the company.
Entering the social networking trend at a later date allowed Facebook to capitalize on the popularity of this form of communication and connection. As MySpace had exemplified: a market and demand existed and Facebook was able to observe this, all thanks to the vantage point of a fashionably late entrance.
The Late Entrance
When you’re looking to launch your business after the proverbial party has begun, follow these tips to stay at the forefront of your industry, despite the late start:
Investors have a tendency to spot worthwhile business ventures before others. Make a list of investors and read about their latest investments: what trends they’re interested in; how much they’re injecting into certain industries? That way, if you are a late arrival, you’ll be well prepared.
Read Industry Media
If you’re a tech start-up, read up about the latest tech news from reputable sources. A lot of journalists and specialty writers are skilled at spotting trends before they become common knowledge. Study industry media and get yourself educated before you start.
Attend Industry Events
This gives you the perfect opportunity to network and meet important industry figures. You’ll likely come across a number of new start-ups that are eager to get their products and services heard. Look at what they’re providing and see how you can improve on their ideas or services for your own business.
Visit Research Labs
Go one step further and stay ahead of trends. Visiting research centers like SRI (where Siri and the mouse were invented) and IBM research (where the hard drive was invented) will give you the opportunity to see what possibilities lay ahead. Get back to your own work desk and brainstorm ways in which you can build a pioneering business with what you’ve learned at the labs.
Observe. Learn. Launch
Whatever industry you’re in, just remember that it’s never too late to launch your idea. As Google and Facebook have proven, starting late doesn’t mean you can’t be number one. Your vantage point is higher. Observe, learn, and launch.