Matt Mullenweg made an excellent comment on a topic I’ve often thought about. The comment was made in the context of the anniversary of wordpress.
Has it really been seven years since the first release of WordPress? It seems like just yesterday we were fresh to the world, a new entrant to a market everyone said was already saturated. (As a side note, if the common perception is that a market is finished and that everything interesting has been done already, it’s probably a really good time to enter it.)
WordPress not only has become the most popular blog software and one of the most amazing content management systems around, but its become an amazing platform for innovation. (For example, Ron Kurti and I the other day tried to think outside-of-the-box for employee expense reports at Vast. So we hacked a wordpress blog to do so – and we could do it in minutes of effort.) Not only that, but the wordpress.org founder built a company around the software and it’s become a very successful company on the web. Thank God he entered at a time of market saturation.
But it doesn’t stop there. Consider the following stories as well, which highlight lessons in building amazing companies.
- When Google launched as a search engine, everyone though the space had matured and had little opportunity. Google has now become one of the most influential companies in history.
- When Apple launched the iPod, the MP3 player market had been well established. No one at the time would have thought another product from this yesteryear company, would be the product that help it reinvent the company to become the second largest US company today.
- When Facebook launched, it was yet another social network well after Friendster (the inventor) and MySpace (the populariser). In fact, I remember analysts calling 2003 the year of the social network – a year before Facebook was even invented. And now, Mark Zuckerberg has created a company that will transform online advertising, has helped contribute to the new billion dollar virtual goods industry, and is going to lead the charge for the semantic web.
- In 1990, hyptertext systems had saturated the market since the 1960s when Ted Nelson coined the term. That didn’t stop Tim Berners-Lee, who that year invented the web – yet another hyptertext system. The Web is not a company like the ones above, but the Web is in league that few inventions in the history of the humanity have ever achieved.
Naval Ravikant has told me that in the consumer web space, the first mover advantage is so great that a company can own the space – the logic being they are so far ahead in execution and their brand is synonymous with the industry, that they become impossible to topple. This fact is why I think a lot of entrepreneurs in the Internet space seem consumed with creating a business that introduces a new concept product, as opposed to a better product – which is what the above companies did..
I think there is something to be to be said about the last mover advantage: monitor the patterns of something new, innovate on the implementation, and then out-execute the guys that invented the concept. And out execute you can easily, as the inventors are probably caught up in organisational inertia due to conflicting innovations, not to mention a misunderstanding of what actually made them successful in the first place.
As it was said once: the guy who invented the first wheel was an idiot; but the guy who invented the other three was a genius.