Lighting The Way For Your Competitors

If you don’t have a plan for exploiting a technology breakthrough, then by announcing it all you are doing is lighting the way for your competitors.

Knowing that a thing can be done liberates the mind to do it

Alex Russell noted in his Doability post

“knowing that a thing can be done liberates the mind to do it”.

And asks if there is a name for this “law” of software engineering. I suggested “Virgil’s Law” (after the Roman poet) in the comments based on those quote by Virgil:

Possunt quia posse videntur
“They can because they think they can.” Virgil

I think Alex (and Virgil) are correct. The implications for a startup form a counter-argument to the theory of “first mover’s advantage,” namely that the “proof by existence” of the first mover’s success energizes larger firms with more resources to exploit “the fast follower’s advantage” which is knowing that it can be done.

“The knowledge that a secret exists is half of the secret.”
Joshua Meyrowitz in “No Sense of Place

Exploiting A Breakthrough is as Important as the Breakthrough

Just as a self-check, the next time you tell yourself “no one else can do what we’ve done” realize that the fact that you have solved the problem will change a potential competitor’s perception of what’s possible.

The bigger risk is in not having a plan for exploiting your breakthrough and building rapidly on your initial successes (note that this is not necessarily the same as DFJ’s “Get Big Fast”). The more that you can  be seen to be continually raising the bar, the more uncertainty you introduce into potential competitors’ plans as to what the target is that they have to meet or exceed.

A Note on “Get Big Fast”

I checked and learned that even Tim Draper (the “D” in DFJ) has reconsidered “Get Big Fast.”Asked in 2002 by a Stanford MBA student for caveats for US entrepreneurs,  Draper replied that U.S. firms expand too quickly. “We were all saying get big fast two years ago, when we should only be expanding where it makes sense,” he said.

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