So, you identified a peach of an opportunity for your business. You did everything right: you pinpointed a significant customer need; you designed a desirable, forward-thinking solution; you had a clearly defined route to market and and a profit model to match; you assembled a great team to make it all happen.
But you still failed.
Truth be told, there are dozens of reasons why this might be. Maybe you got blind-sided by a new competitor. Maybe a vital partner relationship went south. Maybe you did not continue to adapt your offer in response to the market. But as you perform the autopsy, take a moment to consider whether you have been thwarted by one of innovation’s biggest killers: timing.
Timing is the reason nobody bought Apple’s first version of the iPad, the Newton, in 1993. The consumer need for tablet devices has now been proven beyond doubt, but in the mid-nineties, the market simply was not ready to embrace the new format (having not been ‘warmed up’ by the iPhone first). Those users who did take a punt on the Newton quickly lost patience with it, as its cutting-edge operating system strained to deliver the functionality they had been promised.
Timing is the reason Twitter didn’t take off in the year 2000. That’s when Jack Dorsey developed the first prototype, broadcasting status updates from his top-of-the-range Blackberry. The problem was, nobody else had a device that could receive these broadcasts, and the idea of a ‘status update’ was completely unfamiliar even in Silicon Valley at the turn of the century.
Founded in 1996, Webvan was an online grocery business that offered same-day delivery of fresh produce direct to your door. Much like Amazon Fresh, Hello Fresh and a host of very successful supermarkets, right? Right. But Webvan managed to burn through $396m investment in just five years before filing for bankruptcy in 2001. There was nothing wrong with its business model (conceptually), or the need it was trying to meet. The timing just wasn’t right: Webvan was way too early into the market.
So, when mapping opportunities for your business, it always pays to think about timing. Ask yourself: why now? Are our customers ready for this? Is our business ready to deliver in this area? It is also worth regularly revisiting opportunities or ideas that have previously been dismissed by your business: has their time finally come? Never forget that opportunity mapping should be a continuous process, not a one-off activity: you must regularly re-evaluate market forces and your business’s capacity to respond to them, to see if the time is now.
There’s no denying that timing can be extremely tough to assess, and as none of us can read the future, some degree of intuition is involved, especially in the weeks before a prototype can be developed to test a hypothesis in the market. But given the pace of technological change, remember that the risk of being too late can be just as severe as being too early. There is, after all, a reason why Webvan and the Newton went to market so soon: for first-movers who successfully capture a new market, the upside makes all the risk worthwhile.