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Fast innovation vs. fast following

I’ve seen this shared a lot to say how effective a fast-following strategy is.

But to me, that represents something else. It shows the power of distribution to channel a new product. Which is the scenario in which fast following works.

Microsoft Teams vs. Slack

Without a strong distribution, which enables a company to bundle things up, a fast-following strategy might not work!

In short, fast-following works when you have an established and strong distribution pipeline, enabling you to channel the new product to an existing audience quickly.

In this case, the classic examples are Microsoft and Facebook, which have, over the years, used a fast-following playbook to copy and paste apps that were quickly gaining traction.

Therefore, here the strategy is simply a copy and paste, bundled up with the other company’s products to create a strong launch and traction.

Over time, as the company takes advantage of its distribution and financial resources, the product gets refined and improves compared to existing alternatives.

As a classic example, take Internet Explorer vs. Netscape in the early days. When Microsoft launched Internet Explorer, the product sucked; it was a copy and paste of the Mosaic’s code.

But the next iterations were extremely good, so much so that it stole most of the market shares from Netscape, who could not keep up with Microsoft’s distribution power, and it had to sell to AOL!

But fast-following does not work if you’re a new player with little distribution and financial resources.

In that case, what works is what I’d call “fast innovation.”

Or the ability to quickly take inspiration from existing products on the market but tweak them to redefine the whole thing.

To say Google was not the first search engine on the market, it was a late-comer, but when it did get to it, it completely redefined search.

Initially, Facebook was not a first mover in the social network space, but when it did, it reshaped the whole industry and moved from social networks to social media.

TikTok is a super late-comer to the game.

Yet, it’s reshaping the whole social media industry and redefining it to go beyond the network to create a powerful AI-based user-generated content machine!

That is not fast following; that is fast/rapid innovation! Where you learn from the first comer, but you redefine the whole thing!

To recap:

  • Fast-following works when you have a strong distribution pipeline, where you can quickly channel your new (copy and paste) product. And quickly iterate on that by using your wide pocket.
  • Thus, it’s a strategy that works for established players. Classic examples of companies that have used this playbook for decades are Microsoft and Facebook.
  • When instead, you’re a new player, fast-following might not work! You need to “fast innovate,” where you need to completely redefine the industry’s rules to quickly gain traction!

What do you think?

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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