Being the Early Bird or Second Mouse to Market

earlyBirdContributed by Emera Trujillo

Timing is everything.

When it comes to launching a new product or feature, there are a myriad of factors to consider: resource allocation, speed to market, pricing models, marketing efforts, competition, seasonality, etc.  But an important, often ignored, consideration is whether it is better for that product or feature to be an early bird, seizing a market opportunity before others, or a second mouse, nimbly avoiding the pitfalls competitors have faced.

Being the Early Bird

Sometimes, being first to market is the obvious choice.  The product or feature may be so new that waiting isn’t an option.  Investors may need to see progress, customers may be needed to validate the usability of a feature, or an executive team member may be suffering from ‘book them and they will come’ fever.  Bringing something truly innovative to market is often motivation enough.

But being first to market has its drawbacks.  For instance, in the business-to-business market, setting a price can become one part guessing game, two parts political theatre.  Facing pressure from an executive sponsor who insists a low price point is the best way to dominate the market while under the gun with a sales team that insists the only way the quarter’s goal will be hit is with a high margin can be a daunting position for any seasoned product manager.  Without a competitive product already in market, a poor pricing model can deflate even the most stellar of product launches.

Learning from the Market

The second mouse strategy assumes that playing catch-up is far superior to leading the way.  It allows for learnings from competitors and builds a product on market reactions rather than predicted responses.   Entering a market late often carries a negative connotation but can lead to greater innovation, in the way that brainstorming alone may yield a lightbulb but brainstorming with a group may yield a chandelier.

Despite the relative safety of being the second mouse, it is easy to get caught in a cycle of product envy.  In the business-to-consumer market, net promoter score comments can often feel like taking an order at a restaurant with only one menu option.  After hearing request after request for a certain feature, “like that other site,” it can be tempting to fill your backlog with stories that feel as if they are part of an epic on imitation.

Identifying the Right Strategy

Although a key tenet of the agile manifesto is the value of working software, putting code into production doesn’t necessarily require a full scale product launch.  Evaluate the company’s situation, the impact of the product or feature and ultimately make a call that has been thoroughly vetted.

Not sure which strategy is right for a particular product or feature launch?  Here are some questions to help sort through the options:

  • Will being first to market result in more funding?
  • Will the product be time consuming or expensive to replicate?
  • Is there an opportunity to patent the technology?
  • Will the new feature tie up all your resources?
  • Will the value the product or feature delivers yield success in the market?
  • Is limiting the company’s exposure important?
  • Aside from learning from competitors missteps, will there ultimately be something unique to offer?

Ever shipped a product and regretted not waiting?  Or waited and had a competitor scoop up all the opportunity? Have another question PMs should consider?  Join the conversation below!

Image from Flickr


emeraTrujilloEmera Trujillo works at Visible Measures, an end-to-end solution for capturing consumer attention programmatically through video and native media.

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