How much does timing affect your chance of success in a market? What outside forces might impact the longevity of your business?
A few weeks ago, I was on my morning commute to the gym. There was another car about 50 yards ahead of me and I was on autopilot.
We approached an intersection with a long green light.
As I was about to enter the intersection, a car flew down the cross street from my left at about 40mph.
The car zoomed straight through the red light and into the intersection.
Right at the split second the car crossed over…nothing happened.
The red-light driver threaded the needle perfectly between myself and the car in front of me. It happened so fast I didn’t even have time to hit the brakes.
My adrenaline was through the roof but I was in one piece.
Flashback about 10 years ago.
I was driving with my wife, who was pregnant with our son at the time. We were coming home in the afternoon from a BBQ at a friend’s house.
It was around dusk and we were listening to music and chatting.
We approached an intersection with a long green light.
Right at the split second we crossed over…WHAM!
Our car was t-boned by an SUV going about 40mph. It hit with so much force that we flipped over and slid about 50 feet.
Luckily, we survived. My wife injured her arm but did an amazing job protecting our son who was only 17 weeks along. He was born later that year and is now a healthy, amazing 3rd grader.
The Value of Timing
So, what was the difference between those two experiences?
The cars and locations were different but the circumstances were very similar. In one case my timing was perfect. In the other, not so much.
A few seconds difference in either case could have resulted in a totally different outcome.
Business opportunity timing isn’t usually as volatile as driving through an intersection, but it can have just as much of an impact (ahem).
When it comes to business, we all want to believe that being in the driver’s seat keeps us in control. All we have to do is set our course and go. If we’re good drivers, we’ll get to our destination in one piece.
But the reality is that there are all sorts of external forces that affect the success of our journey. It’s not as simple as setting the right course. Your timing is critical too.
The opportunity window is opening
One of my first startup products was a calorie tracking service. It allowed users to set a daily calorie limit and then track their meals against it.
What made it different was that you did the tracking via text message.
Every time you ate something, you sent a text with the names of the food to the service. It would automatically retrieve nutritional info on the items and log them in your account. If you got close to your calorie limit it would text you a warning.
Doesn’t sound so crazy now, but this was 2007. That year marked the tipping point when Americans sent and received more text messages each month than made phone calls.
Twitter had launched a year earlier. When I pitched this to people as “Twitter for your diet” there were lots of blank stares.
I was able to get a small group of users to pay a monthly subscription fee, but there wasn’t enough to keep it going.
Was the concept bad? I don’t think so. Was the timing bad? Yup.
Maybe a big company with a real marketing budget could have raised awareness enough to make it sustainable. Even with more money though, it was early in the market.
There was too much mental friction for someone to see how this would fit into their life.
In an interesting twist, I’m now able to confirm that the core idea really was good. I’ve recently had the opportunity to work with a company called Eat This Much. Their product tackles some of the same core needs around nutrition tracking.
Eat This Much’s product is infinitely better and more sophisticated than mine ever was. And because it’s now second nature for people to track actions via their phone, their timing is way better too.
The opportunity window is closing
On the topic of car crashes, I mentored a young entrepreneur recently who’s working on a product to help with vehicle collision detection.
The product provides warnings to get a driver’s attention if their vehicle is in danger.
It’s a great idea that has the potential to save lives. When it comes to user needs, it doesn’t get much more important than that.
The problem I see is timing.
The technology this person is working on is already standard in many vehicles. By 2022, manufacturers have committed to include automatic emergency braking technology in all new cars.
Of course there are still plenty of older vehicles that could be retrofitted with this technology.
It’s not that there isn’t a market. There may even be a significant market for this. The question is, how big is the window for that market? If we’re 4 years from every new car having this technology by default, how fast is the opportunity window closing?
And if the tech is about to become ubiquitous, how many other manufacturers will see an opportunity in the retrofitting space?
It doesn’t mean this person should abandon the idea. If the window is narrow they could still create something meaningful even if it’s only for a limited period.
The important note is to take a hard look at the market landscape and make an informed decision on your direction.
Check Your Window Status
It takes a long time to realize success with a business.
If you think it’ll happen within a couple years, you’ll likely be disappointed. Thinking in terms of a 7–10 year span to reach the real potential of an idea is a safer guess.
With that in mind, it’s worth pausing to assess your opportunity window.
While we can’t accurately predict what will happen even 1–2 years from now, it’s worth checking your idea against current trends.
- Window Is Opening: Are you early on in a trend like I was with my texting based product? If you’re early, are you prepared to educate the market? Can you survive long enough with early adopters to make it to a mainstream tipping point?
- Window Is Wide Open: How long has this opportunity window been open? How saturated is the market as a result? Is there any reason to think the window would close in the next 7–10 years or is the market truly evergreen?
- Window Is Closing: Is your place in a market a limited time opportunity? Can you imagine a lot of people needing your product a decade from now? If they do, how likely is it they’ll get it from you? Do you see opportunities to further secure your position as tech and other resources evolve?
Minus a crystal ball, there aren’t perfect answers to these questions. But if you’re not at least considering them you could set yourself up for a dangerous intersection crossing.