The early bird doesn’t always get the worm.
Some do, to be sure — and then some. Others poke and prod at the ground, softening it for their late-coming fellows and perhaps picking up some nutritious scraps, before flying away to who knows where. Those next arrivals get the juicy prize.
The startup world isn’t all that different from the back garden. Many “first mover” startups enter markets that just aren’t ready for their offerings, however innovative or disruptive or downright transformative they might be. These enterprises may fail outright, change their business models, or continue to operate in the shadow of better-known, later-arriving competitors. But they nevertheless perform a vital role in preparing the marketplace for change.
These four startups all fit that mold: early movers that helped transform entire industries. You’ll surely recognize some names, even among those that haven’t been operational in some time.
Myspace wasn’t the planet’s first proper social network. Nor was it the most successful; Facebook, founded just a year later, takes that distinction, and Myspace itself is no longer relevant. But Myspace illuminated the possibilities of an interconnected world like no other network before it, laying the groundwork for the dominance of Facebook and other successors.
MySpace did fail in one key venture that could have altered the course of social media’s history: a plan to develop a common set of standards for social networks around the globe. Facebook resisted this effort, which never really took off; who knows what would have been had it succeeded.
- The Hyperfactory
Founded in 2001, six years before the iPhone’s launch, The Hyperfactory was the first global advertising agency to see the potential of the web-to-mobile revolution. Perhaps more impressively, the venture thrived under cofounder Derek Handley for a decade in the tumultuous early years of “Web 2.0.” Time Inc/Meredith purchased the company in 2010.
Before there was Chewy, there was Pets.com. One of the archetypal players in the “dotcom bubble” of the late 1990s, and one of the period’s highest-profile failures, Pets.com revealed something that’s now taken for granted: consumers will buy low-margin staples, such as pet food, online if given the opportunity. That simple revelation made Jeff Bezos the world’s richest person, though it unfortunately came too late for Pets.com itself.
Before Airbnb, there was Vrbo.
Way before, in fact. Vrbo launched in 1995, when dial-up ruled and the consumer-facing Internet was a tiny fraction of its present size. Early on, its market was a bit narrower, less social, and of course far less mobile-friendly (this was the pre-mobile world, after all) than Airbnb’s. But Vrbo validated what’s become a multibillion-dollar business model: the short-term rental market. And it’s still going strong as part of the HomeAway family.
Here’s to Creating Something Truly Inspirational
Not all of these startups made it, but each left the world a more interesting, productive, inspiring place. For those of us that aspire to leave our own marks, that’s the best we can possibly hope for. The only question left to ask is: How will you go about leaving yours?