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I am pretty sure the business owner drew the window artwork out of more of a sense of cynicism and frustration than out of any kind of genius marketing insight. But that one sentence is worth a week of discussion in my entrepreneurship class.

Those few words embody the concepts of first mover vs fast follower and market ownership. Sure, Starbucks wasn’t the first – but they were the first to scale. McDonald’s wasn’t the first to sell a hamburger – just the first to scale and own the mindshare and market for fast food. How many industries are dominated, not by the innovator or first-mover, but by the fast-follower, and the company that scaled: Google, Microsoft, Facebook.

And then there is our local coffee shop. We’ve gone full circle. They are gaining some success by precisely not being Starbucks. Once the market is dominated for a time by one or two leaders, a new opportunity arises for niche players. These “latent niche leaders” succeed because once a market matures, there are now significant numbers who are willing to pay for a more specialized choice.

Written by CJ Cornell

CJ Cornell

Serial Entrepreneur. University Professor. Software Engineer. Media Executive. Venture Capitalist. Researcher. Marketer. Advisor. Mentor. Author and Speaker. Founded or co-founded nearly a dozen companies in software, digital media and television.

For the past few years I’ve been Co-Director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship and Professor of Digital Media & Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, and the university’s first full time Entrepreneur-in-Residence. Currently Visiting Professor of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at New York Institute of Technology and Managing Director at Propel Ventures LLC.


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