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4 Reasons Being a Prime Mover is not an advantage

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In Capitalist Culture, people believe strongly in “Prime Mover Advantage”. Being the leader with a product or service, not the follower, means you can gobble up prime space, move up the learning curve earlier and monopolise customers creating imitation barriers.

However, Golder & Tellis researched the outcomes of pioneers. They discovered that pioneers suffered six times the failure rate of those that followed and when pioneers did survive, the only obtained a third of the market.

Why is this?

  • Prime Movers are often prone to overstep – or implement “too large” a vision in one go.
  • Prime Movers tend to be risk takers and be impulsive – the exact opposite qualities exhibited by successful entrepreneurs.
  • On the other hand, followers can watch and learn from all the (expensive) mistakes Prime Movers make.
  • Followers generally observe market changes and shifting customer tastes more effectively and… follow them!

Of course, there are some special cases where being a Prime Mover is an undoubtedly advantage. Having effectively patented technology or massive dependence on network effects are two very effective ways to stop imitation.

So before claiming Prime Mover advantage, are you truly the special case?

Peter N Golder & Gerard J Tellis, “Pioneer Advantage: Marketing Logic or Marketing Legend?” Journal of Marketing Research 30 (1993): 158-70.

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