The Power of Product Management Over First-Mover Advantage

Zigmars Rozentals
3 min readMay 21, 2024

“Power belongs to those who finish the revolution, not just those who start it.” — Robert Greene

In his seminal work, “The 48 Laws of Power,” author Robert Greene states, “Power rarely ends up in the hands of those who start a revolution, or even of those who further it; power sticks to those who bring it to a conclusion.” This profound insight sheds light on a critical principle in the world of product management: the systematic approach to product development and execution often surpasses the advantage of being the first to market.

The Myth of the First-Mover Advantage

The first-mover advantage is a widely held belief in business strategy, suggesting that being the first to enter a market can secure a long-term competitive edge. This theory suggests that early entrants can gain a large market share, build strong brand recognition, and set industry standards.

While there are notable examples where this strategy has worked, such as Amazon in online retail or Apple with the iPhone, these cases are exceptions rather than the rule.

The Reality: Execution Trumps Innovation

Innovation is undoubtedly important, but it is not the sole determinant of success. Many innovators and inventors fail to capitalize on their discoveries because they lack the ability to execute effectively. The history of business is replete with examples where the original innovators were overshadowed by those who could better commercialize and scale the innovations.

Remember the story of Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison? They each battled to dominate with their electricity transmission systems. In the end, it was Edison’s approach that initially gained widespread adoption, demonstrating how execution can outweigh innovation.

Also, consider the case of the personal computer. While companies like Xerox and IBM were pioneers, it was Microsoft and Apple that ultimately dominated the market. These companies did not just innovate; they executed their strategies meticulously, understanding customer needs, refining their products, and building ecosystems that delivered sustained value.

Systematic Product Management: The Key to Success

Systematic product management involves a structured approach to developing, launching, and scaling products. It emphasises thorough market research, iterative development, continuous feedback loops, and efficient resource allocation. This methodology ensures that products are not only innovative but also aligned with market demands and capable of evolving with customer needs.

  1. Product Discovery: Systematic product management begins with in-depth market research and customer discovery to understand their needs, problems, pain points, preferences, and behaviours. This foundational step ensures that the product addresses real market needs and reaches problem-solution fit. By thoroughly exploring these aspects, companies can create value propositions that have a higher chance of success.
  2. Product Delivery: Systematic product management embraces iterative development, unlike the one-shot approach often associated with first-movers. By continuously testing, refining, and improving the product based on user feedback, companies can ensure a better market fit and higher customer satisfaction. Additionally, the entire delivery pipeline requires constant improvements and adaptations to accommodate growth and scale.
  3. Product Strategy: A robust product strategy involves managing the entire product lifecycle, from development to retirement, with a focus on continuous adaptation to customer needs, pain points, and problems. This approach included regular market research and customer feedback gathering (including analytics) to ensure the product consistently delivers customer value. Agile methodologies and iterative development processes enable flexibility and rapid responses to market changes. Strategic resource allocation in marketing, sales, and customer support is crucial for building a strong ecosystem around the product, facilitating growth and scalability. By prioritizing innovation and ongoing improvement, companies can keep their products relevant and competitive, ensuring long-term success.

Example Case Studies

Google: Although not the first search engine, Google’s systematic approach to product management, focusing on user experience and continuous innovation, allowed it to become the dominant player in the search engine market.

Facebook: Similarly, Facebook was not the first social network. However, its iterative approach to development, constant innovation, and strategic resource allocation enabled it to outpace competitors and achieve market dominance.

Conclusion

While being first to market is appealing, real success comes from systematically managing products to completion. By focusing on execution, understanding customer needs, and continually improving products, companies can achieve lasting success and outperform early entrants.

As Robert Greene says, power belongs to those who finish the revolution, not just those who start it.

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