Is Timing Everything ?

Mobile Commerce, Smartphone, Mobile Wallets – terms that we are rather familiar with today but would have sounded “alien” 14 years ago, back in the year 2001 !


I recently stumbled upon an article I wrote for Singapore’s Straits Times  on 19 June 2001 and was taken aback at how I managed to “nail so many parts of the mobile ecosystem that are just really starting to come to fruition now” (as a friend put it). I certainly don’t have the ability to see into the future then or did I ? Nah ….

We were most certainly working on and experimenting with these concepts then and envision how mobile phones would impact our day-to-day life. If we had launched those services then we would have been way too early, since the infrastructure was not there plus even if that existed, we would need to educate the world on these new services / tools and would have run out of money (and we did). Remember in 2001, there was no iPhone (it was released only in 2007), Wi-fi was in its infancy and Facebook only arrived in 2004.

There was no “networked-age” as we know it today.  People were not as “connected” and access to the Internet from home was a luxury in our part of the world, let alone mobile internet access.  Could Mobile Commerce work then if we “launched” ? Definitely not !

Timing is less about being the first but being the “most-used” or the most popularized. It is a function of finding the right balance between demand and supply.  This is best illustrated by Apple and its “second-mover advantage” (a termed coined by NYU marketing professor Scott Galloway).  While Apple, who hasn’t been first to market in anything,  it has mastered the art of timing !

I quote Galloway : “Apple has been second at most stuff. They’re not a true innovator in the definition of the word. They weren’t the first into object-oriented computing (the mouse), they weren’t the first MP3 player, they weren’t the first mobile phone. But they look at something, they improve upon it, they weigh it, and they come in and make it more user friendly.”

Today, we are in an of global connectivity ! With 3G /Wi-Fi , tablets and smartphones we are always connected to the Internet and in many more places than 14 years ago. With the rise of social networks and instant messaging,  businesses are able to reach and gain new customers/users with unprecedented speed, where it would have taken years in the past, it could now be done in weeks for lower costs too.  And timing still holds even more true now then it did in the past.

Why do startups like AirBnB, Uber etc. succeed while other fail? Is it the team? Funding? Timing? Idea? Business model?  According to serial entrepreneur Bill Gross, it’s all about timing.  Timing came in at 42% from surveying over 200 companies !

He came to this conclusion by investigating how 5 key factors affected the success of the 125 companies in his portfolio at Idealab and 125 companies outside of his portfolio.

single biggest reason why startups succeed

For innovators, adoption is the real challenge and will happen only when people, markets, and technology are ready.  If your too ahead of the “time”, you could hedge your bets, file a patent, sit back and wait for the right time to come :-) But this does not mean that team execution, the idea, business model and funding do not play important roles — they still do.

P.S. If you’ll like to read what I wrote in the year 2001, you can download the scanned copy of the article here or from this link

P.S.S. Here’s Bill Gross’ TED talk on why startups succeed, watch to find out about his findings below.




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