Demonstrating The "First-Mover Advantage" In Business

Demonstrating The "First-Mover Advantage" In Business

"If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late."

— Reid Hoffman  

first mover advantage in business

Ever wondered what makes some businesses consistently outperform their competitors? What sets successful companies apart?

Organizations use different tactics to gain a competitive edge – one of which is the First Mover Advantage (FMA). But what is it, and how does it work? 

Being the first to enter the market provides a distinct edge over companies that come later. This advantage resulting from an initial lead is commonly known as the first-mover advantage.

Let's take a closer look at how it works.


How does First-Mover Advantage in Business Work?

Being the first company to launch a new product or service comes with challenges, like marketing something new and facing skepticism from the market. But if you can overcome these hurdles, the rewards are immense.

First movers benefit from learning, network effects, size, and access. Learning comes from being the first to produce or deliver a service, giving them an efficiency edge over time. Network effects mean having a more extensive customer base, which is crucial for products or services that gain value with more users. Time favors the first mover in this case.

With time, first movers can proliferate, enjoying economies of scale and a size advantage. Additionally, being the first in the market allows them to secure critical assets like location, technology, and skilled personnel, providing an access advantage.

Where It Thrives:

First-mover advantage is most effective when a company gains clear competitive edges in its industry. This is particularly prominent in industries where learning is critical, such as the intricate production of goods like airplanes or pharmaceuticals. The advantage is boosted when a company has robust protection for its processes and innovations. 

Given the substantial investments required for tackling complexity, the learning advantage often translates into an increase in size. This size allows companies to distribute fixed costs across numerous units, creating a formidable barrier for competitors to overcome. Profits accrued during this period enable the first mover to secure key assets. 

Network effects, while more nuanced, play a pivotal role. Tech companies often capitalize on network effects by pioneering specific platforms, amassing the most users, and enhancing the value for each user as the overall user base expands. This principle extends to various online services like dating sites, shopping platforms, and search engines, which become more valuable with increased user participation. 

When coupled with higher switching costs, such as needing a different console for gaming or having established social groups on a platform, the network effect gains additional strength. Even customer loyalty through familiarity with a brand's processes, like a smartphone's operating system, further solidifies the advantage.

Where It Falls Short:

Despite its merits, first mover advantage has limitations, and its efficacy may diminish. Market and technological evolution act as two forces that can erode this advantage. Market evolution involves shifts in consumer preferences, which can change rapidly, catching even market pioneers off guard. 

While companies dealing with primary products may experience slower changes, those in consumer tech face swift transformations in consumer tastes, attracting more competitors to meet new demands. This dovetails with technological evolution.

Regardless of the complexity or learning advantages, there's always a risk that technology evolves swiftly, eliminating the established advantage seemingly overnight. First movers may find themselves overly committed to their existing business models and processes, and a fast follower, unburdened by such commitments, can learn from their predecessors' mistakes, surging ahead.

Examples of First Movers who revolutionized the Business Landscape

Gillette's Grooming Genius


In 1895, King C. Gillette revolutionized grooming with the idea of a disposable safety razor featuring blades that could be discarded after use. It took six years to realize this concept and file the initial patent for the first disposable razor and blade. In its inaugural year, the company sold fewer than three hundred blades and razors, but astonishingly, this figure surged to over two hundred thousand in the subsequent year.

However, until 1921, the product remained a luxury item for the general public due to the patent's exclusivity. It was only when Gillette introduced an upgraded version following the patent's expiration that the landscape changed. 

The older razor's price plummeted from $5 to $1, while the improved version retained its original $5 price tag. This strategic price adjustment triggered a substantial surge in customers embracing Gillette-branded products. This transformative event laid the foundation for the "razor and blade approach," where razors are sold at a low initial cost while the blades command a considerably higher price.

Gillette reaped the rewards of being a First Mover in the industry; by being the first to market, it swiftly produced identical versions, secured patents promptly, and entered markets faster than its competitors could. This strategic advantage solidified Gillette's position and established a business model that has echoed through the years in various industries.

Coca-Cola's Sip to Success

coca cola

Dr. John Stith Pemberton, a pharmacist in Atlanta, Georgia, invented Coca-Cola. The original formula was intended as a patent medicine – a coca wine called Pemberton's French Wine Coca. Due to prohibition laws, Pemberton reformulated the drink, removing alcohol and creating a non-alcoholic version. 

While Coca-Cola wasn't the pioneer in the soda market, it emerged as the undisputed leader. 


Coca-Cola's strategic marketing and distribution contributed to its widespread popularity.

It became a symbol of refreshment and happiness, creating a solid emotional connection with consumers. The company's early focus on branding and advertising gave it a distinct advantage over later entrants.

Coca-Cola's early global expansion, including its presence in international events like the Olympics, further solidified its market dominance. The company's ability to adapt its formula to local tastes and preferences facilitated successful entry into diverse markets.

The early establishment of an extensive distribution network, including introducing the contour bottle for easy identification, contributed to Coca-Cola's accessibility and widespread availability.

The initial appearance of soda syrups dates back to around 1881, but Coca-Cola's introduction in 1886 quickly propelled it to consumer stardom. By the time Pepsi entered the scene in 1898, Coca-Cola was already selling a million gallons annually.

Pepsi faced financial setbacks, declaring bankruptcy twice. In the 1950s, they revamped their brand to stay competitive. Their strategic move in the 1960s, merging with Frito Lay, secured a significant market share in snack foods and provided a much-needed boost in stocks, revitalizing their ability to compete. However, Coca-Cola's major beverage brands achieved sales exceeding $45 billion— a milestone Pepsi has yet to surpass.

Amazon's Adventure in E-Commerce Excellence


Founded in 1995 by Jeff Bezos, it commenced as an online bookstore, exclusively selling books in its early days. Surprisingly, within its first year, Amazon raked in over $20 million in merchandise sales, and by 1997, it had become a leader in online bookselling, hitting the $250 million sales mark.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and CEO, envisioned the company as an online store offering products at lower prices than other retailers, with various avenues for product distribution. As digital technologies advanced, Amazon emerged as a significant player in e-commerce, disrupting the market with affordable products. 

It boasts an extensive catalog of over 100 million products across 18 categories, available in more than 200 countries.

Amazon's rise exemplifies how an online shopping giant can reshape retail, challenging traditional brick-and-mortar stores. Recognizing the potential of affiliate marketing and the growing e-commerce trend, Jeff Bezos seized the opportunity, leveraging the internet to offer competitive prices.

The company's success is grounded in a strategy centered on innovation and user experience, propelling its market value to $1.813 T as of 2024. Amazon continues to grow steadily, introducing new products and maintaining its status as a prominent player in the online retail space.

Uber's Ride to the Destination


Uber was founded by Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick in San Francisco, California. The idea sparked after Camp struggled to find a cab in Paris. The concept was to create a more efficient and user-friendly alternative to traditional taxi services.

Its early entry gave it a head start in establishing itself as the go-to option for convenient and reliable rides. The cashless payment system and real-time tracking set a new standard in user experience.

With the introduction of UberX, Uber reached a broader audience by providing more affordable rides in everyday cars. This strategic move enabled Uber to cater to a diverse market segment and solidify its position as an accessible transportation option.

Its ability to adapt and introduce additional services, such as UberPOOL and UberEATS, showcased its versatility in responding to market demands, further strengthening its foothold.

Uber's early entry and aggressive marketing campaigns contributed to high brand recognition. "Uber" became synonymous with ridesharing, giving it a distinct advantage over later entrants.

Launching in 2012, Lyft emerged as Uber's fiercest rival. Despite facing a tumultuous year of scandal in 2016, marked by the departure of their founder and CEO and the "Delete Uber" campaign, Uber's dominance in the U.S. rideshare market remained strong. According to Zippia, Uber commands a substantial 71% share of sales, while Lyft holds a more modest 29%.

Apple's Innovative Journey 


Launched by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne in 1976, Apple started in a garage in Cupertino, California. It was the beginning of a company that would redefine technology.

In 2007, the iPhone set new standards for smartphones, combining sleek design with a touch interface and a robust app ecosystem. 

Apple didn't just enter the existing smartphone market; it redefined its security. Its dedication to delivering security services for the iPhone and Apple Watch signified a notable company perspective shift and somehow defeated Blackberry in the process. 

Apple holds the advantage of pioneering this innovative strategic direction. Through recent advancements like the satellite connection for iPhones and the capability to track automobile accidents, Apple is reshaping its marketing narrative to emphasize a commitment to customer safety.

Health, safety, and privacy remain key focal points for Apple, contributing to the growing appeal of its products. The company persists in prioritizing these intangibles, further enhancing the desirability of its offerings.

Apple could also command premium pricing by offering a superior product with an unmatched user experience, solidifying its brand image and profitability.

Android emerged as a strong competitor, offering openness and affordability. Apple countered by emphasizing its seamless user experience and ecosystem lock-in. Furthermore, innovation slowed as the smartphone market matured, and differentiation became more challenging. Apple responded by focusing on premium features, camera technology, and services like Apple Music and Apple Pay.

Despite challenges, Apple remains the world's second-largest smartphone vendor and enjoys high brand loyalty and profitability. Its success wasn't just about being first; it was about delivering a truly innovative product that redefined user expectations.

Starbucks Brewing Brilliance


Founded in 1971, Starbucks entered a fragmented market dominated by local coffee shops and basic diner coffee. The journey began when three partners, Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker, opened the first Starbucks store at 2000 Western Avenue, Seattle.

Initially, Starbucks primarily sold high-quality coffee beans and equipment for brewing at home, aiming to provide a premium coffee experience.

The early emphasis on providing high-quality coffee beans and the later introduction of espresso beverages positioned Starbucks as a pioneer in the specialty coffee market. Schultz's vision to create a "third place" between home and work where people could enjoy quality coffee contributed significantly to Starbucks' differentiation.

Being the first, they secured prime locations in high-traffic areas, building brand awareness. Their consistent quality and unique atmosphere fostered customer loyalty early on. Early adoption of loyalty programs like the Starbucks Card further strengthened customer relationships.

The global expansion in the late 20th century solidified Starbucks as a leader in the coffee industry, and its continuous innovation has maintained its first-mover advantage in the evolving market.

Starbucks was one of the first coffee chains to offer free Wi-Fi in stores, creating a "third place" for work and socializing. They launched their mobile app in 2010, enabling mobile ordering and payment, pioneering a widely adopted trend.

While the first-mover advantage gave them a head start, they faced competition from established players and new entrants, such as McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts. Starbucks adapted by diversifying their offerings, including food items and seasonal drinks, and expanding globally. They emphasized ethical sourcing and sustainability to maintain their brand image.

Today, Starbucks faces increased competition from specialty coffee shops, fast-food chains, and even convenience stores offering premium coffee. However, their strong brand recognition, loyal customer base, and digital infrastructure give them a significant advantage. They continue to innovate with new technologies like delivery and voice ordering, aiming to maintain their leadership position.

Take Advantage of Being First

Being the first in the market allows entrepreneurs to establish their product or service as the go-to standard, making a solid impression on customers and competitors. 

Take Advantage of Being First

While FMA has various benefits, it's not a one-size-fits-all strategy for every business. Before deciding on this approach, businesses should carefully assess the advantages and risks associated with FMA and explore alternative strategies. Companies that are well-informed about their options can make strategic decisions that place them for success.

Take the time to analyze your options, consider the drawbacks and advantages, and choose the best strategy for your specific circumstances. Making informed decisions will enable you to navigate the business landscape effectively.

You can also stay ahead by hiring a virtual assistant from a reputed platform like Wishup! Want to know how? Talk to us today – book a free consultation here. You can also send us an email at [email protected].

Frequently Asked Questions: First Mover Advantage In Business

What is the first-mover advantage in the business dictionary?

In the business dictionary, the first-mover advantage describes the initial competitive edge a company gains by introducing a new product or service before its rivals. This head start allows them to:

  • Brand recognition & customer loyalty
  • Time to refine product/service
  • Potential cost advantages

What is the first and second mover advantage?

The "second-mover advantage" occurs when a company entering the market later can seize a larger market share. First-movers often face significant research, development, and marketing costs to introduce a new product category.

The second-mover advantage is the competitive benefit of a firm entering the market later. This advantage comes from leveraging the established customer base of the first-mover and implementing proven marketing strategies. It allows the second-mover to build on the groundwork laid by the pioneer, potentially surpassing them in market influence and success.