Does First to Market Matter?

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It seems there’s quite a stir around being the first to market with a new innovation.

And while there’s no doubt the technology landscape is changing at a faster pace than even a decade ago, there seems to be some underlying belief that being first to market greatly increases sustained market domination.

While, I’m sure there are cases where this has proven true, my own perception is quite the opposite. There are several case studies we could look at to see his isn’t always true, but today I want to focus on a recent case: Hipstamatic.

Many of you may not remember Hipstamatic. (It’s still around…barely.) Some may have never even heard of it. This should all be very surprising because Hipstamatic was the first app to break open the barn doors of mobile photography apps and go mainstream…or at least mainstream by 2010 mobile standards.

So why don’t you or your kids or any of your family members use Hipstamatic? Let’s go to the timeline.

Spring 2010 – Hipstamatic released for iPhone for 99 cents. User can buy in-app digital lenses to apply a retro look to the pictures they take with their phone. Very hip!

October 2010 – Hipstamatic produces millions of dollars in revenue selling their in-app digital lenses.

October 6, 2010 – Ex-Googler Kevin Systrom launches Instagram, an iPhone app that allows user to apply retro filters to their pictures. Key difference: Instagram is free and has a built in social network to share images.

2010 – Hipstamatic named App of the Year by Apple.

2010 – The New York Times photo journalist Damon Winter wins 3rd place in an international photo contest for pictures of American soldiers in Afghanistan all taken on his iPhone with Hipstamatic.

March 2011 – 5 months after launch Instagram has 2.2 million users – growing by 130k users a week.

Summer 2011 – Hipstamatic enters the social pool with a feature called Family Album allowing users to co-curate photo albums. The tool is a confusing mess and an immediate flop.

December 2011 – Hipstamatic launches D Series – a separate iPhone app where users can buy digital versions of classic disposable cameras for 99 cents and share 24 photos before having to buy another digital camera pack. Users are outraged at the pay model compared to free Instagram.

2011 – Apple’s app of the year? Instagram.

January 2012 – Hipstamatic has 4 million users. Instagram has 15 million user sharing an average of 60 photos per second. Without any built in sharing tools Hipstamatic users are manually loading their photos to Instagram’s network.

January 2012 – Private mobile social network Path and very public network Twitter reach out to Hipstamatic for partnering opportunities. Hipstamatic CEO declines.

March 2012 – Instagram balloons to 27 million active users. Hipstamatic partners with Instagram to allow Hipstamatic users to seamlessly share their photos on Instagram’s social network.

19 Days Later – Facebook buys Instagram for $1 billion.

Hipstamatic CEO goes in search of VC funding and receives this overwhelming message from VC firms:

“The real problem is that Hipstamatic is perceived as a copycat that desires to be Instagram, and VCs don’t want to be in a me-too deal.”

Hipstamatic was the first retro photo app to market, but is now seen as a copycat to the company that came later but released a better product.

Fox Tip: If we sacrifice quality to be first, we also sacrifice the value of being first.

photo credit: emrank via photopin cc

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