We are seeing another moment in technology history where smart money must distinguish the “leading edge” & the “bleeding edge.”
The rate at which technology changes, means the incumbent can become the underdog in a half-sprint. When Snow’s smash hit song “Informer” dropped in his 1992 debut album, it was as if the earth stood still. If only for a brief moment.
The flow & the beat caught the attention of contemporary culture and music critics across the globe. Yet, nobody really knew the lyrics. Between the crass misappropriation of hip-hop culture & the “licky boom boom down” unintelligible lyrics, like most things in their season, human beings are too invested & too enamored to see the truth.
Today, Snow is etched in the recesses of history as that guy whose song you knew about but whose music you understand. Acclaimed critic Ron Wynn called the song “patois-laced” & in contrast to the “boom boom bap” sound of the day, it was an altogether new musical endeavor. Fast-forward a few years shy of a decade, and in the late 90s & early 2000s enters the musical talent of Eminem.
Marshall Mathers transformed the game of hip-hop. There are musical fundis who do not agree with this point. But my argument is not an academic one. Eminem introduced a completely new fan base to hip hop. A fanbase that may not have understood the deep & rich history of hip-hop, the early days of MCs hosting block parties, or the threaded culture of the fashion but was fanning out over the “white kid cussing at his mother”.
Unlike Snow, Eminem stood the test of time.
Now there are several reasons why I should dare compare Eminem to Snow. I know that. The comparison itself is an insult. But allow me some creative license.
Point: sometimes FIRST is NOT the smart play.
Traditional business school training says that FIRST can build scale & scale wins all wars. This is true. In TRADITIONAL industries. Where the value chain is not to be disrupted.
But when you can interrupt or disrupt the creation of, capturing & packaging of, or even the transfer of value in any value chain, then FIRST is actually at a distant disadvantage.
The reason is simple: LEGACY breeding LETHARGY.
Take it from someone who has actually been at the receiving end of this, when you have a playbook that works, it is very hard to change it.
Even when you see the diminishing returns. The Titanic crashed because it couldn’t adjust course timeously. In business today, the OLD is the WEAK and the NEW are the STRONG.
1. Banks are biting their nails trying to befriend Fintech startups.
2. Retailers are scrambling to get into e-commerce.
3. Asset managers are caught star gazing at AI & ML as disruptive investment tools.
4. Traditional media houses are unaware that there are YouTube channels with more live viewers than they have actual viewers of their channels.
5. Radio streams are still debating if they should have a strategy for Clubhouse or Spaces.
Saying the future is built on technology is nothing new.
You already know that.
What I am saying though is that in this new era, FIRST doesn’t STRONGEST. What I am saying is that BIGGEST doesn’t mean BEST.
The trick is making sure that you are married to the use-case of the technology rather than the brands building those technologies. Your favorite number 1 e-commerce platform or most preferred remittance technology could be completely obsolete in a few years.
Over the past few weeks, this is the one truism I come to realize across the decks we are assessing or the investment opportunities we are getting, SCALE & FIRST MOVER can be a disadvantage.
By the way, mad love to Snow. Personally, I am still reciting the version of the lyrics that have something to do with a sheep crying for its mother.
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