Lasting-Mover Advantage: The Real Key to Startup Growth

Last·ing Mov·er Ad·van·tage (noun): a real and sustainable benefit enjoyed by an innovative company that enters a market and owns the customer use-case, the customer thoughts and actions and the customer relationship.

We see a lot of founders and corporate executives obsessed with being the first to market. They want to seize the so-called “first-mover advantage” that everyone in the Valley talks about.  But does this advantage exist? And if so, how important is it to startup growth?

Why You Need to Move Past the First-Mover Advantage

For the uninitiated, the first-mover advantage is a benefit a company gets when they’re the first ones in a market category. The strategy is a perennial favorite among the business school case study crowd.

In reality, the first-mover advantage rarely rewards a competitive advantage in the absence of rapid accelerants (such as the equally elusive network effect). Nonetheless, founders and corporate innovators are quick to decry the importance of being the first mover with such a fervent zeal you would think it was akin to having superhero powers.

In the age of applied technology, where it’s never been cheaper and easier to get a product to market, being first doesn’t matter if you don’t last.

Being first doesn’t matter if you don’t last. Click to Tweet

When you look at the largest and most valuable tech companies in the world today, you’ll see that very few of them were first movers. For example, Apple did not create the first smartphone, Google was not the first search engine and Facebook did not build the first social network.

We would challenge anyone to name the first-movers in each of these mega-categories (test your knowledge and check out the answers at the end of this post).

So, what’s the moral of the story? Don’t try to be first; try to last.

Don’t try to be first; try to last. Click to Tweet

Don’t focus on being first to market, focus on lasting in the market.

We call it the Lasting-Mover Advantage.

How to Become a Lasting-Mover and Drive Startup Growth

Own the Customer Use-Case

Can you clearly identify and solve a very specific problem faster, better and cheaper than the customer or any competitor doing it today? Let’s use Squarespace as an example here.

Founder Anthony Casalena wanted to create a better way to make a personal website for people who don’t code. Platforms like Geocities existed at the time, but Casalena noticed that they didn’t focus on simplicity, design and branding. He gave business owners and creatives an easier, more stylish way to showcase their business or portfolio. This resulted in massive startup growth for his company: Today, the company is valued at $1.7 billion.

Own the Customer Thoughts and Actions

Can you help lead your customer to make better decisions and improve their performance by providing unique insights in a measurable way? Especially when you’re not standing in front of them?  This works in your favor if you can help your customers make better, faster and cheaper measurable decisions than they are right now.

Square did a great job of this when they sought to improve how small businesses accepted payments (many were using PayPal at the time). Besides giving small business owners an easier, cheaper way to process credit card payments, they also give users insights about their business. Their dashboard gives customers “real-time reports” that show them what items sell the most, new vs. returning customers, average customer spending and total sales.

Own the Customer Relationship

Can you own the customer relationship and provide an unmatched, unassailable customer experience with your blend of people, product and service? It doesn’t matter if you are selling B2B, B2C, B2B2C, a Marketplace or custom service, all commerce is H2H: Human to Human.  

Glossier was not the first direct-to-consumer beauty company, but their customer service strategy sets them apart from their shoppers. Their “gTEAM” is made up of real-life people who focus on creating a better customer experience rather than just providing basic customer service. They are encouraged to speak with customers using real, conversational, friendly language rather than a script in order to establish an actual relationship.

According to the company, “most Glossier employees started out as customers,” which gives them a more customer-focused mindset. Finally, the company also improved on the experience by changing where they provide customer service. The gTEAM will answer consumers questions via email, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (places their customers actually are) rather than just giving shoppers a 1-800 number to call.

3 Leading Characteristics of Lasting-Movers

We’ve noticed that all lasting movers have three traits in common:

Learn-it-All Mindset

Do you love to learn? Lasting-movers believe that learning leads to the answers necessary to find the truth about their value hypothesis and where their product fits in the market.

Lasting-movers embrace feedback and use it to solve real problems for customers in pursuit of owning the use case. Approach your customer segment with the message that you think you can help them, but that you also don’t know what you don’t know (yet). Reserve the right to be less wrong tomorrow than you are today.


Can you organize a hyper-focused team around functional learning? This kind of learning leads your market and product team to the truth as quickly and efficiently as possible. Lasting-movers maintain a disciplined focus on what creates the most honest feedback from the market in the shortest period of time while using the least amount of resources. We call that traction-effort delta.

Follow a Framework

Lasting-movers follow a systematic and measurable framework to pursue the following three things:

  1. Truth – Find the truth about where your product fits in a market (if it does at all) and what to do about it.
  2. Learning – Organize your team with this one goal in mind: accelerate the path to the truth.
  3. Profitability – Seek out honest and measurable indications based on unit economics to determine whether or not that truth will lead to profitability at some determined point in the future.

Focus on Your Lasting Power for Startup Growth

Whether you are a startup with limited time, money and resources or you’re a large corporation with seemingly unlimited resources, you need to have a disciplined focus, measurable framework and love for learning to accelerate your path to lasting success.

By focusing on truth, learning and profitability rather than being first, you’ll create a product or service that has a better chance of meeting consumers needs for years and years to come. And in turn, you’ll maximize the chances of your startup growth.


Who Were the First Movers?

  • Smart Phone: Simon Personal Communicator, launched by IBM in 1992
  • Search Engine: Archie, launched by a McGill University college student in 1990
  • Social Network: Six Degrees, launched by MacroView in 1997

Free Starter Go-to-Market Toolkit

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