Does It Pay to Be an Early Adopter?

When it comes to technology, sometimes being an early adopter is a good things; Other times it pays to be a fast follower? What the answer when it comes to healthcare innovation?

Does being the first mover make a difference? What about in sick care? A first-mover advantage can be simply defined as a firm’s ability to be better off than its competitors as a result of being first to market in a new product category.

As noted in a recent HBR post, it depends on the pace of technological evolution in an industry and the pace of market evolution. When constructed in a 2 x 2 matrix, the four possible results are calm waters, the technology leads, the market leads, and rough waters. The advantages can be short term or long term.

Market evolution depends not just on the size of the market and growth, but the velocity and acceleration of adaption and penetration as well. In sick care and biomedical products, it is notoriously slow. Consequently, technology leads and markets follow and only those with deep pockets and staying power are likely to recognize any first mover advantage, either in the short or long run.

Digital health, on the other hand, because of short development times and the multiplicative effects of Internet marketing, results in both technological innovation and consumer acceptance advancing rapidly, leaving first movers highly vulnerable because of rapid technological obsolescence and low barriers to entry by competitors-rough waters indeed.

Biomedical and clinical innovation follows different pathways. A critical decision entrepreneurs face is where they will play, how they will play, and how they can win. Deciding to be a first mover or fast follower is a key part of that decision.