To understand this fast follower strategy, you will have to understand the opposite which is the first mover strategy. First mover strategy is to take a lead in an innovation or product or method or even technology as against the fast follower strategy which is to copy an invention and make better or different or simply to a location where it has never been with exact model.
The invention of Uber can be called a first mover disruption. The invention of more efficient messaging platforms like WhatsApp can be likened to the first mover strategy. In simple terms, it’s doing or launching a new system and innovation that never had been and doing that before anyone else. Despite this fast follower strategy that has become china’s business secret, Investopedia has ranked China to be the biggest economy in the world after America.
How did they reach here? What single strategy was responsible? and How can you apply it to your business?
Fast Follower Strategy: China’s biggest business secret
In a world where innovation and disruption are celebrated, China has chosen the alternative. If you cannot be the fowl that scratch the ground for food, stand behind the fowl and eat of her labour, what she dug out from the soil. A position China has chosen to stand with.
To understand this fast follower strategy, you will have to understand the opposite which is the first mover strategy. To be the First mover is to take a lead in an innovation or product or method or even technology. The invention of Uber can be called a first mover disruption. The invention of more efficient messaging platforms like WhatsApp can be likened to the first mover strategy. In simple terms, it’s doing or launching a new system and innovation that never had been and doing that before anyone else.
The advantage might be you reaping the first benefits and the demerit would mean other companies learning from your failure and then they launch to do better. This means you’ve saved them the cost of market research because by studying the first movers, they had gained all the data they needed to cause disruption.
These companies that copy or feed on the exploits of other companies, I choose to term them, followers. And in this case, China is a fast follower, maximizing the fast follower strategy
At the macro level, the single word for such progress is globalisation. taking things that work somewhere and making them work everywhere or elsewhere. China is the paradigmatic example of globalization. Its 20-year plan is to become like the united states is today. Nigeria too is in this class along with other developing nations.
The Chinese have been straightforwardly copying everything that has worked in the developed world. same with nigeria. What business is in Nigeria today that hasn’t been elsewhere? Nigeria is simply copying but maybe not following fast as chine would do.
The reverse of this is the first mover principle which involves the use of technology to cause disruption that other business can’t penetrate easily. To overthrow Google, where would you start? When they have more than 16 products/platforms actively earning them. They have made market entry almost impossible. The Nigeria environment would make the emergence of businesses like this almost impossible. If being innovative is hard, why not build on existing business and make it better or do it differently.
Launch a Google search engine, The Chinese would study it, ban it on their cyber space and launch theirs (Baidu). Launch a YouTube, they study it and launch almost exactly the same (Youku).
Amazon → DangDang
WORDPRESS, BLOGGER = SINA BLOGS
TWITTER = SINA WEIBO
EBAY = TAOBAO
WIKIPEDIA = HUDONG, BAIDU BAIKE
They simply stand behind the fowl and eat of her hard labour. They are fast followers. Most businesses in China are merely a replica of what is seen in other places and guess what? Their huge population makes their products market ready. They don’t easily fail. WhatsApp too is no exception, in fact, they did it better, thus the birth of wechat
The picture below is a comparison between WhatsApp and wechat
Apple’s success secret is not exempted from this fast follower principle. Apple isn’t the first smart phone. BlackBerry is the first I can remember. BlackBerry had class, was a quality brand everyone wanted to associate with but not until apple emerged. Apple followed fast. Maybe they did it better and different of course but the model and psychological feel between the two are almost not different. Just like wechat, Apple offered something better with a stronger brand
You don’t need to have an idea to do business. You can follow fast on an already existing one and make it better or different or even take the same exact idea to a geographical location where the originators can’t reach. Just know how to make an idea work
Top leading banks in Nigeria bring no new inventions, they simply stay awake in their industry to copy latest inventions made in the industry by the smaller banks. Sometimes, so fast that you think these big banks are the originators.
If you cannot invent, simply Stay awake in your industry and stand behind the fowl and eat of their hard labour.
The same principle of fast following strategy has been adopted by telecom companies in Nigeria. One offers a unique promo, others follow fast immediately. When one increases in value addition or price reduction, others follow suit, nobody wants to be left behind.
Is this always good? Not at all! But it sure saves you from extinction in your industry. If you do it better or at least differently, you might become the market leader just like Apple have emerged to become the most valuable brand. How did Apple do this?
The author of the book from zero to one has the opinion that this fast follower strategy will never make a nation a leading nation in the economic world. However, the result works for China and can work anywhere else. (Especially in developing nations that are trying to catch up)
Another lesson is this
no matter what business you do, someone somewhere is working hard to come up with something to take over your business. Whether you’re following or you’re disrupting, you’ve to keep up to your game.
So how can fast follower strategy work for you in your business?
Remember, fast follower strategy isn’t always the best, but if done better or different can make you a market leader.
1. Stay awake in your industry.
What is the leading invention in your industry? Schools now integrate virtual learning by incorporating the learning management system on their platform to earn more money from students their geographical location can’t reach.
2. Never discuss your inventions in public:
You don’t discuss business in public places. Let the execution do the public talk for you at least your competitors would be cut unaware. Chinese don’t announce their bans first, they develop the new, ban the old and then launch. No press gathering discussion on plans to ban
Take and make better or different. By this you save the cost of studying the market. one benefit of competition is that it shows the market is viable. just be different or be better. No wonder Apple has made their mantra to be Think different