Vacuum Spaces

Given the knowledge of today’s key structural trends, how do you determine what the right market timing for implementing your cool idea is? If you know the answer to this question, I’d like to meet you.

Google, Apple, Facebook, MySpace, Skype, Youtube… These are of course some fabled companies that are known, especially in the popular media, to be the most innovative entities of our times. But what was it early on in the life of today’s category dominators that put that put them on their incredible growth trajectories? Was it that they invented a new path breaking product that didn’t exist before? Or was it that they identified and created a brand new market?

The answer to both questions is No! In fact each of these companies’ success was (and still is) about finding the perfect timing, and then following it up with flawless execution. Here’s a quick look:

  • Altavista, a leading claimant to the title of The First Search Engine, has been around 1994 (“The Search” makes for an interesting read). Google burst on the scene in 1997 with a technically and visually superior product. Moreover, the concept behind Google’s now legendary AdWords and AdSense systems (originating around 2000) finds their roots in Goto.com (later Overture, now a part of Yahoo), which was operated an ad marketplace with a similar concept way back in 1997.
  • Mp3 players and portable music players have been around for years and years. Apple surfaced with the iPod in 2001, and by 2003, it owned the entire category.
  • Friendster, in 2002, was the first on the online social networking block (in its current form), but how many of us have Friendster accounts now? facebook and MySpace of course own that category today.
  • I started using Yahoo Messenger’s Voicechat functionality sometime around 1999. Skype came to the scene with similar functionality in 2003 and owned the entire category within a year.

Each of these snippets is about a product that came to a space that had existed for a few years, but was stagnating or linearly growing. The new product then bowled over the consumer with a technically superior product. But perhaps most importantly, all of these products entered the scene at a time when consumer attitudes in these spaces were at their inflection points. I call these spaces Vacuum Spaces – spaces waiting for a fresh new wind of change and innovation to come rushing in, and fill them up.

The good news, then, is that in order to build a behemoth category dominator from scratch, you don’t need to identify and create an entirely new market. You have a shot at identifying spaces that are ripe for disruption, and then enter them with full force and slick execution. One of the hard parts, of course, is identifying what these spaces are at any given point (the other one is carrying out the slick execution). Knowing that some of the spectacular successes of tomorrow will be in spaces that already have a few players in them today, how do you identify and bet upon them?

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