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The Alchemy of Leadership Blog

Is First Better?

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The first time I heard the word ‘Internet’ was in 1992, at the very start of my MBA.  INSEAD held a pre-course computer orientation session.  One of my classmates starting talking this strange language involving mysterious networks reaching all the way to America.  We all looked at each other sceptically – what did he know?  As it turned out the correct question was: what did we know?

We were, in fact, already years behind the curve.  The very first domain name, symbolics.com, was registered way back in March 1985.  It was brought into the world by Symbolics, Inc, a now-defunct computer company.  Three days later, Neighbours debuted in Australia.  Can we even imagine a world without Kylie any more?

The nascent internet grew slowly.  By the end of 1985 there were still only six trailblazing domains; by the end of 1986 just 50.  By 1992, when I went to business school, there were 16,000.  Today, there are over 290 million of them.  I think we can safely say the internet has turned into something of a success over that period!

So, have the early pioneers endured?  The short answer is “no”.  It seems that registering domain names in itself does not deliver first-mover advantage.  It’s how you use your domain that counts.  Creating an enduring business model and executing brilliantly; appointing great leaders leading great people; and a bit of luck.

Of those first six examples, only one, bbn.com is still used by the company that first registered it – and that’s now a subsidiary of Raytheon.  Three of the remaining trailblazers are out of use, returning error messages; the other two have been ‘recycled’ and are now owned by other people.  This includes the baby of them all which has been ‘preserved’ by investors as a piece of internet history.  symbolics.com lives on, but it’s all grown up now and moved out of its original home years ago.  Just like Kylie.

Key questions for you

    • How important is first-mover advantage in my sector?
    • If it’s important, how good am I at spotting and exploiting first-mover opportunities?
    • Do I have assets that someone else could make better use of than me – assets I could sell for a premium?



© Patrick Macdonald 2015

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