Fast Follower Strategy

A fast follower is an organization that waits for a competitor to successfully innovate before imitating it with a similar product.

Understanding fast followers

Most people are familiar with the term “first mover advantage”, but might there also be an advantage to moving second?

In a landmark 1993 study of 500 businesses across 50 product categories, researchers from the University of Southern California found that just 53% of first movers built a successful business.

Fast followers, who entered the market no more than 13 years after the first movers, were successful in 92% of examples.

Fast followers are organizations that wait for competitors to release pioneering innovations before releasing products of their own.

This is a strategy that is particularly effective in industries where standards and technology are dynamic and evolve frequently.

The fast follower strategy relies on a company releasing an imitation product in rapid time to secure vital market share before the competition.

A failure to imitate with speed increases the likelihood of the pioneering company building an advantage or moat of some kind.

When successful, however, the fast follower can avoid the risks inherent to innovation. According to Peter Gillett, CEO of mobile lead capture platform Zuant:

The pioneers have all the costs for R&D, the failures and the time involved. The fast follower can just cherrypick the best technology that emerges.”

Fast followers can also learn from the mistakes of another company and release a product that better satisfies consumer needs.

Fast follower examples

Let’s take a look at a few examples to solidify the fast follower concept.


Google (now Alphabet) primarily makes money through advertising. The Google search engine, while free, is monetized with paid advertising. In 2021 Google’s advertising generated over $209 billion (beyond Google Search, this comprises YouTube Ads and the Network Members Sites) compared to $257 billion in net sales. Advertising represented over 81% of net sales, followed by Google Cloud ($19 billion) and Google’s other revenue streams (Google Play, Pixel phones, and YouTube Premium).

Google’s PPC search engine is the undisputed leader in its industry, and many assume that the company came up with the concept.

However, the pay-per-click advertising model was actually developed by (Overture) in 2001.

History will show that Overture failed for multiple reasons. One of the more relevant was that it failed to scale the business by marketing the platform to end users.

Overture instead used its own PPC model to advertise on websites such as Yahoo and AOL, which meant that much of its advertising revenue was paid to partners. 

Google was able to improve on this innovation by subsidizing non-commercial keywords with advertising associated with commercial search terms.

This enabled Google to supplement its paid ad revenue via supplementation and become the dominant force.


Apple’s made over $365.8 billion in revenues in 2021, of which over $191.9 billion or over 52% of its total revenues came from the iPhone. Yet, the iPhone isn’t just a hardware product; it’s a business platform that combines hardware (iPhone), operating system (iOS), and a marketplace (the App Store). Thus, the company still makes most of its money around a single product which powers up an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Apple has been a fast follower on several occasions. The iPod was not the first music player. The iMac was not the first personal computer.

The iPhone was certainly not the first smartphone.

In each case, the company waited until a rival identified a real consumer need, entered the market, and defined the product category.

It then observed the market to identify product weaknesses and set about developing a solution that addressed those weaknesses.

When these products were paired with Apple’s brand equity and effective marketing team, the company was able to attain a dominant market share.

In most cases, Apple added useful ecosystem features to its products instead of superficial, low-value improvements.

BlackBerry and the iPhone

Let’s consider the Blackberry, a revolutionary product in its own right which was successful for a few short years.

While the Blackberry was a mainstay of the corporate world, Steve Jobs envisioned that the biggest smartphone market would be ordinary consumers and he designed the first iPhone accordingly.

The Blackberry featured a clunky plastic keyboard and a non-ergonomic design that could not be carried in one’s pocket comfortably.

Their popularity among corporate executives also made them uncool with younger consumers and the device was tied to a single network that was subject to security concerns.

When Jobs made an impassioned speech on January 9, 2007, he shared Apple’s vision for three new products: a widescreen iPod with a touch screen, a breakthrough in internet communication, and a revolutionary mobile phone.

He then stunned an enraptured crowd by exclaiming “Are you getting it yet? These are not three separate devices. This is one device. And we’re calling it the iPhone.” 

Taking a less than subtle swipe at BlackBerry, Jobs later noted that:

The most advanced phones are called ‘smartphones’… so they say. They combine a phone and some email capability… and all have these little plastic keyboards on them. The problem is that they’re not so smart and they’re not that easy to use.

Key takeaways:

  • A fast follower is an organization that waits for a competitor to successfully innovate before imitating it with a similar product.
  • The fast follower strategy relies on a company releasing an imitation product in rapid time to secure vital market share before the competition. When successful, the fast follower can avoid the financial and reputational risks inherent to innovation.
  • Examples of fast followers include Google, who improved Overture’s PPC advertising model, and Apple, who can attribute the success of many of their most famous products to the strategy.

The FourWeekMBA Business Strategy Toolbox

Tech Business Model Framework

A tech business model is made of four main components: value model (value propositions, missionvision), technological model (R&D management), distribution model (sales and marketing organizational structure), and financial model (revenue modeling, cost structure, profitability and cash generation/management). Those elements coming together can serve as the basis to build a solid tech business model.

Blockchain Business Model Framework

A Blockchain Business Model according to the FourWeekMBA framework is made of four main components: Value Model (Core Philosophy, Core Values and Value Propositions for the key stakeholders), Blockchain Model (Protocol Rules, Network Shape and Applications Layer/Ecosystem), Distribution Model (the key channels amplifying the protocol and its communities), and the Economic Model (the dynamics/incentives through which protocol players make money). Those elements coming together can serve as the basis to build and analyze a solid Blockchain Business Model.

Business Competition

In a business world driven by technology and digitalization, competition is much more fluid, as innovation becomes a bottom-up approach that can come from anywhere. Thus, making it much harder to define the boundaries of existing markets. Therefore, a proper business competition analysis looks at customer, technology, distribution, and financial model overlaps. While at the same time looking at future potential intersections among industries that in the short-term seem unrelated.

Technological Modeling

Technological modeling is a discipline to provide the basis for companies to sustain innovation, thus developing incremental products. While also looking at breakthrough innovative products that can pave the way for long-term success. In a sort of Barbell Strategy, technological modeling suggests having a two-sided approach, on the one hand, to keep sustaining continuous innovation as a core part of the business model. On the other hand, it places bets on future developments that have the potential to break through and take a leap forward.

Transitional Business Models

A transitional business model is used by companies to enter a market (usually a niche) to gain initial traction and prove the idea is sound. The transitional business model helps the company secure the needed capital while having a reality check. It helps shape the long-term vision and a scalable business model.

Minimum Viable Audience

The minimum viable audience (MVA) represents the smallest possible audience that can sustain your business as you get it started from a microniche (the smallest subset of a market). The main aspect of the MVA is to zoom into existing markets to find those people which needs are unmet by existing players.

Business Scaling

Business scaling is the process of transformation of a business as the product is validated by wider and wider market segments. Business scaling is about creating traction for a product that fits a small market segment. As the product is validated it becomes critical to build a viable business model. And as the product is offered at wider and wider market segments, it’s important to align product, business model, and organizational design, to enable wider and wider scale.

Market Expansion

The market expansion consists in providing a product or service to a broader portion of an existing market or perhaps expanding that market. Or yet, market expansions can be about creating a whole new market. At each step, as a result, a company scales together with the market covered.



Growth Matrix

In the FourWeekMBA growth matrix, you can apply growth for existing customers by tackling the same problems (gain mode). Or by tackling existing problems, for new customers (expand mode). Or by tackling new problems for existing customers (extend mode). Or perhaps by tackling whole new problems for new customers (reinvent mode).

Revenue Streams

In the FourWeekMBA Revenue Streams Matrix, revenue streams are classified according to the kind of interactions the business has with its key customers. The first dimension is the “Frequency” of interaction with the key customer. As the second dimension, there is the “Ownership” of the interaction with the key customer.

Revenue Model

Revenue model patterns are a way for companies to monetize their business models. A revenue model pattern is a crucial building block of a business model because it informs how the company will generate short-term financial resources to invest back into the business. Thus, the way a company makes money will also influence its overall business model.

Read Next: First-Mover.

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