What Is The Snowball Effect? The Snowball Effect In A Nutshell

The snowball effect is a metaphor that describes any action or event as it evolves from something unimportant to something larger and more significant. The metaphor is named after the analogy of a snowball as it rolls down a hill covered in snow.  The snowball effect describes a scenario where one action or event results in many similar and more significant actions or events.

Concept OverviewThe Snowball Effect, also known as the Snowballing, Snowball Principle, or Accumulative Advantage, refers to a phenomenon where a small action or advantage grows exponentially over time, often gaining momentum and becoming significant. It is commonly used to describe situations where a small initial advantage or effort results in larger, compounding gains. The concept can be applied to various fields, including economics, finance, marketing, and social sciences.
Key CharacteristicsThe Snowball Effect exhibits several key characteristics:
1. Exponential Growth: Initially modest gains or advantages can lead to increasingly larger gains over time.
2. Positive Feedback Loop: As the advantage accumulates, it reinforces itself, creating a positive feedback loop.
3. Persistence: The effect continues as long as the conditions that facilitate growth remain in place.
4. Tipping Point: The Snowball Effect may reach a tipping point where it accelerates significantly.
5. Amplification: External factors or interventions can amplify the effect, making it more pronounced.
ExamplesNotable examples of the Snowball Effect include:
1. Compound Interest: Investments earning interest that is reinvested, leading to exponential growth.
2. Viral Marketing: Content or campaigns that go viral, gaining widespread attention and shares.
3. Network Effects: Social networks and platforms that become more valuable as more users join.
4. Wealth Accumulation: Wealthy individuals who can invest larger sums, leading to more significant returns.
5. Scientific Discoveries: The accumulation of knowledge and discoveries building upon previous findings.
ApplicationsThe Snowball Effect can be applied in various contexts:
1. Financial Planning: It is used to demonstrate the benefits of long-term investments and savings.
2. Business Growth: Companies aim to create positive feedback loops for customer acquisition and revenue growth.
3. Content Creation: Content creators seek to create viral content that can generate substantial views and engagement.
4. Product Adoption: Technology companies leverage network effects to grow their user base.
5. Scientific Research: Scientists build on existing knowledge to make breakthrough discoveries.
BenefitsLeveraging the Snowball Effect offers several benefits:
1. Accelerated Growth: It can lead to rapid growth and progress.
2. Efficiency: Small initial efforts can result in substantial returns, making resource allocation more efficient.
3. Competitive Advantage: Those who harness the Snowball Effect can gain a competitive edge.
4. Wealth Accumulation: It can lead to wealth accumulation and financial security.
5. Innovation: Scientific and technological advancements benefit from the accumulation of knowledge and discoveries.
ChallengesChallenges in harnessing the Snowball Effect include the need for a conducive environment, persistence during the early stages when gains may be modest, and competition or external factors that can disrupt or slow down the effect. Additionally, the effect can be negative when it leads to the concentration of power or resources.

Understanding the snowball effect

As it rolls, the snowball picks up snow and increases in surface area as a result.

The increase in surface area means it can absorb more snow and grow even larger.

Perhaps most importantly, the snowball gathers momentum as it rolls down the slope and increases in size.

In business, it can be helpful to think of the snowball effect as past or current actions or events that will have significant benefits in the future. 

The snowball effect in business

The snowball effect metaphor has multiple applications in business. Below is a look at just a few of these applications.


Entrepreneurs are well aware of the implications of the snowball effect – even if they do not associate those implications with the metaphor itself.

A startup founder understands that reaching critical mass is the most difficult part of the process.

Once critical mass is reached, however, they know that the company is self-sustaining and profitable enough to grow by itself.


Blogging is a prevalent and well-established practice, with popular blogging platform WordPress powering many websites on the internet. While a few successful bloggers really make money, those who do usually monetize through affiliate marketing, Google AdSense (or other advertising platforms), sponsorships, memberships, or selling their own digital and physical products.

Blogging is another example of the snowball effect at work, particularly in what is now an ultra-competitive market.

Most content writers start blogs and may write hundreds of informative or entertaining posts before they see any appreciable traffic.

The process of working to gain traction for a blog is characterized by frustration, uncertainty, and perseverance and requires a great deal of faith.

At some point, however, the blog will start to gather momentum. Perhaps a social media influencer or celebrity shares a post on social media.

Perhaps an update to the algorithm that ranks Google search results increases visibility.

Whatever the driver, note that the blog from this point will start to attract more and more traffic as it becomes increasingly well known.


Digital marketing is a sub-set of marketing which uses the Internet, and online platforms to drive a marketing strategy. Digital marketing channels offer opportunities to reach small audiences with a high degree of personalization, thus growing businesses even with lower budgets and a better understanding of those audiences.

While everyone loves instant results, it is important to understand that it takes time for marketing campaigns to either show promise or be destined for the trash.

In other words, marketers should not abandon an idea before it has had a chance to prove itself.

According to the Online Marketing Institute, consumers need to hear an offer as many as thirteen times before the business can generate a qualified, sales-ready lead.

This can be explained by a couple of psychological effects. The first is the exposure effect, which posits that consumers respond more favorably to marketing messages they’ve heard before.

The second is the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, which describes a situation where consumers are exposed to something and then begin to notice it everywhere.

Whatever the psychology behind marketing, the snowball effect reinforces the idea that marketing teams need to hit prospects with the same message repeatedly before they become a customer.

Once this has been achieved and provided the product is high quality, word-of-mouth means the business may experience a rapid increase in sales momentum.

Snowball effect examples

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett is an American business magnate, philanthropist, and perhaps the most quoted investor of all time. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, on August 30, 1930, Buffett is best known as the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and for his frugal lifestyle despite immense wealth.

In a book titled The Snowball about his personal and professional life, Warren Buffett said that “Life is like a snowball. The important thing is finding wet snow and a really long hill.” 

Most people attribute this quote to the billionaire’s investment strategy where stocks are held for a very long period of time – and for good reason.

Buffett has held companies like Coca-Cola and Wells Fargo for over 30 years, which has caused the value of his portfolio to appreciate like a snowball rolling down a hill.

In his 30s, Buffett’s net worth increased by around $24 million.

In his 40s, the increase was closer to $50 million. In his fifth decade, the 1980s, the value of his portfolio increased rapidly.

Buffett was worth around $376 million in 1982 and the value near-tripled to $1 billion in 1986. 

As Buffet entered his 60s in the 1990s, his portfolio value increased nearly 16 times and then doubled once more between 1996 and 2002.

Despite plateauing somewhat in the 21st century, Buffett’s portfolio continues to grow at a rate that would have been inconceivable when he first started investing.

Building businesses

Buffett is opposed to the start-up world, instead specializing in safe (or what some may consider boring) companies and industries that match his investment philosophy.

But the snowball effect can also be present in a start-up and refutes the idea that a company has failed unless it achieves hockey stick growth in the first year.

Some of the most sustainable, profitable, standalone businesses took 5 or 10 years to build before they started to gather momentum. Consider Facebook, for example.


Many will be surprised to learn that it took Facebook around 5 years before the company turned a profit.

This was facilitated by an increase in application sales and advertising revenue as the total number of users on Facebook tripled over the course of 2009 to 300 million.

From a base of $153 million in the previous year of 2008, Facebook’s revenue growth has also increased at a rapid rate.

Five years later, in 2013, revenue was 50 times higher to sit at around $7.87 billion.

It was around this time that the company hit an inflection point that stimulated the aggressive accumulation of Facebook shares. 

The inflection point was of course driven by accelerating revenue growth which occurred on both a sequential and year-over-year basis.

But it was also driven by a similar acceleration in mobile advertising income and underlying profitability as well as improved cash flows.

Facebook also entered the Fortune 500 list in 2013 and it was clear that the company had become a major institution with substantial global reach.

Between 2013 and 2017 with the company posting numbers in the tens of billions, revenue increased by at least 48.57% each year and peaked at an impressive 64.48% in 2014.

This was accompanied by a steady (though not quite as steep) increase in monthly active users.

Key takeaways

  • The snowball effect describes a scenario where one action or event results in many similar and more significant actions or events.
  • In business, it can be helpful to think of the snowball effect as past or current actions or events that will have significant benefits in the future.
  • The snowball effect has multiple applications in business, including entrepreneurship, marketing, and blogging.

Key Highlights of the Snowball Effect in Business:

  • Definition and Metaphor:
    • The snowball effect is a metaphor representing the process of something small or insignificant growing and gaining momentum as it progresses.
    • It’s named after the analogy of a snowball rolling down a hill, accumulating more snow and increasing in size and speed.
  • Mechanism of the Snowball Effect:
    • The snowball effect occurs as a result of increased surface area, allowing for more accumulation.
    • The momentum of the growing snowball enhances its ability to gather even more mass.
    • The metaphor illustrates how small initial actions can lead to more significant consequences over time.
  • Applications in Business:
    • Entrepreneurship: Reaching critical mass is challenging, but once achieved, a business becomes self-sustaining and profitable.
    • Blogging: Bloggers often experience slow growth initially, but as their content gains traction and visibility, their audience and traffic increase exponentially.
    • Marketing: Marketing campaigns require repetition to generate results; customer exposure to messages is crucial. Over time, the campaign gathers momentum and leads to sales growth.
    • Investment and Warren Buffett: Warren Buffett’s investment strategy aligns with the snowball effect, where the value of his portfolio has steadily grown over time due to compounding.
  • Examples:
    • Warren Buffett: Buffett’s investment philosophy aligns with the snowball effect as he holds stocks for extended periods, allowing them to appreciate steadily.
    • Building Businesses: Sustainable and profitable businesses often take years to gain momentum, challenging the idea of instant success.
    • Facebook: Facebook’s profitability and revenue growth took time to materialize, but once it gained traction, the company experienced rapid expansion and financial success.
  • Key Takeaways:
    • The snowball effect demonstrates how small actions can lead to significant outcomes over time.
    • It applies to various aspects of business, including entrepreneurship, marketing, and investment.
    • Businesses may take time to gather momentum, but once they do, their growth can become exponential.
    • Persistence, patience, and steady progress contribute to the snowball effect’s success in business.

Case Studies

Case StudyDescriptionSnowball Effect
Amazon’s Growth StrategyAmazon’s expansion from an online bookstore to a diversified e-commerce and tech giant.Initial success in one area led to reinvestment and growth opportunities in multiple sectors, resulting in a massive and diversified empire.
Facebook’s User Base ExpansionFacebook’s evolution from a college network to a global social media platform.Growing user base attracted businesses and developers, creating an ecosystem that reinforced its popularity.
Google’s Advertising DominanceGoogle’s journey from a search engine to an advertising powerhouse.Revenue from advertising fueled innovation and expansion into products like Maps, YouTube, and Android.
Apple’s App StoreThe App Store’s growth as a platform for app development and distribution.Increasing apps attracted more users, developers, and revenue, creating a thriving app ecosystem.
Netflix’s Content Library ExpansionNetflix’s transition from a DVD rental service to a streaming platform with original content.Original content attracted subscribers, reducing reliance on external providers and reinforcing subscriber growth.
Tesla’s Electric Vehicle Market ShareTesla’s rise in the EV market, starting with high-end models and moving to mass-market EVs.Early success allowed Tesla to invest in more affordable EVs, driving higher market share and influence in the automotive industry.
YouTube’s Video Content EcosystemYouTube’s development from a platform for user-generated videos to a diverse content hub.Attracting content creators and viewers led to a self-reinforcing cycle, creating a rich ecosystem of videos and content.
Microsoft’s Dominance in Office SuiteMicrosoft Office’s long-standing position in productivity software.Office’s standardization in business and education created a network effect, reinforcing its dominance and market leadership.
Bitcoin’s AdoptionBitcoin’s journey from a niche digital currency to widespread adoption.As more users and businesses adopted Bitcoin, it gained liquidity, wider acceptance, and contributed to the growth of the cryptocurrency ecosystem.
Uber’s Expansion Across CitiesUber’s growth from a ride-hailing service in one city to a global transportation network.Expanding to new cities attracted more drivers and riders, making the service more convenient and leading to further expansion.

Main Free Guides:

Connected Business Concepts to Value Investing

Circle of Competence

The circle of competence describes a person’s natural competence in an area that matches their skills and abilities. Beyond this imaginary circle are skills and abilities that a person is naturally less competent at. The concept was popularised by Warren Buffett, who argued that investors should only invest in companies they know and understand. However, the circle of competence applies to any topic and indeed any individual.

What is a Moat

Economic or market moats represent the long-term business defensibility. Or how long a business can retain its competitive advantage in the marketplace over the years. Warren Buffet who popularized the term “moat” referred to it as a share of mind, opposite to market share, as such it is the characteristic that all valuable brands have.

Buffet Indicator

The Buffet Indicator is a measure of the total value of all publicly-traded stocks in a country divided by that country’s GDP. It’s a measure and ratio to evaluate whether a market is undervalued or overvalued. It’s one of Warren Buffet’s favorite measures as a warning that financial markets might be overvalued and riskier.

Warren Buffet Companies

Warren Buffett is an American investor, business tycoon, and philanthropist. Known as the “Oracle of Omaha”, Buffett is best known for his strict adherence to value investing and frugality despite his immense wealth. He is among the wealthiest people in the world. Most of his wealth is tied up in Berkshire-Hathaway and its 65 subsidiaries.

Price Sensitivity

Price sensitivity can be explained using the price elasticity of demand, a concept in economics that measures the variation in product demand as the price of the product itself varies. In consumer behavior, price sensitivity describes and measures fluctuations in product demand as the price of that product changes.

Price Ceiling

price ceiling is a price control or limit on how high a price can be charged for a product, service, or commodity. Price ceilings are limits imposed on the price of a product, service, or commodity to protect consumers from prohibitively expensive items. These limits are usually imposed by the government but can also be set in the resale price maintenance (RPM) agreement between a product manufacturer and its distributors. 

Price Elasticity

Price elasticity measures the responsiveness of the quantity demanded or supplied of a good to a change in its price. It can be described as elastic, where consumers are responsive to price changes, or inelastic, where consumers are less responsive to price changes. Price elasticity, therefore, is a measure of how consumers react to the price of products and services.

Economies of Scale

In Economics, Economies of Scale is a theory for which, as companies grow, they gain cost advantages. More precisely, companies manage to benefit from these cost advantages as they grow, due to increased efficiency in production. Thus, as companies scale and increase production, a subsequent decrease in the costs associated with it will help the organization scale further.

Diseconomies of Scale

In Economics, a Diseconomy of Scale happens when a company has grown so large that its costs per unit will start to increase. Thus, losing the benefits of scale. That can happen due to several factors arising as a company scales. From coordination issues to management inefficiencies and lack of proper communication flows.

Network Effects

network effect is a phenomenon in which as more people or users join a platform, the more the value of the service offered by the platform improves for those joining afterward.

Negative Network Effects

In a negative network effect as the network grows in usage or scale, the value of the platform might shrink. In platform business models network effects help the platform become more valuable for the next user joining. In negative network effects (congestion or pollution) reduce the value of the platform for the next user joining. 

Creative Destruction

Creative destruction was first described by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942, who suggested that capital was never stationary and constantly evolving. To describe this process, Schumpeter defined creative destruction as the “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” Therefore, creative destruction is the replacing of long-standing practices or procedures with more innovative, disruptive practices in capitalist markets.

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