Great market timing — that is, releasing a product when the market is ready for mass adoption — can make up for poor execution. Great execution cannot make up for poor market timing.
In general, I believe technology companies overrate their ability to accelerate an adoption curve and underrate the natural pace of markets. Markets have their own pulse.
The very best technology companies time the market well and execute on their vision. If you compare RightNow Technologies and Salesforce.com, both were founded at around the same time, both timed the market well, but Salesforce was superior on execution (for a variety of reasons, namely a commitment to a pure SaaS play instead of hedging all over the place with one-off on-premise deployments as well as brilliant communication around its ideas). This is an example of where execution made the difference. There are far more examples of companies that timed the market wrong — too early, usually — you just don’t hear about them.
While there are many guidebooks to improving execution, there’s little chatter around how to figure out whether, from a market entry perspective, you’re too late, too early, or just right. And when you are introducing a cutting edge / disruptive technology, the difficulty is compounded.
My theory is that early stage tech companies should: a) be humble about their ability to accelerate an adoption curve and acknowledge the pace of the market they’re playing in, b) do their best early on to assess the state of the market and their timing, and c) if they think they’re too early, decide whether it’s worth waiting around and assuming the challenging task of evangelism and market education or simply ignore their sunk costs and pull the plug. All this assumes they’re kicking butt on the execution side.
What are your thoughts? Can companies meaningfully accelerate an adoption curve in a market? How do you hone your ability to know whether the timing for your new business is right?