Do you know the first person to break the ten second barrier for the 100m dash? Unlikely. Do you know the fastest man in the world? Likely — it’s Usain Bolt. You might say that it’s a recency and frequency thing that leads to recall of the great Jamaican’s name but it’s also because he is the fastest — and not the first.
Recent history is littered with great examples of this;
- Steve Jobs/Apple seeing the first GUI at Xerox PARC and then bettering it
- Microsoft coming in over the top of Lotus and other productivity tools
- Google as a search engine over the likes of Altavista, AOL and Yahoo!
- Facebook over Friendster and MySpace etc etc.
The list goes on. The first movers advantage from the time of the mid-20th century to now is almost inconsequential due to the rate at which technology is/has evolved. The ability to respond/flex/adapt also now far outweighs being first to market. In almost any vertical it’s led to the incumbents being usurped at breakneck pace, entire industries flipped upside down and companies employing guns/ninjas/rockstars/growth anythings to move quicker, adapt better or simply gazump the other offerings in the market.
The key thing to sustaining this advantage however comes simply down to engineering.
Engineering scales and vests in ways that hires in other departments don’t. It’s like compound interest that you don’t take notice of till it’s too late. It’s like a series of tequila shots in quick succession that hit home after a pre-determined time and wipe the smile off your face. Engineering is one of those meta roles where its efficacy is so hard to measure. Ask ten people from ten different skill sets what good engineering looks like and you’ll likely get ten different answers. For me it’s been a journey to be able to measure it, improve it and then demonstrate its efficacy and it has boiled down to concentrating on eight different themes
Over time if you can evolve and constantly improve on these eight themes it means you can move with speed and confidence. Mark Zuckerberg is famous (amongst other things …) for a mantra of “Move fast and break things” but that doesn’t work for everyone — and breaking critical things is the best way to create noise and churn.
Next time you’re in a hiring discussion/strategy meeting/org chart discussion take a look at where the investment is going and try and understand the return. Someone in customer service/legal/people ops/finance can remove bottlenecks, potentially. Someone in sales can close more deals, potentially. But someone in engineering can automate the heck out of mundane jobs and create solutions that provide exponential returns in the mid-long term. Put simply, to be the fastest you need the best engineering org you can get.
Without it you’re likely just another name in history.
For more insights check out the Carsguide/Autotrader engineering blog.