followerLast week, I listened to seven startups pitches at the Band of Angels Deal Selection committee wondering at least three times, hadn’t I heard this deal before?

Do customers crave another user friendly wearable that counts steps, heartbeats and measures sleep quality better than Apple Watch, FitBit, and Garmin? Is now the right time, to replace customers’ email clients with the proverbial smarter, machine learning sorter and linker to everything they’ve touched for more efficiency?  Is it really time for a smashing breakthrough in video editing or sharing that offers nothing new but a user interface that’s easier to use and cooler than absolute zero?

Welcome to the Me-too pitch.  While you’ve worked your butt 24/7 for the last year, be aware that active investors have most likely seen a pitch like yours before; maybe earlier this morning.

And we get that there’s plenty of room for improvement. While first mover caché, headlines and potential advantage attract us, investors know that most of the value creation comes from the smartest of the fast followers.  A blatant example are the German Samwer brothers who studied Silicon Valley success stories and went back to Europe to actively clone U.S. internet companies.  Their October 2014 IPO, Rocket Internet, was valued at $7.5B.

The critical question is:  Are you the next smart fast follower or just another Me-too play?

Fast Followership

Focus on the first word: fast.  Fast followers draft, pick a passing opportunity and then accelerate.   Drafting leverages the pioneers’ success at building customer acceptance, defining critical performance requirements and technology acceptance.  If you haven’t done that, you’re just the second competitor.

Passing opportunities can be geographical, alternate market segments, distribution or performance requirements, business models, etc.   Your differentiation from others defines your passing opportunity.  Accelerating after passing is where fast followers make big gains as they expand beyond early adopters into mainstream volumes.  Snaring a few more early adopters probably isn’t worth that much.

Box took Dropbox’s accepted cloud storage solution into the commercial segment.  Yammer used the same strategy against Twitter.  Apple’s iPhone overtook Blackberry and Palm’s Treo smartphone pioneers by increasing the value proposition from an email device into a universe of applications.

Fast followers have to fight their way in.  Typically spending two-thirds what first movers do on technology development, fast followers focus more on business model and go-to-market innovation.  While Elon Musk’s SpaceX depends on rocket science, SolarCity’s success came from creating a better financing model for solar customers.

Muscle matters for fast followers.  That’s why smart fast followers are either well funded or already have an established presence.  Apple’s retail stores provide a distribution platform for new technology that no startup can duplicate.   Square created the mobile credit card reader.  Intuit quickly got one of their own and leveraged integration with their QuickBooks user base to go-to-market.

Google+ shows that muscle won’t matter if you’re in what I call the “second toaster” position.  Who needs two toasters, or essentially identical social networks?

Apply The Jeff Foxworthy Test: You Might be a Me-too if…

Building on comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s classic warning that” you might be a redneck if…,” your value proposition might be a Me-too if…

  1. Your primary claim is that your easier to use product solves the adoption barriers of the first mover.
  2. Your go-to-market strategy starts and stops at search optimization and word-of-mouth adoption.  (And please don’t mention your incredible Kickstarter campaign)
  3. Your software as a service business model (SAAS) surpasses incumbents tired server models and you’ll ultimately makes more money from the data such that today’s subscription revenue won’t even matter.  (Might as well tell us you’ll fix the Greek debt crisis too).
  4. Your market study proves people will be willing to choose yours over the incumbent even though you won’t have alpha product available for testing for three months.
  5. The overall category has never taken off…but now will!
  6. You’ve been a frustrated user of these products for years and that’s why you’ve created this solution.  Do your customers share your experience and passionate counterdepencency?
  7. At its core, your solution is a slicker workflow.  Does this just appease user frustration or change the core value proposition?
  8. If I can name several competitors you don’t know about

(Please add your own Me-too test questions in the comments section)

Two, Four, Six, Eight, Tell Me How You Differentiate

Smart fast followers leap over first movers by leveraging their breakthroughs and accelerating with better business models, go-to-market and technologies that dramatically change the value equation.  Me-too players refine good ideas.  If you’re big, burly and have a boatload of capital, refinement might work as well for you as it did for Toyota.  But if you’re truly an entrepreneur and a fast follower, you’ve got to seize and expand far beyond the opportunity identified by the first mover.

Clone ‘Em: Bring Instant Leadership to Your Company

August 6, 2015

Clone ‘Em Leads Apple App Store Rankings
Cupertino, CA (AP) August 6, 2015
Latest App Store rankings released this morning reveal that Clone ‘Em, the Leadership Cloning App has risen to first place in the popular Fast Growth category.  Leveraging data from mobile and wearables, Clone ‘Em uses advanced algorithms to prompt new leaders when they’re [...]

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June 29, 2015

President Obama discussed with comedian Mark Maron how the ups and downs of six years in office had made him a better president (paraphrased below).
As you get older, you might slow down or not jump as high as you used to.  But I know what I’m doing and I’m fearless.  This is not pretending to [...]

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Decimal Point Thinking:
Good for Operators; Dangerous for Innovation

June 19, 2015

Winter in Detroit is rarely pretty.  Pristine snowfalls quickly turn to grey slush that outwits the best pedestrian avoidance maneuvers.  Once that happens, your feet are cold and clammy for the next three hours.
It was on such a day that a new product team was presenting their “comeback” car design to a panel of senior [...]

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The Day After: Apple’s PayPal 2.0

September 10, 2014

I wrote yesterday’s piece before Apple’s product announcement.  While crafting a response to an email comment I received this morning, it struck me that a post-introduction piece might be in order.
In short, the iPhone 6/6 Plus will cover profits, the Watch will spur innovation and Apple Pay is the potential game changer.
Apple’s Passion for Profits

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Apple New Product Introduction:
Welcome to the Planet of the Ape

September 9, 2014

In a couple of hours, Apple executives will take to the stage.  And millions will be watching because part of our love for Apple is being co-conspirators in the OMG introduction process. While reverence for Steve Jobs will keep “incredibly insane” product descriptions off the table, expect to hear the word “amazing” more than once.
However, [...]

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Zen Start-up Lessons:
What Nest Labs Can Teach Entrepreneurs

February 14, 2014

Nest Labs makes a smarter, Internet- connected thermostat that sells for two to three times conventional models.  Most recently, they’ve introduced a similarly empowered and priced smoke detector.  You might ask if you need a smarter thermostat or smoke detector?  You’ll have a chance to answer that for yourselves in a moment.
Nest was founded by [...]

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The Minimum Viable Business School:
Zipcar Education for Entrepreneurs

February 7, 2014

The hotbed of education experimentation in Silicon Valley are the startup academies, accelerators and hacker boot camps.  Grounded in the minimum viable product philosophy that entrepreneurs harness to speed products to market, these new education entities offer a minimum viable education for tech entrepreneurs.
You know it’s hot because the regulators have come out of the [...]

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Apple New Product Strategy: “Siri…What Did I Miss?”

October 23, 2013

With yesterday’s product announcements Apple confirmed that writing about Apple these days is pretty boring.  No question engineers and designers worked hard to squeeze the iPad line thinner and lighter but, yawn, they’re iPads…now with some free software.  Who hoo.
For those who haven’t moved on to another site, Apple’s actions suggest:

Demand is strong enough to [...]

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Apple’s 2014 New Product Strategy

June 16, 2013

Will Apple Ever Release a New Product?
– headline from this week’s
The above is just the most recent variant in the continuing drama “Apple After Steve Jobs.”  Investors yawned at this week’s rollout of the new iPhone operating system (IOS).  Noting the new IOS visually apes Microsoft’s two-year old Windows Mobile tiles, the pressure [...]

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You Can’t Be Serious!
The NSA is Monitoring Our Calls & Email???

June 11, 2013

Where have you been?  And so what if they are?  My president tells me they’re not listening live.  It’s like a week-old Facebook feed – who cares?
Besides, they only have my phone number but that doesn’t mean they also have a reverse directory, does it?  And since they’re listening, maybe the NSA should pay a [...]

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