In the early days of the Internet, less than 2% of companies had a corporate website. To put your brochure on the web at that time was cutting-edge and bold. Launching a website was a newsworthy event; an opportunity to shine over your competition.
I know this intimately, because the company I founded back in 1995 — GlobalLink New Media — was a website development firm. I would cold-call potential customers and ask, “Have you ever heard of the Internet?” My question and subsequent description of the online world was often met with bewilderment and confusion. Being both a tech and marketing geek, it wasn’t a giant leap for me to realize that pretty soon all companies that mattered would have a website.
It was a question of when, not if.
The companies that embraced rapid changes in technology and consumer behavior by going online early gained a tremendous advantage. They were positioned as thought-leaders and serviced their customers in an insightful new way. They realized that the faster they adapted, the better results they’d enjoy.
Then there were the companies that waited until being online was commonplace and widely accepted. Not only did they pay more for their sites because demand had spiked, their investment was only a catch-up mechanism at that point. A zero-sum game. A necessity rather than a differentiator.
And what about those that waited until nearly everyone had an online presence? The laggards damaged their brands by waiting too long, appearing slow and clumsy to an increasingly competitive marketplace. They put themselves in an extremely dangerous position that demanded many times the investment just to try to claw back from behind.
The when-not-if paradox is not exclusive to the mid-’90s Internet rush. It’s been a dilemma for centuries, and continues to grow in magnitude and importance. Mobile devices: when, not if. Social media: when, not if. Adapting to a millennial workforce: when, not if. Expanding into global markets: when, not if.
Rather than resisting the inevitable, embrace macro-trends early to get the most out of them. The faster your move, the more you’ll be able to extract value from being an early-adopter. Change is happening at an unprecedented rate. Leaping forward instead of clutching to the past is your best bet to remain relevant and enjoy sustainable success.
When the next tech advancement, consumer trend, medical breakthrough, or geopolitical shift occurs, resist your wait-and-see instincts. Instead, move fast to savor the reward that boldness enables.
The question is no longer if. The real question is when.