Timing the Market: Finding Your Product’s Golden Window

As an investor who has had the opportunity to work with many founders over the years, I have come to understand that while timing is not the sole factor that determines the success of a product, it does have a significant impact. If you introduce a product too early, customers may not see its value. However, if you introduce the same product too late, your customers may be unwilling to switch. There is a right window for building massive success for a new product, and many wrong times. Get the timing right, and success can be yours.

About 10 years ago, Google introduced a revolutionary product—Google Glass, essentially, the guts of a smartphone jammed into an eyeglass-looking device with a heads-up display. It was expensive, people thought its users looked creepy wearing it, and the product failed. Google Glass was ahead of its time, and it was unable to find product-market fit.

What if you had a crystal ball—a way to tell when the timing was right for your new product introduction? While none of us actually has a reliable crystal ball, we do have something available to us that’s almost as good: two curves that will tell you whether your timing is right or wrong.

The first curve is technology capability at cost points that are attractive to customers. One big problem with Google Glass was that the product was too early for the market—the technology capability and unit cost weren’t there yet. While the idea caught the interest of many potential customers, the high price combined with less-than-dazzling functionality sunk the product.

The second curve is market readiness. While your technology might be top-notch, and the price reasonable, if customers can’t see themselves using the product, then it will fail. Again, the idea of Google Glass sounded intriguing to many—the product got a lot of play in the press and its design was novel. But ultimately, customers weren’t convinced they needed to have their smartphone stuck into a pair of glasses. They simply couldn’t imagine themselves using it.

Contrast that with the introduction of the iPhone by Apple in 2007. It’s no accident that the company sold its millionth iPhone only 74 days after it was introduced in June of that year. It was a roaring success.

Which begs the question: Why did the iPhone do so well?

The iPhone was released during a golden window of opportunity for smartphones, which ran from 2000 to 2010—a period of time where the two curves crossed. Apple’s smartphone technology was quite good, at a price that customers could afford. And customers already knew how to use mobile phones—they could see themselves using this new gadget and getting value from it. The two curves intersected beautifully, and more than 15 years later, the iPhone still dominates the smartphone market in the U.S., with 55% market share at the end of Q2 2023.

Every category of tech product has its own golden window of opportunity—from smartphones to enterprise SaaS to social networking to cloud computing. And if you want your product to succeed, which I’m sure you do, you have to get the timing right.

If you’re not certain when the timing is going to be right for your new product introduction, then speak with people who are deep into when and how technology capability/cost and market readiness curves intersect. If you talk with enough of these people, you’re going to be able to see whether your new product capability will hit the mark with customers. You can tell this is happening when the customers let go of whatever things they were using before and start to lean in and buy this new thing.

Sometimes you’ll get the timing right, and sometimes you’ll get it wrong. But if you can identify the golden window of opportunity for your product, you’ll get it right more often than not. And when the golden window opens, be ready to establish your footprint before it closes. You might only get one shot to grab the gold ring.