In Brief

The Problem

In their haste to get to market, entrepreneurs often run with the first plausible strategy they identify. As a result, they end up losing out to second or even third movers with superior strategies.

Why It Happens

In the innovation space it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the apparent range of opportunities. Entrepreneurs fear that spending too much time weighing the alternatives will delay commercialization. The strategic commitments they make in moving forward limit their ability to pivot.

The Solution

Start-ups can improve their chances of picking the right path by investigating four generic go-to-market strategies, articulating multiple plausible versions of those strategies, and choosing the one that aligns most closely with their founders’ values and motivations.

As a start-up, RapidSOS was an easy sell: It would bring 911 calls into the smartphone age. Emergency-response systems had evolved in a premobile era, which meant that few of them could accurately identify the location of callers who were using mobile phones, compromising response times and medical outcomes. The founders of RapidSOS—Michael Martin, an HBS graduate, and Nick Horelik, an MIT engineer—had developed a way to transmit mobile phone locations to existing 911 systems that would require only minimal adaptation on the part of other players in the emergency-services sector. After attracting early-stage financing at business plan competitions, Martin and Horelik reached a crossroads: How should they take their technology to market?

A version of this article appeared in the May–June 2018 issue (pp.44–51) of Harvard Business Review.