Everyone knows that timing is everything. It doesn't matter whether you are talking about a good joke, a business/financial decision, or even just catching a cab. If you time it wrong, the joke falls flat, you lose position or money, or you're late to a meeting. All of these are affectively the same principle: Because your timing was off, you missed an opportunity.
But here's the thing… There's no such thing as “perfect timing” until after the fact.
Yes, that's correct. Timing is everything and vital to success, but you only have power over half of the equation.
Let's look at something as recent and familiar as the Dot Com Bust. For a few years there, almost everyone was getting rich. There were VC's throwing millions of dollars at two-man startups with nothing resembling a plan, profitability, or even something unique. Despite this, people like Paul Graham timed it perfectly in terms of building an idea and selling at the right time. Fast forward another couple years to 2001-2003 and no matter how good your ideas were, you weren't going to get funding or a buyout… you simply missed the boat.
Alternatively, look at services for mobile devices. I worked with a company in 2000 that was trying to get into this space. The connectivity was terrible, the speeds were terrible, and the user interfaces were even worse and so their efforts failed. Now in the past six months, I have been working with a number of major media organizations bringing their mobile sites online. The difference is amazing. Speeds are better (still not great), but the connectivity is excellent and many phones can now show colors, styles, and even images. Some of what we can do now is downright nifty.
Alright, so it's easy to be too early or too late, but how do you time it “just right”?
In my sometimes humble opinion, this is one of the questions for the ages. No matter what you can do, your timing could just be off and completely out of your control. Timing it “perfectly” is impossible without dumb luck. Timing it well on the other hand, is entirely possible with some research and sensible planning.
First, accept that you can't dictate market conditions or your competitors actions. These are completely and totally outside of your control but make up a huge part of the equation. Unless you're the 800 pound gorrila in your space, the market isn't working against you. Odds are your market doesn't even know who you are… yet.
Next, given the above, realize that your competitors *are* working against you. Well, maybe not purposely causing incompatibilities or waving magnets on your hard drives, but they are trying to do the same things you are. They are working to sell things to your customers, add new features and functionality, and generally get positive attention. Some of their ideas and efforts will be great, some are going to be horrible. Keep an eye on both and learn from both.
Next, realize that it is incredibly easy to be late but difficult to be early. In order to figure out where you are, keep an eye on the market and your competitor. Do a bit of research. Talk to your potential customers and find out what they're open to and what their needs are. Even if you have something that people aren't ready for, it may not be a bad idea. You may just need them to catch up.
Finally, winning a handful of early adoptors doesn't prove anything… they're a fickle bunch looking to find and play with the “next thing” and they don't care about much else. The recent sale of Kiko demonstrates this one. They completely won over the early adopters but never made the leap to the mainstream. In the meantime, a variety of competitors came onto the field and ate their market.
So what am I trying to say with all of this? It's quite simple:
You will never know “Perfect Timing” in advance but you can normally figure out “good timing”.
The only thing under your control is if you're ready when the time comes…. If you're not, it may never come again.