In several of my recent articles I’ve mentioned ‘fast follower’ or ‘fast following’. I suppose some of you could have been wondering what it’s all about. Well, today in this article I shall discuss some of the key things you ought to know about the concept of fast following. I can start off by defining what it is then I will delve into other important things for you to know. Fast following is a concept mainly employed by startups whereby one establishes a business or company by copying a business idea or model that’s already existent. The principle is to copy one that’s been proven to work and the crux is to quickly adopt (even enhance) the approaches of the one you’re copying. Often times the ones copied tend to be referred to as first movers

Is Fast Following Ethical?

Basically, I’m endeavouring to address a common question here regarding whether or not fast following is legal or ethical. The short answer is, yes, fast following is both legal and ethical but there are certain things to bear in mind. I’ll illustrate something by quoting Strive Masiyiwa; after all, he has been the subject of why I’ve been mentioning fast following a lot. As I once said Strive has epitomized the culture of fast following. For instance, his introduction of mobile phone services, Vaya Africa and Ecocash are some of his businesses that were established using the fast follower approach. Just to paint the picture for you, Vaya fast followed Uber and Ecocash fast followed Kenya’s M-PESA.

Let me directly quote something Strive said in 2015, “Our company did not invent Mobile Money (Ecocash), it was invented in Kenya, by Safaricom. As soon as I heard about it, I did two things: first I checked to see if there was a patent protecting the idea. It turned out they had not protected it. I then put a top team to research the concept”. So there’s a key thing to note in fast following; find out and ensure that the idea you’re fast following isn’t patented. If it’s patented that would mean seeking express permission from the owners of the idea prior to fast following it. The major point is to be careful when fast following lest you end up being sued for violating copyright or intellectual property laws.

Where To Employ The Fast Follow Approach

You must also bear in mind that fast following doesn’t work for just any business idea or model. You must understand that there are some areas where it won’t work. So let me highlight some characteristics of where fast following has been proven to work.

Having Superior Tech

A unique case study to cite here is the tech giant Google. Did you know that Google wasn’t necessarily the first search engine to be developed – for instance, Yahoo came before Google? Interestingly, today Google has become so huge that it has literally become synonymous with ‘search engines’. The single largest element that enabled Google to successfully fast follow and tip over its predecessors was having superior technology.

Having A Distribution Network Upper Hand

The basic idea of running a business is to get customers and make money. How well you can successfully get your products or services across to as many customers as possible is the key to your revenue. So fast following banks on one’s ability to quickly get their products or services to customers. One of the reasons why Econet has been embarking on successful fast following business initiatives is their vast distribution network. They have the largest mobile network subscriber base locally and that makes for a very solid distribution network.

Having An Already Established Customer Base

I’ll again cite Econet as an example here. In fast following, one of the easiest ways to quickly secure a huge market share is by tapping into an already existing customer base. Just like Econet already had a large subscriber base before rolling out Ecocash. When they developed Ecocash as a fast follower of M-PESA all they had to was to tap into their already established customer base.

If you’re intending to fast follow in a field or area where you’ve got any of these characteristics then you’re bound to make it. Remember the idea of fast following lies in the ‘fast’ and ‘follow’ i.e. be swift and copy (and enhance). This means in fast following you endeavour to not allow the first mover any substantial time to get settled – you move in quick to edge past them. Let me also point out that fast following doesn’t always entail entering the very market where the first mover is. It can entail entering a whole new market altogether – for instance, the Ecocash and M-PESA example.

The Beauty Of Fast Following

The fast follower has the advantage of learning from the strengths and flaws of the first mover by observation. This tremendously reduces the risk factor for the fast follower. This means the success rate of the fast follower is more than quadrupled because the script has been tested out for them by the first mover. The same mistakes they made you’ll avoid and their strengths you’ll adopt and even enhance. Even in cases where you’re entering the same market as the first mover, you enjoy the advantage of tapping into an already existing market by capitalizing on the shortcomings of the first mover.

So that’s about it for the fast following concept. As I said it’s quite prevalent in the tech innovations arena. Let me also demystify something a lot of people don’t seem to get. Effective fast following is an art and a science and as such takes skill and expertise to execute. Fast following is an innovative approach that’s proactive – it’s not equal to lack of innovation. So don’t only always seek novel ideas, fast following can be the way to go.