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The importance of timing in business success: not just “why” but “why now?”

When startups scope a potential business model, they don’t just consider whether their offering will be disruptive or world-changing or radically better than existing solutions. They consider how it will fit into the market, right now, as it stands. They form a thesis as to how the industry is changing and compile a macro view of the market landscape. By putting both players and events on the board and considering how they’ve been interacting in recent months and years, startups begin to see trajectories and patterns. They see what’s been done, what’s been overlooked, and what’s failed miserably. They see relevant trends in adjacent industries. They see ideas that should’ve succeeded but didn’t…and if they’re lucky, they see why.

Photo by Conner Baker on Unsplash

Understanding the ecosystem is essential both because it educates us on all of the forces at work and because it helps us determine issues of timing. A 50,000-foot view allows us to predict when world-changing enablers and shifts in behavior will collide and to make sure that we’re there when the collision occurs.

Let’s take a quick trip to Hollywood for an example. For decades, film producers and movie studios have insisted that movies marketed to African-Americans with predominantly Black casts wouldn’t rake in the big bucks. Unless you live in a cave, you’re likely aware that 2018 saw the release of Marvel’s “Black Panther,” a film with a predominantly Black cast, that became the highest-earning Marvel Cinematic Universe movie and had the fifth-largest opening weekend of all time. Which caused African-American moviegoers to shout an exasperated and vindicated “We told you so” in unison.

There’s ample evidence that Hollywood’s reluctance to support all-Black casts is rooted in not-so-thinly-veiled racism, but it can’t be denied that “Black Panther’s” success is due, in part, to timing. Over the past few years, minority groups have slowly become a force to be reckoned with at the box office. According to research performed by Darnell Hunt, a professor and dean of social science at UCLA, minority groups constituted more than 50 percent of U.S. ticket buyers for five of the top ten most profitable films of 2015.

And there’s more: Rhea Combs, the curator of film and photography at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, has pointed out that “‘Black Panther’ comes in the midst of Black Lives Matter and all the other important social movements that are happening now. It makes for a very powerful combination.” Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors agrees, saying, “I think Black Lives Matter has contributed cultural ammunition to help fuel a movie like ‘Black Panther,’ which can be seen as a necessary response to a trying time in our country.”

Even the disappointing history of Black superhero films contributed to “Black Panther’s” perfect timing! “Meteor Man” and “Blankman” went the campy route and fell flat. “Blade” cast Wesley Snipes as a deeply badass vampire hunter, and raked in $333 million … but its sequels fared poorly. This body of evidence was used by film studios every time black movie fans begged for something more than Halle Berry’s Storm in the “X-Men” series and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon in the “Captain America” films.

Finally, Marvel stepped forward with a concept and script that portrayed unabashed Black power, and the studio did this knowing that the time was right. The ecosystem was ready. Police shootings, racist graffiti, and white power rallies were uniting Black Americans politically, culturally, and personally. The studio, producers, and director released this film at the exact moment in history when they knew it would have optimum impact.

Timing may not be everything, but “Black Panther’s” record-breaking performance illustrates that timing can transform a great idea into a certified hit.

Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

Ecosystem exploration has proven absolutely indispensable to Bionic partner companies in the past. While exploring the market landscape with one of our packaged food partners, we got a clear picture of just how diverse and varied the company’s competition really was. We noticed that Google — a company that played infrequently in the nutrition sphere — was incredibly bullish on a future food outlook that relied heavily on plant-based and synthetic meat proteins. Other than Blue Bottle Coffee, Google had steered clear of most food and beverage investments during the company’s 23+ year history. Yet as of 2015, Google Ventures began investing heavily in Soylent and Impossible Foods, among other protein-pioneering companies. When we began our ecosystem exploration with the partner, we were focusing mainly on the obvious Fortune 500 rivals in the packaged food space. Our research forced us to broaden scope.

With this data in-hand, we realized that our partner needn’t be nearly as concerned with what its usual rivals were up to; instead, they needed to start keeping tabs on the Big Five tech companies. Our ecosystem explorations proved that the traditional competitive landscape had shifted drastically in just a few years.

Writer-director Ryan Coogler started penning the script for the “Black Panther” sequel in the summer of 2019, so the follow-up is still a ways off. Will the ecosystem have changed by the time it hits the box offices? Will new forces have aligned to make the second film perform poorly compared to the first, or will different forces propel it to even more spectacular success?

Only time will tell.



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