Throughout history, humankind has followed the same cycle again and again: Explorers discover a place, settlers follow, and builders develop that location. People live there for a long time. The the place becomes built up, even to the point of becoming in-grown. Land becomes a premium. Organization and structure reign (and can even oppress). Then, new horizons are spotted and the cycle repeats.
This was the case when humans journeyed out of the cradle of civilization. It was the case as people spread across the continents and the oceans. And it’s the case today as we reach for the stars.
The same thing happens in business with three kinds of entrepreneurs: The explorers create innovative new opportunities, the settlers follow, and then builders arrive later and develop.
- The first wave of entrepreneurs are the explorers who are trying completely new things. They’re creating new spaces. They’re discovering. Think: Ebay, Paypal, Yahoo, Google, Twitter, Facebook… and don’t miss the important lesson that there are other search engines and other social media that were there first but didn’t make this list. And I’m only using a marketing example here, but this explorer/settler/builder model is true in every industry.
- The people we call “early adopters” are actually setters — the second wave of entrepreneurs who see the opportunity explored and know that more people are coming. Think: People who cashed in early on Ebay or sold Google AdWords services. Or, think of Chris Brogan’s position in Twitter or Mari Smith’s position in Facebook. (And again, don’t miss the important lesson that there are other entrepreneurs who tried to settle and didn’t.
- The final wave of entrepreneurs are the builders. They may not do really innovative things but they create systems and structures and franchises so that many others can inhabit these spaces.
What kind of entrepreneur are you? Knowing this changes everything and prompts a number of question: How does it impact the work you do? Where should you invest your time and money? Who should you partner with? How does it influence how you define “success”?
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
If you’re an explorer, you need to be searching for the parts of the map that say “here be dragons.” Consider where are the frontiers are — overall and in your industry — and push them.
If you’re a settler, you need to be thinking about the frontiers, too, but you also need to keep your eye on the explorers. You need to think about how you can get in early.
If you’re a builder, you need to watch the headlines and see what’s coming up on the public’s radar. Get in as early as you can and create franchisable systems.