Invasive Principles #8: Grow Fast, Spread Fast

Invasive species spread rapidly once they’ve secured their niche.  Zebra mussels have spread the length of the Mississippi in only two decades or so.  The killer bees have spread into large parts of both South and North America within 50 years.  Some species seem to spread almost as soon as they’re arrived, while for others it may take them years or even decades to secure their initial foothold and make whatever adaptive measures they need to ensure their ongoing success.  But in either case, their subsequent expansion is usually very rapid, so much so that it usually appears as if they’ve appeared from nowhere, as if they’re an overnight success.

Their ability to expand quickly is made possible partially because of their adaptations, opportunism and hybridization, but also partially because they are not initially constrained by native counter-adaptations, competitors, predators, parasites and imitators.  Once they’ve established a new, valuable source of resources, however, copycats will follow and start to consume some of those resources.  And so speed is of the essence, to get to those resources before anyone else does.

In the business world, as in entertainment and in nature, overnight successes are usually anything but what that implies.  More often, as the saying goes, “it takes a decade to become an overnight success”.  This is thanks to the lag phase, during which potential invaders have to adapt to secure their niche or prove the potential of their innovations. 

FedEx took years to catch on and nearly went bust more than once before redefining everybody’s delivery expectations and growing to become the world’s largest airline.

Geeksquad had an 8 year lag phase, but once it hybridized with Best Buy it grew from 50 employees with $3M revenues in October 2002 to 12,000 employees and $1B revenues in only 5 years.   Of course, imitators have since followed.  Over the last few years thousands of local, regional and national companies have sprung up to provide similar services.  Hundreds of them have explicitly imitated Geek Squad, trading on the word “geek”.  In business as in nature, imitators follow innovators.

Once Curves found the right combination of customer experience and business model, which included a much smaller footprint than traditional gyms, it quickly spread beyond its original 2 locations to over 10,000 worldwide since its inception in 1994, making it the world’s largest health and fitness franchise.