What do you think of when you hear the term mainstream? Mainstream to me means generally accepted as a part of everyday life for the vast majority of people. The question is how does a business, product, or technology become mainstream? In today’s world, products and services can become mainstream a lot faster because of the internet and its ability to spread information and access over night. We have seen IPOD’s, smart phones, and GPS become a part of everyday mainstream American basically in a few month’s. But it has not always been that easy to integrate a product or business into mainstream America. For decades entrepreneurs have endeavored to learn what the populace wants and/needs in order to cash in on the revenue generated by the mainstream. Business history is littered with a trail of failed businesses and products that missed the mainstream. Ford Motor company launched the he Edsel in the late 50’s and the car never gained popularity with mainstream American car buyers and sold poorly. Consequently, the Ford Motor Company lost millions of dollars. It’s not just products that go badly, often the entire company disappears like Circuit City or Burger Chef. Our history can teach us valuable lessons about the mainstream, and how to ride the wave of explosive growth.
An economist named Harry S. Dent, is often credited with a diagram called the SCurve. The s-curve shows the progression of market penetration over time for business that hope to become mainstream. There are three distinct phases in the entrance to mainstream business. Fermentation is when the business launches and the early adopters jump behind the idea with time and investment capital. Many hopeful entrepreneurs dive into the fray hoping to ride the wave. During the fermentation phase often businesses launch based upon a product or service that they are determined to be first to market. The failure occurs when the systems that support the products are no-existent or under developed. Leaving the fledgling business only a product which is quickly copied and often improved upon, leaving them destined to join the 80% of all businesses that fail in the first five years.