I spoke recently with a business owner who’s getting depressed about so many opportunists entering his industry. He’s worked hard to establish himself as honest and credible, while others merely come in to harvest profit and then move on.

As we talked, though, we realized that this is part of the nature of an emerging industry.

Many of you are familiar with the concept that products have life cycles. Geoffrey Moore broke it down this way in Crossing the Chasm:

  1. Innovators
  2. Early Adopters
  3. Early Majority
  4. Late Majority
  5. Laggards

These are labels for how the customer base changes during a product’s lifetime, but Moore’s point was that the product itself, and the marketing around it, must change to reflect the customers.

Sometimes an innovative product is identified with an industry, such as Ford’s Model T or Apple’s iPhone. In other cases, industries emerge from changing societal need or different innovations converging from different directions.

At any rate, industries overall have a lifecycle.

An example I think of is Solar Panels. It started off as a technical innovation, but too expensive and impractical for most of the population. At some point, government intervention helped to address some of the cost. Another important innovation was in models for financing, including working with electrical utilities to remove many of the transitional barriers.

But the industry has been tarnished by a lot of companies who talk a good game, but don’t really attend to the customer care needed in such a heavy investment. They’re trying to skim the profits as the industry is enthusiastically growing, but will likely move to something else in a few years.

So what’s the point?

Well, if you’re looking to survive in an industry that’s going through these kinds of gyrations, you have to think long term. You’re not the snake oil salesman who suddenly appears in town and claims to cure every ill. Instead, you’re the trusted physician who has a depth of knowledge, great relationships, and will be around long after that other guy heads off to his next town.

But that’s only if you’re building a sustainable business and would value having an amazing reputation for the next fifty years.