In nuclear physics, the minimum amount of fissile material needed to create a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction is known as critical mass. The idea is that, in complex systems, moving beyond a threshold can suddenly unleash powerful, self-sustaining change.
From my own experience of founding and investing in companies, this was an irrefutable law that I applied to startups, too. Enter a market too early, no matter how strong the founding team, and you could be stuck waiting for a day that never comes. Enter too late and you’re fighting an uphill battle against incumbents with greater scale. In startups, timing is everything.
To help better understand startup timing, we’ve developed a framework we call the Critical Mass Theory of Startups. It’s the tipping point for when a product or market goes under rapid transformation, seemingly overnight. A critical mass point for a startup opportunity arrives when there’s a minimum threshold of three preconditions:
- Economic impetus
- Enabling technology
- Cultural acceptance