In our society we had come to believe that being first in anything is the best. At school we learnt things like, who was the first man walk on the moon?, who was the first women prime minister? etc. and when schooling relatives usually asked "what is your rank in class?" and then they would say "next time you should become first". All these had made us to live with an illusion of connecting good or the best with being first. Some of us had even gone to an extent to believe that not being first is a failure.
The commercial world is even more crazier, the claim for first is almost beyond being absurd. Radio stations claim that they are the first to play a song in air, companies want to claim that they are the first to launch a product or service, Then when ever I questioned why is it so important to be first I was given answers, like look at Athletics you know who became first but seldom worried who was second, World celebrates who won the world cup but the finalist is just a foot note in history. But the issue here is does the world remember that you were the first in the class on a certain term?Let me try to put this in perspective. First lets look at some products and services examples,
Google was not the first search engine!
Facebook was not the first social networking site!
iPhone was not the first smart phone!
Microsoft was the the first operating system!
The trick here is they were not the first but they did become the most accepted and recognized brand. Probably the first to market guys actually came in wasted a lot of time and resource and softened the market so that the later player could enter pretty easily without initial research and education cost to establish themselves. There is a nice piece of writing which describes that why being the first doesn't always guarantee a competitive advantage click here for the article.
Looking at an individual level, remember that not everyone who has become successful were first in the class or topped the batch. Malcolm Gladwell in book Outliers puts it nicely you don't have to be the first but the minimum requirement is you should be above average and then practice the craft and he defines it as the 10,000 hour threshold that you should achieve to become a world class act. If you look at world class people they would have spent more than 10,000 hours practicing their craft, it applies to Murali, Tendulkar ( He started young and achieved it younger), Gates, Jobs, Micheal Jackson, AR Rahman, etc, common factor among all these greats is the 10,000 hour rule!
Bottom line is becoming first is good if you can do it, but its not always a must, there is life beyond becoming first and that can also be beneficial!