People use the term “ecosystem” quite a lot in the business world. Big tech names build an ecosystem around themselves, with notable examples like Wintel (Windows-Intel) ecosystem in the personal computer world, iOS or Android ecosystem in the smartphone era, even Facebook ecosystem when it comes to social media marketing and branding.
Those “ecosystems” are either built or evolved along with one or multiple strong business platforms in the center, either with mainstream technology standard or a core function that could allow a lot of value-added services to be built on. Normally, the other parties in the ecosystem are smaller or less influential in terms of market power than the big companies in the center.
To me startup ecosystem is a bit different at least from below three characteristics:
Single vs. Multiple: Startup and entrepreneurs, as a group of people or small companies, by default, are in the center of the ecosystem and thus, there is no single company or person that could set the tone of the ecosystem.
Stable vs. Dynamic: Big companies have more established cultures while startups rise and fall. So the “center” might be always evolving and pivoting.
Goliaths vs. Davids: quite a lot of the time, the other parties in the ecosystem have bigger market power over the startups/entrepreneurs. For example, government or investors; while the big companies normally have stronger market power in the ecosystems they build.
Leadership vs. Leaderships:
“Corporate” ecosystem is likely be formed because of the market leadership of the corporate, either from technology or market power standpoint.
“Startup ecosystem” is likely to be formed because of the group of leaderships demonstrated by entrepreneurs, to influence and cultivate the culture.
Those are actually what makes the #1 item of the Boulder Thesis by Brad Feld, Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community, important. Well, as well as why this is hard. Cross-organizationally, as different organizations carry different objectives and normally reflect interests from different stakeholders/stockholders, it’s quite often to see more influential organizations try to set the game rule, ie. “feeder” want to, and probably leverage the market power to become, or market the message as “leader”. Also, within the group of influential entrepreneurs, it’s quite often to see silos and echo chambers created because of industrial or personal interests. People might not like each other either and that could jeopardize the formation of group leadership.
So to form a startup ecosystem is definitely a long educational process, just like transformation the cultural norm. Perhaps like how Japan became a modern country through Meji Restoration.
So for startup ecosystem building, there is always problem rising, learning from other industries or countries, debating, conflicting and seeking solutions among interest groups, sometimes fighting. Then a higher-level vision being bought-in, commitment from generations of rising (and falling) leaders; learn how to initiate, compromise, not to overlap and eventually, as Brad Feld said, people would startup to learn about give first and march toward the greater, more vibrant and forward marching ecosystem.
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