Why would a startup founder care about the ecosystem?
Even though I’ve been excited about the Startup Manifesto from the very first launch meeting, I felt that as a founder I need to make sure I’m being ‘selfish’ and thinking of that incessant question: what’s in it for me/us/Chaino? I owed Iit to my colleagues, to my investors, to my customers and – with all the stress of starting up – to myself. This post Italks in detail about why I think the effort and time we give to the ecosystem is more than worth it. In short, it makes Iour own work much easier.
Why is working for the ecosystem useful for your startup?
Being embedded in a strong ecosystem means multiplying your own chance of success manifold. A strong ecosystem would mean better human resources, more investment capital, more available knowhow, better media coverage, more exit options, more amenable laws. Is there any startup that would not benefit from these things? Yet, there is no startup that – alone!- can make a big difference in these areas. The only way to gain these benefits is to contribute to the ecosystem with many others to make these changes happen. We can do this together. Only, together!
Think of your company like a seed that you want to flourish. Would you prefer to plant it in fertile soil where it will grow strong with minimal effort? Or, would you rather plant it in non-fertile soil where you’ll need fertilizers just to survive, producing chemical-laced fruits? The answer is obvious. Yet, many of us are buried in our day-to-day problems, pouring fertilizer on less-than-fertile soil. Sometimes, collective action can remove a roadblock that would help all of us change the nature of the soil itself. In other words, working on the soil with others is good for your own seed.
There are many examples of how ecosystem changes can make this happen. Finding good team members that stay for the long haul, will solve a major growth constraint for many companies. Having more effective accelerators will mean that companies get a better start. Having more successful companies, will mean up-and-coming ones can raise money much more easily. Having more entrepreneur-friendly legislation, will decrease risk for all of us. On all of these issues, no one person can make a dent but an aligned ecosystem can work miracles.
What are the characteristics of ecosystems?
Ecosystems consist of interdependent entities. This interdependence means there is a positive feedback loop between each ecosystem player and the others. When a startup exits, venture capital increases which in turn makes it easier for new startups to flourish. This in turn produces more expertise which provides mentors for accelerators. This makes accelerators more effective, which helps them produce more successful startups. This, in turn, attracts more global capital, again. It also encourages more talent to stay and join startups which accelerates their growth, again. It means successful companies have more leeway with universities, producing better fresh talent.
You see how touching the system at any point leads to a rise in all other areas. At the same time, one weak link can weaken the whole system. How can you have a strong ecosystem without abundant, knowledgeable capital? How can you have it without enough qualified, affordable people? ‘Fixing’ specific nodes can lift the whole ecosystem. One faulty node, slows the whole system.
The nature of ecosystems means that being in a strong system is great for startups. How so? Ecosystems are more durable. Strong ecosystems are diverse in them means that you have more chances of success. Ecosystems are win-win (and lose-lose!). When one startup exits, it increases other startups’ chances of exiting. When better financial instruments are innovated, more startups are funded. When more Egyptian startups succeed, it is easier to attract talent and customers to other Egyptian startups. In ecosystems, 1 + 1 can be 10, it can be 1000.
Ecosystems are a powerful force to leverage. They’re a great place for startup founders to invest their time. With their entrepreneurial attitude, startup founders can make a huge difference to the ecosystem. And, hey, wouldn’t you agree with me that we have more than our share of challenges? Don’t we need to work together and create a multiplier effect for all our individual efforts? You bet we do!
What can I contribute?
I hope you’re now convinced you should be contributing to the ecosystem – for your own benefit. It also happens to be the right thing to do; it’s inherently satisfying.
So, practical matters, here’s what you can do:
Contribute to the efforts described in the manifesto:
-Volunteer to work in one of the different manifesto tracks.
-Contribute what resources you can (money, location, other resources).
-Help organize efforts.
Represent and Evangelize:
-Talk confidently, optimistically about our ecosystem.
-Represent the ecosystem’s needs whenever you get the chance.
Thank other players in ecosystem.
Support others in the ecosystem:
-Talk about other startups whenever you get the chance (you don’t have to believe in their idea like they do, just do it).
-Use other startups’ products whenever you can. If you don’t believe in another startup’s potential, why should anyone believe in you?
-Give back to other players. Volunteer to mentor with accelerators, 1-to-1, whatever.
-Share! Don’t be stingy. Contacts become stronger when you share them with others. Share your knowledge. Share resources (office space, equipment, books, hire consultants together).
In short, give without calculation, it will come back to you and then some. The startup ecosystem is arguably the most shining star in our society. Support it, your life will be easier and so will everyone else’s.
* This is a well-known aphorism (a concise, memorable statement of a general principle).
By: Ali Zewail
Founder of Chaino
December 1, 2018.