The Ecology of Competition

In start-up land we spend a lot of our time being concerned about the competitors that we perceive in our ecology.  Partly this is because all startups perceive themselves as the underdogs in this situation.  It is far too easy to be carried away believing that larger, better funded, or more advanced companies in the same space either oppress startups, or are “the enemy”.  That view of combat, competition and challenge has merits in many areas of business, and is actively encouraged by some of the more traditional investor communities, but is it the right model for start ups? I think not. This is another area in which I believe are biological analogy carries well: we have to perceive ourselves as being an ecology, where we all contribute to the flow of energy (money) through a widely connected and diverse ecosystem.  The clever strategy is on cooperation to grow an ecosystem that captures more energy, that has less leakage, and more recycling.

Just recently the truth of this was brought home to me when another local Cambridge company which makes a product which performs some of the same functions as Moviestorm, (but which was more advanced in many technical areas) decided to cease serving the online download market and went for a licensed model with two great new distribution partners.  I certainly think their business move was a smart one given their existing customer base, and their historic connections with the high end of visualisation of 3-D environments. What really surprised and delighted me was the way in which they openly supported us in our role as serving the passionate amateur creator with Moviestorm. They clearly saw, and possibly before we did, that this was an ecosystem and a passionate amateur creators go on to be career 3-D visualisation specialists and that there is room in the ecosystem for a wide range of tools serving a wide range of customer needs. We'll be returning the favour as soon as we can.

A second example came to me from France, where a wonderful fan site previously dedicated solely to making movies using a particular computer game has begun to look at how its users and fans on the site can use Moviestorm as well.  It is early days but them, and for us, but again they have realised that this is an ecosystem, not a monoculture. I wish them well, and look forward to working with them so that Moviestorm can deliver some of the content and features that they expect. As the previously dominant computer game in the machinima space fades away – as its original creators are no longer supporting it – this creates gaps into which emergent products like Moviestorm can colonise the market space. Rather like when large trees are blown down in the rainforest, little seedlings shoot up, and quickly grow taller than their surroundings.

Previously walled garden companies like AOL, FaceBook, LinkedIn, and Myspace are all beginning to work on data portability and this is certainly the main emerging theme 2009.  Even the big guys have realised that the ecosystem is bigger than any individual species in and that only through participating and sharing the energy can we all benefit.

I don't know whether it's part of the Obama bounce, but it seemed to me that talk of defending a market position, fighting for share, protecting technology and the like are all a bit 20th-century and as we move forward into the 21st century it really is all about participation, sharing, and cooperation.

Here is to an end of paranoia, at the beginning of the more efficient technology startup ecosystem.

1 Comment

  1. Wow, David, a remarkable post, and I think right on the money. “Ecosystem” is a brilliant analogy, I'll be referring to that in any future talks I have on this subject.


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