On Tech, Business, Society.

Tag: Ecosystem

Public Blockchains: The Community vs. The Ecosystem

insight communityIn the recent blockchain related debates pertaining to forking or block size decisions, we always hear the word “community” as a reference to the body of players who are supposed to be the stakeholders that care the most about such or such blockchain. Given that blockchains are decentralized organisms, their “community” reflects this topology by being a sprawling entity made up of eclectic and dispersed actors and players.

Why is it important to understand who the community is?

According to blockchain theory, the community is supposed to determine the future of a given blockchain via the proverbial decentralized governance magic of consensus. Consensus decision-making is at the heart of blockchains, because a plain majority can sway it one way or the other. Just like an election, more or less. The baseline of a blockchain rests on its economic soundness, and the reality is that some players hold the strings to this economic soundness more than others. Economic soundness also directly relates to blockchain security, but let’s not digress on that (yet important) tangent.

With such deciding power on the future of public blockchains, the Community is an important body, because they represent the current governance.

So I went on a research investigation to figure out the composition of a typical blockchain Community because they have been the most vocal about being who they are. What I found is that this deciding community is a subset of a larger ecosystem. The Community represents the Base Players that have had an earlier economic role in the ecosystem. They are mostly the insiders, and they have an advantage in being more in-the-know that others. Their voices are louder, and their collective actions (or inactions) can effectively determine a blockchain’s trajectory.

There is something contrarian about cryptocurrency communities. In the traditional sense, most companies will firstly gain users or customers, either as end-users or as developers. Then the body and variety of users becomes the community. In the cryptocurrency space, that sequence seems to be inverted. We start with the community of core supporters before we get to a large set of end-users. That’s ok, and perhaps a characteristic of fundamental technologies that need to garner a strong base before it flourishes.

Generically, the Base Players of a cryptocurrency “Community” are largely this group:

  • Token/Currency Holders (mostly owning it via wallets, not exchanges)
  • Core Developers
  • Tools Developers (software tools that are close to the blockchain)
  • Miners
  • Exchanges
  • Cryptocurrency Researchers and Scientists
  The larger ecosystem involves several other participants. It can be portrayed to include the Base Players, in addition to:
  • Venture Capitalists
  • Software Applications Developers
  • Startups with thousands of ideas and projects
  • 90% of Token Holders (the rest of us)
  • Regular Users waiting for mainstream Apps and who haven’t participated yet
  • Large Services Providers who can implement large scale solutions
  • Corporate Developers who want to bring these technologies inside the enterprise
  • Governments who are like other corporate users, but they can serve the public with blockchain-based services
  • Influencers, Analysts and Supporters

Cryptocurrency Community Ecosystem

Let us take the cases of the recent Ethereum hard fork decision, and the Bitcoin block size debate epitomized by the Scaling Bitcoin conference. In both instances, the deciding community was mostly formed of the respective Base Players. But these Base Players are a relatively small group. In the Bitcoin case, the number of influential attendees to the widely publicized Scaling BItcoin process was probably under 100. And in the case of Ethereum, when the Carbonvote was tallied, only a total of 1,325 addresses voted, which is a relatively small number compared to the overall number of ETH holders, considering there is an available supply of 82 million ETH.

I hope we eventually use the word Ecosystem instead of Community, because it is more representative of a marketplace in the making. And I wished that a part of this larger ecosystem would also have a voice into the future of these public blockchains. Currently, the larger ecosystem is mostly a powerless silent majority that is watching events unfold, while being hopeful that the vocal and more powerful minority is going to lead the market in the right direction.

Eventually, any large scale public blockchain will need to reach a more balanced state where community leadership and ecosystem inclusion work together to strengthen its longevity and sustainability potential.

The Base Players are the Community today, and they are steering the boat right now, but will they in the future?


You Don't Need a Perfect Tech Ecosystem, but You Need Many Parts to be Excellent

dfs_xerces_andrew-holder1There is an ongoing debate on what constitutes a great tech startup ecosystem outside of Silicon Valley, as other cities and regions try to export, copy, emulate, or learn from what makes Silicon Valley the model that it is.

Brad Feld, who wrote the book on Startup Communities recently discussed whether Silicon Valley is like religion. Fred Wilson asked if the NYC Tech Community could have another name than the default moniker it often gets, as Silicon Alley.

Some others want to minimize Silicon Valley’s impact on the rest of us, but I don’t believe you can do that.

My perspective on Silicon Valley and its impact on other such ecosystems is tainted by two personal perspectives: a) having worked at Hewlett-Packard for 14 years, I started working with and visiting Silicon Valley since the early 80’s, b) being part of the Toronto-Waterloo tech ecosystem, a region that is trying hard to earn its reputation and place in the “world of tech ecosystems”.

I have two conclusions that I’ll summarize here, and will expand on each later:

  1. Silicon Valley is the only region that has been producing industry giants for each successive waves of technological innovation cycles, decade after decade.

  2. No ecosystem in the world is perfect, including the one in Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley Produces Giant Companies for each Wave

Silicon Valley is not only still the largest ecosystem that produces tech companies, but its history is made-up of a succession of giant companies that emerged out of each successive technology cycles. Almost each decade is defined by a handful of representative companies who symbolize a particular era:

  • Pre 80’s, Semiconductors and Aerospace: Intel, Fairchild, Lockheed Martin, Hewlett-Packard.
  • 80’s, Computers and Software: Sun Microsystems, Oracle, HP, Apple.
  • 90’s, Networking and Internet I: Netscape, Cisco, Yahoo!, eBay.
  • 2000’s: Internet II and Cloud Computing: Google, Apple 2.0, Salesforce, Netflix, VMware.
  • 2010’s: Social and Tech Energy: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, UBER, Dropbox, Tesla, SolarCity.
  • 2020’s: ??

Silicon Valley is an amazing epicenter of energy and activity in tech innovation. Keeping it in the back of your mind provides an incredible mental model for any other tech ecosystem.

No Ecosystem is Perfect

In my own backyard, the Waterloo-Toronto ecosystem is on top of my mind, as it gets frequently self-introspected by its participants because it’s not so perfect, as it tries hard to be recognized as a top global tech startup region.

But no ecosystem is perfect, and none will ever be.

Even Silicon Valley has its own flaws and imperfections, despite its appearance to be the “model”: office rents are high, real estate is expensive, employees are less loyal, traffic is bad, salaries are higher, it has some arrogance, it suffers from a superiority complex, it’s hyped, etc.

What sets an ecosystem apart and on the path of success is not the degree in which it tries to copy Silicon Valley, but in how it develops its own uniqueness. And if there are ecosystems to be copied, the better lessons come from places like New York, Austin or Boulder who created and evolved their own ecosystem, with their own identity and uniqueness, without being obsessed by replicating Silicon Valley.

Any tech ecosystem needs to work with what they have, make it its own, and work with it to make it better, piece by piece.

Truth is, you don’t need a perfect ecosystem, but you need many of your ecosystem parts to be excellent.

Despite the intent to “copy” or “emulate”, you can never make a perfect copy of something as complex as an ecosystem. You can only take lessons and apply them in your own way. Using a cooking analogy, you can follow a recipe, but because you will source most of the ingredients locally, the expected results will be different. The flavors will not be the same. And the rituals, stories, companies, actors and landmarks of an ecosystem will be different from region to region.

Maintaining an ecosystem is also like living in a city you like- if you find a pothole, you avoid it, but you also would do good if you report it.

In the Toronto-Waterloo ecosystem, we’re still growing to be that ecosystem that stands tall on its own two feet (literally). We probably have the best of both works in terms of underlying cultural underpinnings: a Silicon Valley culture mentality (Waterloo), coupled by a New York City drive intensity (Toronto).

What really matters to the success of a tech ecosystem is:

  • Entrepreneurs that do
  • Mentors with experience that give
  • Capital owners that fund

For Toronto-Waterloo, we should make sure we continue to improve our ecosystem in the right direction. The visible signs will be manifested as:

  • Experienced entrepreneurs helping each other at the peer level, without being prompted or rehearsed.
  • Exited entrepreneurs re-investing in the ecosystem that fed them.
  • Ex-employees of companies starting other startups after gaining experience in previous ones.
  • Venture capitalists, funds and angel investors taking risks with local startups.
  • Startups attracting capital and mentors from outside the region.
  • The region producing (via universities) or attracting (from outside) enough of the right human talent to fuel the growth demands.
  • Anyone else supporting the ecosystem following the needs of the above players, and not leading them.

At the end of the day, a tech ecosystem is like nature’s ecosystem. It is full of interdependencies where each organism contributes, interacts with or links to another one. Its members feed from one another, and gradually, the ecosystem becomes stronger and stronger by virtue of its stability via the symbiotic dependencies.

When you have excellent parts, just as when you have excellent ingredients, it becomes more difficult to ruin a bad meal, as it becomes easier to build a great ecosystem.]]>

Unpacking Toronto’s Tech Startup Events

Too Many Tech Startup Events in Toronto? Hell Yeah!events image

Since mid October of this year, there has been an incredible amount of tech startup related events in Toronto, and the frenzy continues until mid-December. That’s more than I ever remembered in the past 7 years that I’ve been involved in this community.

What’s happening? Let’s deconstruct what’s going on, and list the constellations that are responsible for this flurry of activity.

If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area, suddenly, it feels like we went from a handful of events per week to several, and often overlapping events “per day”! I think it’s good thing for the Toronto Tech Startup ecosystem (and I’m not counting the dozens of regular Meetups that continue to occur). I am focused on the more significant events with at least 75 attendees.

There is a good variety of events across several topics and angles, and this is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. The events I’m seeing cover the gamut of topics:

  • Software

  • Creative

  • Venture Capital

  • Women in tech

  • Marketing

  • Bitcoin

  • SaaS

  • Sales

  • Hackathons

  • Wearables

  • Portfolio companies related

  • Lawyer-clients related

  • Product management

  • Ones with out of town experts

  • Etc.

An interesting fact about these events is they are totally decentralized. No one entity or organizer controls, manages or hosts a majority of them. And no one ever will.

I’m also seeing new types of events, such as in the areas of Wearables, Product Hunt, Bitcoin, Women in tech; and there are some new cool event spaces such as at Bitmaker Labs, OneEleven, Pivotal Labs, MakeWorks and Shopify.

How you learn about these upcoming events has always been a challenge, but it’s getting better. Here’s a quick list of the key constellations that you need to keep an eye on:

The Toronto Startup Digest has been doing a great job with their Monday morning email, but despite their comprehensiveness, additional events seem to pop-up here and there. In addition to the weekly email, their Web Calendar view offers a quick way to glance at a whole month of activity on one page. There are some significant upcoming events such as:  AccelerateTO, Startup Open House, HohoTO, MeshMarketing, AndroidTO, MakerFaire, CIX.

The Startup North Facebook Page has taken a life of its own as a collective contribution of news, events and opinions surrounding the entire Canadian tech startup space. New events are often announced there.

The Startup North Events page has a comprehensive listing of events as well, and it goes beyond Toronto, covering all of Canada.

Tom Emrich and the Wearables machine. Tom has been a driving force in the Toronto tech Wearables space (and globally too). He has been spearheading the always-packed, always-waitlisted Toronto We are Wearables monthly meetup,  just ran a world-class WEST conference, and has more events up his tech sleeves, such as  SmartWeek Toronto: October 24-26, Sports Hack Weekend: November 14-16, and FITC Wearables: November 13.

Decentral is Toronto’s center for everything Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. Their popular weekly Wednesday Meetup often gets 100+ attendees, among the movers, shakers and wannabees of the Bitcoin space. Pssst, their next guest speaker on Oct 29th is Andreas Antonopoulos, world renowned Bitcoin expert.

Bitmaker Labs recently kicked off their Think Thursday series of monthly interviews in their new 8,000 sq ft King Street West offices. Led by Craig Hunter, this series of events has been well received by the community.

OneEleven, a new 15,000 sqft cool space has been seeing a good share of quality events, some of them organized by OneEleven, and others run by select external partners. OneEleven is also home to my events, and it is where I ran the first event there in October 2013.

Pivotal Labs in Toronto. Their Google-sque new event space is one of Toronto’s latest. It opened a few months ago, and has hosted a variety of developers and startup related events.

Startup Grind. Michael Cayley, the dynamo Director behind the Toronto Chapter keeps grinding and bringing impressive speakers from the US and Canada.

HighLine (the merger of Extreme Startups and Vancouver’s GrowLab) has been on a roll, hosting a number of lunch and evening events of an extremely good quality. You can subscribe to get notified via their Meetup group.

Shopify has a new really hip event space that can host 200 attendees, and they have been hosting and organizing selected events that benefit the Toronto community. Satish Kanwar is the Shopify Toronto ring leader.

The MaRS events page has a pretty good listing that includes their own events and others in Toronto. They also have an event submission page, if you’d like to see your event listed there.

Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone is always bustling with activity, and they are hosts to a number of startup related events. The next event they are hosting is no less than the famous AccelerateTO.

MakeWorks is a new 10,000 sqft space that used to be an old shoe factory, now reincarnated as an attractive co-working space / shared R&D labs for everything related to the makers segment, and includes an event space.

The Working Group is a strategy, design and development firm that has been hosting a number of interesting events in their office. The most recent one was with the authors of the Value Proposition Design book.

BNOTIONS  is also an active instigator and sponsor to a number of local events, some of them are listed on The YMC site.

If you’re a developer or designer, there a number of key events in that space, such as DevTO, HackerNest, GirlGeeksToronto, Rails Pub Nite (link includes Unspace events too), and TorontoUX.

Adding Your Event

If you would like to add a new event to Startup Digest, email Josh Sookman or Will Lam, and/or post your event directly on the StartupNorth Events page. While you’re at it, announce it on the StartupNorth Facebook page. And when you tweet it, how about adding the hashtag #TOtechevent so others can find these events easily?

See you at the events! A good entrepreneur is a networked entrepreneur!

ps- If I missed any significant tech event organizers or constellations in the GTA, please point them in the comments space.

pps- Are you happy with how you’re keeping track of these events based on the above information? If you have any suggestions or ideas, let’s hear it.

ppps- The goal of this post was not to list all events, but rather to point people to where they can look to find out about events that interest them. So, my apologies if I didn’t list your event specifically.


Battle of the Tech Ecosystems: Boston vs. New York, with Mattermark Data

NY BostonWhen it comes to Tech Startups Ecosystems in the U.S. outside of Silicon Valley, New York is undisputedly the “other” pole of attention, but suddenly, there is increased attention on Boston. Can Boston become the third pole? What’s the reality? So, let’s review what is happening on the ground in Boston, then follow with an analysis of the last 100 venture funding deals in both cities, utilizing Mattermark data (published with permission).

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén