The Health of Our Ecosystem

Posted on September 11, 2012. Filed under: startups, venture capital |

For the last six years I have been a member of the startup and venture capital community.  There are many participants in this community.  Some skew toward action and definition of the community, some toward observation and commentary, and some toward follower/trend amplification.

The Actor: the actor is most important. His/Her decisions become reality.  They build a product.  They sell a product. They sell a company. They defeat an incumbent. The Actor is in the game. Making the play.  There are many different types of actors.  The main segmentation I would propose is based on the genesis of their actions.  Many actors are influenced by competitors, or investors, or press, but the purest actor…the one that matters the most, acts from intuition and an internal calling that is insulated but aware of these many influences. I’ll come back to the Actor, but for now, think Actor = On the ground, doer.

The Observer/Commentator: The Observer/Commentator watches the startup ecosystem as a anthropologic activity.  Many Actors are not observer/commentators and don’t give a shit what direction the ecosystem is going in.  Financing trends, bad behavior, the interaction between engineers and business people, the democratization of application development…none of that matters to many actors…often Actors are laser focused.  They don’t need to opine, they don’t tweet, and they don’t consume the commentary of the ecosystem.  And that’s all good.  On the other end of the spectrum, there are Observers / Commentators who don’t Act at all…the Press is the most salient example, but there are also some others who live and breath the conversation without any Doing.  And then there are the in-betweens. Sort of player/coach types if you will.  On the ground, Acting, trying to make moves, but watching and commenting as they go.  Dixon, Vacanti, etc.

The Follower/Amplifier: I have never been a fan of trend amplification, but it has it’s roll.  One brilliant actor does something incredible, and the amplifiers make sure it is noticed.  Some Actors are Follower/Amplifiers, Some Observer/Commentators are Follower/Amplifiers, and then there are many hangers on who are nothing more than Follower/Amplifiers.  The Follower/Amplifier listens to the Observer/Commentator and just echoes whatever direction the ecosystem’s sentiment is moving in.  They can echo that sentiment in words, or companies, or opinions, or spread…they are simply the megaphone that talks to the ecosystem and those outside of it.

I break out these three groups of participants for a reason.  As I said, I have only been in this business for six years, but in that time I’ve enjoyed being an Observer as well as an Actor.  The two are intimately tied for me…which was never a problem so long as I “observed” a healthy ecosystem….somewhere along the way over the past 6 months or so…I increasingly worried about the direction and health of the ecosystem. I’ve voiced that sentiment many times on this blog, trying to Commentate where I could, and hopefully contribute to it’s health, but a few months ago I began to worry so much that it began to change my behavior as an Actor…I became uninspired. It took me a while to really see this, but I think a big part of my challenge was simply in wading through the noise of the Follower/Amplifiers.  They have always been around, I’ve always been pretty good at cutting through their effect, but one of the major macro trends that we experienced as an ecosystem over the last two years as an unhealthy shift in the ratio of Actors to Follower/Amplifiers.  Basically the market was flooded with a group of entrants, disguised as Actors, who by definition and character are in fact Follower/Amplifiers…in this case the entrance itself was following a trend to entrepreneurship and startups resultant from some broader Macro themes and a potentially irresponsible Commentating effort by the Press in a time where our ecosystem was a lone bright spot in a bleak broader economic landscape…

So anyway, the noise got so loud, because of this unusual Amplifier volume, that it became hard to see the thing that really inspired me and made me want to be a part of this ecosystem.  The pure actor, the one acting from within, who shared the values and motivations that I had developed through a genuine adoration and infatuation with the entrepreneurial process and life, became nearly invisible in the sea of noise.  I worried that the ecosystem that I loved was gone forever…

But that was naïve…the very nature of the Actor is that they are immune to the noise. The pure Actor innovates, and pushes, and breaks through the noise.  They rise above, and as sure as the sun rises, they will continue to enter the ecosystem…noise or no noise.  I realized that their voice was not gone or absent, just masked.  This was not a supply problem, but a discovery problem.  It became difficult to discover inspiring people…it used to be that you couldn’t walk 10 feet in this world without tripping over one.

But I am happy to report that the Actors are alive and well.  I have met some new ones…brand new entrants…spinning almost on their own axis…a sub-ecosystem if you will…in some cases an ecosystem of one…but they are familiar, and remind me of what I love and fell in love with when I joined this community six years ago.

As things cool off, the Follower/Amplifiers begin to shut the fuck up, and if you put your ear very very close to the ecosystem, you can make out the voice of the pure Actor…and soon the Observer/Commentator will hear it…a familiar drum beat that was muted by the noise, and they will report as it is and the remaining Amplifiers will Amplify and the ecosystem will know…that it is once again healthy.

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One Response to “The Health of Our Ecosystem”

RSS Feed for Jordan Cooper's Blog: startups, venture capital, etc… Comments RSS Feed

the more talk, the less walk: the liar’s the guy who tells you he’s honest the loudest. there’s been a lot of talking the last few years, and maybe the Actors are a little less inclined to evangelize when there’s so much noise.

it’ll be a bit nice when this cycle melts down and startups aren’t hot (building new things is always cool) and the MBAs go back to Wall Street (even though I know some good ones), and we see who wants to suffer.

so I don’t know if it’s just a signal:noise issue. maybe the signal recognizes noise and just goes about its business.

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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