Now that you understand the key players in ecosystems, here are the fundamental principles of building an ecosystem.
CREATE SOMETHING WORTHY OF AN ECOSYSTEM. Once again, the key to evangelism, sales, presentations, and now ecosystems is a great product. If you create a great product, you may not be able to stop an ecosystem from forming. By contrast, it’s hard to build an ecosystem around crap.
DESIGNATE A CHAMPION. Many employees would like to help build an ecosystem, but who wakes up every day with this task at the top of her list of priorities? Another way to look at this is, “Who’s going to get fired if an ecosystem doesn’t happen?” Ecosystems need a champion—an identifiable hero—to carry the community’s flag.
DON’T COMPETE WITH THE ECOSYSTEM. If you want people or organizations to take part in your ecosystem, you shouldn’t compete. For example, if you want people to create apps for your product, then don’t sell (or give away) apps that do the same thing. It was hard to convince companies to develop a Macintosh word processor when Apple was giving away MacWrite.
CREATE AN OPEN SYSTEM. An “open system” means minimal requirements for participating and minimal controls on what you can do. A “closed system” means that you control who participates and what they can do. Either can work, but I recommend an open system because it appeals to my trusting, anarchic personality.
This means that members of your ecosystem will be able to write apps, access data, and interact with your product.
PUBLISH INFORMATION. The natural complement of an open system is publishing books and articles about the product; this spreads information to people on a product’s periphery.
The listing also communicates to the world that your startup is open and willing to help external parties.
FOSTER DISCOURSE. The definition of “discourse” is “verbal exchange.” The keyword is “exchange.” Any company that wants an ecosystem should foster the exchange of ideas and opinions. This means your website should provide a forum where people can engage with other members and your employees. This doesn’t mean that you let the ecosystem run your company, but you should hear what members have to say.
WELCOME CRITICISM. Most organizations feel warm and fuzzy toward their ecosystem as long as the ecosystem says nice things, buys their products and never complains. The minute that the ecosystem says anything negative; however, many organizations freak out and get defensive. This isn’t very good. A healthy ecosystem is a long-term relationship, so an organization shouldn’t file for divorce at the first sign of discord. Indeed, the more an organization welcomes—or even celebrates—criticism, the stronger its bonds to its ecosystem become.
CREATE A NONMONETARY REWARD SYSTEM. You already know how I feel about paying people off to help you, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reward people in other ways. Things as simple as public recognition, badges, points, and credits have more impact than a few bucks. Many people don’t participate in an ecosystem for the money, so don’t insult them by rewarding them with it.
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