Why Every Startup Ecosystem Needs Its Own Playbook

December 7, 2014

10:00 pm

In the light of the digital evolution with ever decreasing costs of starting a company and launching it to a global audience, companies from all over the world are trying to replicate the amazing success of companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox and so on.

Is Each Startup Ecosystem like Silicon Valley?

The popularity of the lean startup methodology and the idolization of startup gurus from Silicon Valley such as Steve Blank and Eric Ries has quickly spread all around the world and are championed by entrepreneurs everywhere from London to Tel Aviv to Seoul. But of course, not all markets are the same and the conditions for an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and an entrepreneur in Seoul are vastly different. Recently, Steve Blank admitted that Canadian entrepreneurs can’t rely on Silicon Valley’s ‘lean startup’ bible, since it was developed in and for Silicon Valley and it assumes that entrepreneurs in the startup ecosystem have full access to willing and smart business customers, hosts of industry angels, and VCs with money to invest. Blank realized on a trip to Australia that the lean startup framework didn’t account for the vagaries of local economies. And if Canadian or Australian entrepreneurs can’t trust the lean startup playbook, how could an entrepreneur in Buenos Aires or Stockholm? Instead Mr. Blank suggests that communities and local startup ecosystems need to start collecting their own data on what works and doesn’t, and create their own custom “playbooks” for winning in the global market.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza, where the annual BeLAUNCH, the biggest tech and startup conference in Korea was held this year

Korean Startup Ecosystem

Having lived the last few years in Korea, I have developed a particular fondness for watching Korean startup successes and the amazing potential of the Korean startup ecosystem. But not all is well in the Korean startup world. Korean startups still struggle to assert themselves globally and are having a hard time to adapt when they want to go outside the Korean economy. Since the election of President Park earlier last year, the Korean government has embarked on an ambitious and expensive crusade to bring innovation to the fore of the Korean economy and to encourage a retreat from the country’s current dependence on a tiny number of huge family-run businesses (Chaebols), such as Samsung, Hyundai, LG and SK telecom.

The Korean government has been putting huge amounts of money into its startup ecosystem and launched numerous programs for Korean startups to join, to bolster their chances of succeeding internationally, touring all around the world to get insight from places such as Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv and London. But is there a too much reliance on the Silicon Valley way of doing things? I recently joined a part-government funded trip with the startup I’m working for, to go to San Francisco to tour around numerous startup incubators and programs for them to try to pitch themselves to the Korean entrepreneurs. And sure, getting expert advice about how to make it in SV is great and all (although it would probably have been cheaper for the government not to send 10 startup leaders half across the world to hear those pitches), but is the Silicon Valley way the best ways for Korean startups to go? And is it in the government and the “creative economy’s” best interest? Raising money in The States unquestionably demands for the company headquarters to relocate to The States to be close to their investors. And all of a sudden, the company isn’t Korean anymore, but American (although with the engineering part still located on the Korean peninsula, at least for a while). Isn’t it better for the Korean government to properly develop a playbook for Korean startups on how to succeed globally, keeping the startups on Korean soil?

The Community-Driven Approach

Steve Blank called for a community-driven approach to develop these local playbooks, using local startup meetups to asking questions such as “what’s the first step you took in starting your business? How many of you raised money? How much and who from? How many of you raised money in the U.S.? What did you learn from doing that? What do you wish you could have done differently? How do you approach marketing in The States” etc. etc., and creating a rough framework and playbook based on that. This doesn’t only apply to the Korean startups but for startups all around the world, whether located in Seoul, Milwaukee, or Sydney.

Startup Grind Toronto, a 1,700-member chapter of the worldwide, Silicon Valley-based organization, agreed to “workshop” a playbook session at a a few weeks ago. “If there were a playbook for local entrepreneurs, it would help people focus on their business, instead of the gaps.” Toronto chapter director Michael Cayley said. Maybe it’s time for the Korean (and other countries’) startup founders to do the same.

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Anton Eliasson is a marketer and growth hacker from Sweden, currently working and living in Seoul, South Korea, helping startups and entrepreneurs with their global marketing and growth hacking.

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