On building an ecosystem

Two weeks ago one of my fb friends posted a story from a Thessaloniki newspaper approx. 10 years ago to the day (the 20th of June, 2010). The story writes “In times of crisis, they seek and find opportunities”. In the photo that usually comes with the story 4 young men are posing. I happen to know all 4 of them (Thessaloniki’s tech scene is not so big). Those tech-lovers today are amongst the leading figures in Thessaloniki’s (and Athens) tech scene. 

About the image: It’s 2010 people, don’t be hating on the low resolution

The title of the article mentions the Open Coffee meetings happening in Thessaloniki. For those not familiar, “Open Coffee meetings are the point of reference for Greek startups since 2007. Moreover, Open Coffee meetings happening around Greece offer a place to network and a platform for exchange that aims to inform, connect and inspire. Up till now 7 Greek cities have their own meetings with most of them being active today.” according to the description of the Open Coffee Facebook group. These meetings are today happening in many cities across Greece.


A historic meeting although i bet those present want to forget the Noughties’ Fashion

The photo above is coming from the third Thessaloniki meeting back in 2007, that took place at Starbucks, a few days before Christmas. Unfortunately, looking for the presentation files for purely nostalgic reasons I found out that the link was broken.

But where is this going…

and why are these photos important? Well, an ecosystem’s power, be it Athens, Thessaloniki, or Silicon Valley is its people first and foremost and the collective experience of hits and misses (especially misses), the load of success and failure (failure matters most) in building tech-oriented products and businesses. 

In a 1996 book called “The Rise of the Network Society”, Manuel Castells writes about the establishment of Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley (Santa Clara County, 30 miles south of San Francisco, between Stanford and San Jose) was formed as a milieu of innovation by the convergence on one site of new technological knowledge; a large pool of skilled engineers and scientists from major universities in the area; generous funding from an assured market with the Defense Department; the development of an efficient network of venture capital firms; and, in the very early stage, the institutional leadership of Stanford University. Indeed, the unlikely location of the electronics industry in a charming, semi-rural area of northern California can be traced back to the establishment in 1951 of Stanford Industrial Park by Stanford University’s visionary Dean of Engineering and Provost, Frederick Terman. He had personally supported two of his graduate students, William Hewlett and David Packard, in creating an electronics company in 1938. The Second World War was a bonanza for Hewlett Packard and other start-up electronics companies. Thus, naturally, they were the first tenants of a new, privileged location where only firms that Stanford judged innovative could benefit from a notional rent. As the Park was soon filled, new electronics firms started to locate down freeway 101 toward San Jose.

So SV, arguably the greatest ecosystem on the face of this Earth was established as a tech hub many-many years before Google, Facebook or even Apple and Oracle existed. In fact, the story started earlier than 1956, the year that Shockley Semiconductor Labs was founded or 1951 with the establishment of the Stanford Industrial Park. Shockley had previously coinvented the transistor while at Bell Labs in the 1940s. And going further back, in 1939, William Hewlett and Dave Packard founded Hewlett-Packard (you didn’t see that coming, did you) in Palo Alto, which originally made oscilloscopes. And the story continues to unravel back in time with the American Navy purchasing the Moffett Field in the 1930s or the first radio station in the early 1900s and so on and so on.

100 years of work for an overnight success.

Rome wasn't built in a day

Today’s lesson: Rome wasn’t built in a day

So next time you are in your smartphone, playing Hearthstone or swiping right on boring Instagram beach stories or (even better) on your laptop trying to persuade initial users to test your app and give you feedback, don’t consider all this as a given, but acknowledge the hard work of a broad line of ingenious people, tech pioneers and even janitors that stayed up late in empty buildings to keep the lights on for everyone.

There is a line of eponymous but mostly anonymous people that worked hard for us to be better off in building things. What is more, the work of one innovator makes every other innovator’s work easier. And when you get a critical mass of those people, working for a long time that’s how an ecosystem is built. 


by Konstantinos Gkovedaros