The way we work is changing. Companies have become more open and collaborative. We see it when CTOs broadcast their technology stack or when developers upload their code to GitHub. We may attribute this change to two techno-cultural movements in the past 20 years: Open Source and Social Media. Let me explain.
In the late 1990s, open source reached the mainstream and spawned a generation of developers and engineers who believed that a collaborative environment increased the velocity of innovation. Companies no longer needed to reinvent the wheel; they could build off open source code for higher-level and/or niche functionality. A similar movement in social media changed the way we shared information in the 2000s. While one can argue the academic and technical communities were already in “share” mode before companies like Facebook, the viral nature of social media increased network effects a step-function in magnitude. Before, you may have shared your thoughts on a technology in your BBS or IRC channel, and reached a few hundred people. Now a tweet can yield you thousands of page views.
Which brings me back to why we started VendorStack. One central thesis for our company is that today’s enterprise is more willing to share information about their vendor stack, similar to the way many technology companies now share their technology stack. Why do we believe this? Because it’s already happening.
We Share Because We Care
If you ever wanted to waste a few hours per day trolling the Internet, there’s no better place than Reddit or Hacker News. These sites have a high yield in quality to content ratio because your peers curate these crowd-sourced sites. People you don’t know but inherently trust did your homework for you and found the best content of the day for you. In return, you’ll sometimes do the same. Not everyone contributes the same amount and many fans of Reddit or Hacker News act only as a consumers of content, not creators. A cynic can argue that sharing a link on Reddit is hardly the same as contributing original content and there is some truth to that. After all, the yield to effort on sharing a popular link is quite high; what would happen if you spent a great deal of time and effort in your submission? Would people share less?
We Share Because It’s Selfish
We see this already in other collaborative sites like StackOverflow or Quora. Sometimes, a question posed on these sites can be quite specific and in turn, the responses can be very thoughtful. A capitalist may scratch her head and wonder why aren’t these experts selling their expertise in the open market instead of giving it away. Of course, nothing in life is free. The people who share on these sites may realize that they are benefiting directly and indirectly from their contribution. In a direct manner, their submissions elevate their status amongst their peer group. We have just begun seeing hires come from contributions on Quora. We already see hires emerge from GitHub profiles. In an indirect manner, their contribution increases the overall value of the community and encourages others to contribute. Much like donating as an alumnus to your school, your association with the institution increases in value as the institution’s reputation increases in value.
We Share Because It Is No Longer A Competitive Advantage
Perhaps the biggest sea change in technology is the realization that intellectual property and its legal equivalents (patents, copyright) have become less valuable as competitive advantages in innovation (they are, however, quite valuable defensively). As we mentioned earlier, companies like Facebook and Pinterest now publish their technology stack. We also have begun seeing companies publish their vendor stack, as more of enterprise vendors become more product-oriented. Neal O’Mara of HelloFax drew me to his blog post from August 2011. His post was in response to this post from Gabriel Weinberg of DuckDuckGo. In my own observations, I also see more posts about their vendors, including this one from Mark Suster.
Elon Musk famously said recently that they have almost no patents for the SpaceX program because it would be a cookbook for the Chinese. Which is not to say there was no groundbreaking innovation in SpaceX; their focus was on execution. Sharing what whom you use is no longer a competitive advantage because technology has flattened access to products and services once considered proprietary in functionality and scale to the biggest and best capitalized companies. If we tell people we use Pivotal Tracker and Mailchimp, for example, it doesn’t give them a leg-up in copying VendorStack. They still have to code the damn thing and talk to the same number of users and vendors as we have. It does, however, validate our choices if more people begin using our vendors as a response. This helps the vendor sell more widgets.
We at VendorStack believe in an open collaborative environment for the enterprise. This is our vendor stack. What’s yours?
Want to learn more about @VendorStack? connect with David on Twitter @DavidPCheng
David is a first time entrepreneur building vendorstack.com, a site that helps small businesses identify better vendors. David previously worked in investment banking, venture capital, and ran the online research platform for the leading cleantech market research firm.