Forget Products: Let’s Build Ecosystems Instead

You know, Google didn’t invent the internet search. They just made it better. Before Google there was a place called Altavista (many centuries ago, if you know what I mean 😉 ). People used to go on Altavista and search for various things. At some point, Google made that process better. And pretty much everybody who was using Altavista migrated to Google.

If you look at Facebook you’ll notice something absolutely obvious: they didn’t invent the social network. There was something called hi5 before them. And I think it’s still is. Somehow. People (or teens, to be more precise) used to hang out on hi5 all the time. Until Facebook came up with something better (some are saying Facebook created a place where you can stalk your wife, your friends, or your ex). I just say Facebook made the social interaction better, somehow ;-).

Now let’s step outside the web for a moment. Let’s look at Apple. A dying company 10 years ago, it now has the largest capitalization in the world. And, surprise, they didn’t invent the laptop, the mp3 player or the tablet. Ok, I hear you Apple fanboys, they “redefined the category”, but let’s move outside the PR area for a moment. By the way, I’m a huge fan of Apple products, but this post is not about that.

Customers versus Citizens

Any economics teacher will explain the processes above in a sentence like this: people simply start to love a product and they start using it. I will have a different opinion, this time. I’ll say: people like that place and are moving over. We all moved to Google, to Facebook and to Apple.

And that “move” challenges our status as a customer. We’re not customers anymore. We’re citizens. We’re part of a new thing. In the absence of a better word, I will call this thing an “ecosystem”. Why is that fundamentally different than being just consumers? Because we have to obey that country rules. We have to play as Google sings, desperately looking at their page ranking algorithm, or we have to hide as much as we can from our privacy in Facebook. They created more than a product, they created a web of interactions. A complex system in which we are both consumers and creators.

Google would have nothing to search if there won’t be any internet content. And Facebook would have nobody to interact with if there won’t be anybody using it. We are at the same time consumers of something that we create. Doesn’t this sounds to you like being part of country? It surely does to me.

This process, this mix of continuous consuming of and building on those places, that makes us citizens of a new type of country. We’re Google citizens as much as we are United States, New Zealand or Romanian citizens.

We’re not part of a business anymore. We’re part of an ecosystem.

Countries versus Companies

Now let’s turn a little to the country rulers. To Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Sergey Brin. Who are those people? Or, to be more precise, what’s their role here?

Well, besides building the whole thing, they now have a very important part to play: they can allow other businesses in their “country” and live “off of taxes”. That is a fundamental shift in the way we’re doing business. All we knew about markets and demand is kinda obsolete now. The direct interaction between consumer, market and product has been tampered by a new thing. We don’t pay for Google. But we do help Google make a lot of money just by… being. Same thing with Facebook.

Look at Facebook ads, AdSense or AppStore. Each time we’re using Facebook, we’re exposed to Facebook Ads. Sometimes we’re using those ads and paying for them. Almost any time we’re surfing the web we are exposed to AdSense and we’re helping this business grow on top of Google ecosystem. And, as much as you’d like to think that you’re using an “improved user experience” when you’re using your iPhone, you’re not. You’re playing Angry Birds. And that game didn’t even existed before iPhone. It’s something you bought from AppStore.

Facebook Ads, Adsense and the AppStore are businesses inside the countries Facebook, Google and Apple.

If you’re looking carefully at the whole structure of the ecosystem, at some point you’ll realize that the revenue is not generated by the initial business. But by “taxes” on layered businesses on top of each country.

How To Build A Digital Country

Well, maybe not a country. Maybe a small city. Or a village. Or at least a neighborhood 😉

But let’s stop for a while and explain why would you like to build something like this. Well, because you could, potentially, at some point, to become the ruler of that country and, exactly, live off of taxes from the business you are allowing there. Many people are calling this “passive income” nowadays. I call it digital country rulership. And it has at least 3 “must” and “need” in it. Let’s dive.

First of all, be specific. Not unique, but specific. And by that I mean: if your country will be about, let’s say, “personal development”, don’t try to reinvent it. Just be yourself. Chances are that pretty much everything on that niche has been invented way before you even thought to build that type of country. But, as Google didn’t invent the internet search, you can just make it better. Like adding your own touch, experience and skills. It’s about your vision, not about somebody else’s vision. Because, yes, you guessed, then it will be somebody else’s digital country, not yours.

Second, listen to your citizens (those would be your readers, if you still have difficulties identifying the metaphor). Follow their needs, their discussions, their suggestions. Look at their behavior patterns. Do they spend a lot of time in your country? In which places, exactly? And what are the places they hate? That’s pretty much what a regular country ruler does, if you think a little.

Third, be realistic. And by realistic I mean manageable. Do you really want to be the ruler of a digital China? The thrill of being on top of that mountain could be really appealing, but think for a while at the responsibility that comes with it. Believe me, you don’t want to be the ruler of China. Not today, not ever. But you can be the ruler of your own small tropical paradise. Or just a small town where people can live and have fun.

Welcome To My Digital Country

That would be the blog you’re reading right now, of course. This is the country I built in the last two years. It wasn’t easy, but I kinda managed to do it, if you know what I mean. I feel good around here and this is my place. There is enough content here (the first 500 articles are the most difficult, by the way) to keep my citizens entertained for weeks. And there are also a lot of comments. Over 8000, if you wonder. And that would be the traces of the people who are living here. A lot of traces, exactly.

Oh, yes, I’m forgetting something. Namely, what are the business you can participate in, as citizens of my country. Well, you can become an affiliate for my digital products (5 ebooks on sale from here). The first one was launched more than a year ago and the most recent one just a few months back.

And if you wonder what other businesses I built on top of this cute little blog, well, I also build iPhone apps. If you’re into productivity (and I think you should be, because you just spent 6 minutes reading a blog post, do you realize that? 🙂 ) you can get iAdd directly from the AppStore. It’s a universal app, which means it works both on your iPhone and iPad.

By the way, what’s your digital country? Don’t be shy, say hello, I like to travel. A lot. 🙂

Oh, you don’t have one yet? Well, you must make a choice: you can either be just a citizen of a country and obey all its rules, or start building your own and play the game from a much higher level.

What’s your choice?

4 thoughts on “Forget Products: Let’s Build Ecosystems Instead”

  1. Hi Dragos,

    I Like your approach to building a digital country. If anyone knows something about that, it’s you who have been at it for over two years and have a successful following & more important than that, a powerful message that resonates with others and has impacted real lives.

    My digital village is -very few words and lots of short videos that can be inspiring at times but are mostly actionable reminders of how to return to a fully lived life so that we leave earth, we can die completely given. I enjoy your blog and your unique style and approach to life. -Bernardo

  2. My new nation is It’s been a slow journey, but lately I’ve had a fire lit up under my ass and I’m more inspired than ever do put a whole of a lot more effort into it.

    I have a small, faithful community. If you want to immigrate to, it’s easy. There are no visas required and we permit multi-citizenship. 🙂

    Max (formerly Gordie)

  3. Hi,
    My village is, I re-invented the web hosting comparison. I stand out from spammers and self promoters. Still a village: )


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