I'm Salim Virani. I used to design peer learning programs, and these days I'm having fun building stuff.

No more hubs: startup community is P2P
Jun 16, 2014

Startup capitals are an out-dated concept.

Global startup culture is becoming more networked and less top-down. The fastest-growing startup communities aren’t trying to be the best-in-region or playing a zero-sum game, they’re embracing the connections to other places. At a global level, our community behaviour is peer-to-peer. Centralisation is becoming a liability; rivalries get in the way far too often.

##Valleylust

There’s a lot we can learn and take from Silicon Valley’s example, but this is more often a distraction from building on our own strengths and on our own terms. Our Valleylust is often misplaced.

Silicon Valley has a strong culture of openness, a strong brand and still has an advantage with later-stage tech investors. We can learn from this. The Valley benefits from attracting loads of great talent, and a attracting lot of the world’s startup successes. As a city, it takes credit for a lot of those successes, but this is also a disadvantage.

Its culture is very introspective. People are super-open and helpful, but this is usually limited to access to The Valley. If you’re looking for global introductions, it’s the new, growing startup communities which better offer those connections.

Putting your city on the map

Interconnection is a key advantage in Europe and Southeast Asia. Both regions have a strong history of founders actively traveling between cities, picking and choosing the advantages of each. Air Asia. The Easyjet-set. Let’s look at London, Hong Kong and Sofia as examples.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, the government isn’t going head-to-head against Singapore. Singapore’s government offers some of the best seed-stage multipliers to investors in the world. (Close to 5-to-1.) Hong Kong plays to its local strengths, like its connection to China, manufacturing capabilities for hardware, proximity to a growing number of multi-national HQs, and business-friendly legal environment.

Sofia

Sofia, in Bulgaria, had no such advantages. It wasn’t on any startup radar just a few years ago. Sofians have simply executed, launching accelerators, co-working spaces, meetups and then conferences, without letting internal rivalries slow them down. They’ve realised this is productive. It puts the focus on doing, not out-doing, on helping founders, not being better than “local competitors.” It allows outsiders to improve Sofia more easily, since outsiders can get needed intros, and things just happen. But the biggest difference this makes is that Sofians are active all over Southeast Europe. They just get in their car and go to Belgrade, Bucharest, Thessanloniki, Istanbul. They fly to Barcelona, Berlin, London. JFDI is the key attitude here, and the pie grows. JFDI pie! Yum.

London

In London, not even the government people think we’re in competition with Berlin. In my years there, I never heard any community leader saying “we’re going to be the best in Europe.” It was more, “we’re going to make startups the best, in Europe.” You’ll easily find visiting founders from Germany, Nigeria, Finland, The US and Bulgariam for example; connections to other startup communities are easy and forthcoming.

Be a super-node

Bittorrent traffic Image: Bittorrent traffic, 2009

All these cities are participating the global startup community, not trying to own it. And they’re flourishing!

They’re not trying to control or force their region through them, but simply enable startups. Rather than act like a hub, where every spoke should point to you, it’s peer-to-peer thinking, acting like super-nodes that connect others.

You don’t need to central to be a super-node, but if you act like one, the network tends to grow around you.

What am I up to these days?

I’m working on a communication tool for loose community groups and unconference-style interactions. It focuses on individual autonomy rather than top-down coordination.

I recently became a Kernel fellow, where I was exploring models for self-directing communities of care, the history of economic cultural norms, and the connection between mimicry, memes and our sense of belonging.

I did a few advisory gigs too - for Polygon, Limechain and Bankless on education and support programs.

In the past, I designed peer learning programs for Oxford, UCL, Techstars, Microsoft Ventures and The Royal Academy Of Engineering. I also played a role in creating the Lean Startup methodology, and the European startup ecosystem. You can read about this here.

Projects

  • Cuppa - decentralised collaboration protocol (WIP)
  • Nonfungo - completely on-chain NFT sale notification bot for Discord. (Look ma! No Opensea API!)
  • Powerplays - real-time token launches

Books

  • Peer Learning Is - a broad look at peer learning around the world, and how to design peer learning to outperform traditional education
  • Mentor Impact - researched the practices used by the startup mentors that really make a difference

Collected practices

  • Source Institute - skunkworks I founded with open peer learning formats and ops guides, and our internal guide on decentralised teams
  • DAOistry - practices and mindsets that work in blockchain communities
  • Decision Hacks - early-stage startup decisions distilled