The Difficulty of Ecosystem Building

Watching PBS and finding a better analogy.

Joe Maruschak
3 min readMar 17


I spend some time every week helping founders with pitch decks. I am always pushing them to simplify, to be clearer, and to find some way to make it make sense.

Finding a good analogy that will help people ‘get’ what what you are building is always helpful. Explaining something new or not well understood is hard. Having an example to give to help the them create a mental model of what they are looking at is crucial. We have trouble understanding the future. We have all experienced the past. Saying something is ‘like when the iPod came out and how we listened to music changed’ is powerful as it tangible.

As someone who spent the better part of a decade doing what has come to be called Ecosystem Building, I have always struggled with explaining to people simply.

I left Ecosystem Building behind 2 years ago to try something new (starting a fund to invest in IP heavy hard tech) — but the last couple of weeks sucked me back into the ecosystem orbit a bit. I was asked to comment on the EDAs new Tech Hub proposal. The questionnaire frustrated me a bit and brought back some PTSD from past encounters.

For a long time I have struggled to explain ecosystem building to people simply. Having someone read a couple of books to understand systems thinking, startup communities, and how innovation happens never worked.

Often when trying to explain it all, I was stymied by the need of the stakeholders wanting a set of clear and simple best practices. There is nothing wrong with wanting best practices, but I also left those interactions feeling like they are asking the wrong questions.

The other night, my wife and I watched ‘The Serengeti Rules’ on PBS. It is a great show and I now will suggest people watch this instead of reading a few books. While not perfect, it does offer up a digestible way to understand the challenge of ecosystem building.

In the show, they go over the concept of a ‘Keystone’ species — a species that acts as a control around which the rest of the ecosystem organizes itself. This was ‘fringe’ science back in the day, but now has become accepted wisdom. As an understanding of ecosystems, it is a good primer.



Joe Maruschak

Entrepreneur and Investor with a background in games Adult Fan of LEGO (AFOL). Follow me on Twitter!