Global startup map

Following the several indexes on startups and innovation I’ve been following last period I found an interesting map of startups. Startupblink offers a world map of the startup ecosystem. You can use the startup map to zoom, filter etc the startups in your neighborhood. Besides a map of startups, it offers information on other related entities such as co-working spaces, accelerators, startups organizations, tech reporters and much more…

You can read an interview with the Startupblink founder at Business Insider. You can help to expand, for example by adding your startup…

Startup map example

startup map

Performance testing at

On Monday October 12th Rob de Groot and Chris Kramer of the test automation team and development process innovation team will present on performance testing at The presentation is for the Dutch Web Performance & Operations Meetup, as a pre-event for the WebPerfDays.

Rob and Chris will elaborate on how performance testing evolved at and show how modern tooling like Docker and Mayfly fits into the future of performance testing? Mayfly is the user story centric Continuous Delivery development platform, developed by

The event will be hosted at headquarters in Utrecht (map).

RSVP and join!

Finding billion dollar startups in Europe

The WSJ billion dollar startup club

The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones VentureSource are tracking venture-backed private companies valued at $1 billion or more. This group of companies is called the billion dollar club.

The infographic created by the WSJ can be used to track how the membership of this club evolves and what the valuation of these companies individual and as a group is. In line with the findings in the Digital Evolution Index there is a limited number of European companies in the club and their number and valuation aren’t growing as fast as Asia and USA ones.

In January 2014 only 2 of the 42 companies in the billion dollar club are from Europe. In September 2015 just 10 of the 118 are European based companies. Here is the list of billion dollar startups in Europe:

  • Spotify
  • Global Fashion Group
  • Delivery Hero
  • Powa
  • Adyen
  • BlaBlaCar
  • Klarna
  • Home24
  • Shazam
  • Farfetch
  • Funding Circle

Rocket Internet and Zalando exited the list in October 2014 because of their IPOs. All are located in the countries with the best internet infrastructure: United Kingdom (London), Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and France.

The TechCrunch billion dollar startup club

Besides WSJ and Dow Jones VentureSource TechCrunch also curates a list of Unicorns. A Unicorn being a private company with a post-money valuations of $1 billion or more. The TechCrunch Unicorn Leaderboard features one European company that isn’t listed at the WSJ’s list: Auto1 Group from Berlin, Germany.

The picture in both leader boards is the same: there is a relative low number of billion dollar European startups. It is the same in the emerging Unicorns list.

Does Europe fall behind?

Looking at both the WSJ and TechCrunch list of unicorns and the findings in the Digital Evolution Index it certainly looks like Europe is falling behind. If the EU wouldn’t agree why would they have bothered to start a digital agenda (a Europe 2020 initiative)?

Thomas Petersen has written Why is Europe failing to create more unicorns? Mainly stating that there is no true single European market, the EU doesn’t make it better for entrepreneurs (yet worse because of legislation and political sub optimisations), and there is geolocation where both money and technical knowledge gravitate to.

Besides those, there is a reason that al European unicorns are situated in the countries with the best internet infrastructure. Larger parts of Europe aren’t in that position yet.
Some of the European countries with unicorns are in the stall out group in the DESI index. Meaning that measures should be taken to get their momentum back because they run the risk of falling behind.
Again Europe should work really hard on creating a true single digital European market. Reducing the number of laws and trade barriers is key.

VUCA – Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity

Recognising that change is the only constant, shows us the path to VUCA. VUCA is the acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. VUCA stems from military vocabulary and has been emerging in ideas on strategic leadership. The 4 elements of VUCA offer a context in which organisations view their current and future state. On a strategic level who isn’t interested in preparing for a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous future?

There is an easy overview of VUCA on HBR.


Volatility basically means that things tend to vary often and widely. The word comes from the Latin word volare, which means “to fly”. In a world were things seem to change faster and faster, stability can’t be attained. During the financial crises and economic turmoil of the last years people kept asking: “When will things be stable again?”. Could be that unstable and turbulence are here to stay.


In past decades we build our lives on certainties and security. There were things that we could always count on. Nowadays, the uncertainties and the level of uncertainty keeps growing. Think of the economy, technology, whether companies will survive, how markets will evolve. In all these fields things are happening that very few of us have imagined only a decade ago.

What happens in our world and business gets harder and harder to predict. Known cause and effect relations need reevaluation and seem to have turned more complex and with a larger number of factors. We have to dig deeper to solve these unknown cause and effect relations.


To properly understand the world we live in and perform our business we have to move beyond lineair models. Although models are getting better, they are based on an overwhelming number of interconnected parts and variables. This to such an extend that even though computers running these model have become better and faster, results and predictions haven’t. Think of the search for better medicines: the money invested is growing incredibly faster than the results we’re getting. Check eroom’s law (Moore’s law reversed) “the cost of developing a new drug doubles every nine years”.


Ambiguity basically means that you can interpret a thing or situation in more than one way. The explanation and/or interpretation depends on context. This demands us to look at the whole picture to understand what lays in front of us. There is an unclear cause and effect. We can’t come up with a straight answer. There is a strong need for interpretation in context.

Another interesting week for studying organisational culture

As expected reactions, stories and initiatives didn’t halt just a week after the NY Times published: Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace. This was just the beginning of an interesting study of the culture of high demanding organisations.

Julia Cheiffetz - studying organisational cultureLast days I was moved and impressed by Julia Cheiffetz story. The Executive Editor at HarperCollins Publishers wrote about here experience at Amazon: I Had a Baby and Cancer When I Worked at Amazon. This Is My Story. If you don’t have a Medium account and don’t want to get one check the coverage and quotes on GeekWire. Julia’s story shows both upsides and downsides from the culture she experienced at Amazon. It offers a strong perspective.

Given her experience at Amazon I think she gives great feedback to Jeff Bezos in a very strong way. Feedback he asked in a reaction on the NY Times article. Julia Cheiffetz:

You asked for direct feedback. Women power your retail engine. They buy diapers. They buy books. They buy socks for their husbands on Prime. On behalf of all the people who want to speak up but can’t: Please, make Amazon a more hospitable place for women and parents. Reevaluate your parental leave policies.

And on hiding behind numbers:

You can’t claim to be a data-driven company and not release more specific numbers on how many women and people of color apply, get hired and promoted, and stay on as employees. In the absence of meaningful public data — especially retention data — all we have are stories. This is mine.

The thing here is that culture is reflected in the way you act on a daily basis. If it doesn’t show there, it is just words…

Alternative leadership principles will change the culture

Another way of providing feedback requested by Jeff Bezos, was the launch of a blog called Amazonian Manifesto. The post were published by “A Concerned Amazonian“. The text suggests that there is some collective behind this avatar.

The blog publishes alternative leadership principles for Amazon. In short they are:

  1. Obsess about the Customer
  2. Obsess about the Employee
  3. Obsess about the Partner
  4. Hire and Develop the Best
  5. Own and Fix
  6. Invent and Simplify
  7. Deliver Results

It is clear that these principles are inspired by and based on Amazon’s current leadership principles. However new dimensions are added (focus on the employee, the partner, own and fix) that are ment to heal the flaws that could lead to an unhealthy work environment. It is clear that different guidelines and measurement will lead to different results…

What if Amazon studied culture at Zappos (it owns)

Delivering Happiness - studying organisational cultureAnd what would happen if Amazon started studying organisational culture at, a shoe and clothing shop it acquired in 2009? Zappos was founded in 1999 by among others Tony Hsieh, who wrote Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose . A book that is described as:

The visionary CEO of Zappos explains how an emphasis on corporate culture can lead to unprecedented success

and features quotes like

I made a note to myself to make sure I never lost sight of the value of a tribe where people truly felt connected and cared about the well-being of one another. To me, connectedness—the number and depth of my relationships—was an important element of my happiness

Zappos culture is obsessed with customer happiness. And Tony Hsieh is for Zappos obsessed with creating a corporate culture based on connectedness and care. That creates different and great results. The book Delivering Happiness offers great insight on how to achieve this and what choices have to be made. It is a great read.

Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2015

The data presented by Digital Evolution Index seems supported by data from the European Commission. The EU defined a Digital Economy and Society Index to support and measure progress on the digital agenda for Europe:

The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) is a composite index that summarises relevant indicators on Europe’s digital performance and tracks the evolution of EU member states in digital competitiveness.

The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) is based on five dimensions:

  1. Connectivity – The Connectivity dimension measures the deployment of broadband infrastructure and its quality. Access to fast broadband-enabled services is a necessary condition for competitiveness.
  2. Human Capital – The Human Capital dimension measures the skills needed to take advantage of the possibilities offered by a digital society. Such skills go from basic user skills that enable individuals to interact online and consume digital goods and services, to advanced skills that empower the workforce to take advantage of technology for enhanced productivity and economic growth.
  3. Use of Internet – The Use of Internet dimension accounts for the variety of activities performed by citizens already online. Such activities range from consumption of online content (videos, music, games, etc.) to modern communication activities or online shopping and banking.
  4. Integration of Digital Technology – The Integration of Digital Technology dimension measures the digitisation of businesses and their exploitation of the online sales channel. By adopting digital technology businesses can enhance efficiency, reduce costs and better engage customers, collaborators and business partners. Furthermore, the Internet as a sales outlet offers access to wider markets and potential for growth.
  5. Digital Public Services – The Digital Public Services dimension measures the digitisation of public services, and focuses in particular on eGovernment and eHealth. Modernisation and digitisation of public services, including eHealth, can lead to efficiency gains for the public administration, citizens and businesses alike as well as to the delivery of better services for the citizen.

Note that factors included in the Digital Evolution Index like market supply and demand, and innovation are not included in the DESI.

Same leaders

Both the Digital Evolution Index and the Digital Economy and Society Index show the same countries as leaders in the digital market in Europe.
Digital Economy and Society Index

Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands and Finland are the highest performing countries. They are not only ahead in the EU, but they are world leaders in digital.

DESI shows progress for Europe

The Digital Economy and Society Index improved from 2014 to 2015:
Digital Economy and Society Index progress
Keep in mind that there is no benchmark to non-European countries! Besides that it is remarkable that all countries improved. Also the Digital Evolution Index didn’t show progress for the highest performing countries. I think there’s a little too much optimism here.

The Digital Economy and Society Index has a more optimistic outlook for the digital economy in Europe compare to what the Digital Evolution Index shows us. However both support the case for a digital agenda for Europe in 2020.

Nevertheless the Washington Post showed in June Europe has an acute need for harmonisation. The article states that it’s easier for Europeans to buy and sell online with non-member countries, especially the United States, which accounts for more than half of all the EU’s digital business. Which is rather unexpected for a union. So there is a lot to do for Europe if the leading countries want to keep playing at the world top level and for the other countries not to fall to far behind.

From that perspective it is remarkable that there seems to be little focus on harmonising laws and bringing down barriers for digital trade in the Digital Single Market initiative.

Links and references

Digital Evolution Index shows Western Europe is stalling

Earlier this year The Fletcher School published the Digital Evolution Index. The Digital Evolution Index analyses the key underlying drivers and barriers that govern a country’s evolution into a digital economy:

  • Demand – including consumer behaviours and trends, financial and Internet and social media savviness.
  • Supply – including access, fulfilment, and transactions infrastructure.
  • Institutional Environment – including government effectiveness and its role in business, laws and regulations and promoting the digital ecosystem.
  • and Innovation – including the entrepreneurial, technological and funding ecosystems, presence and extent of disruptive forces and the presence of a start-up culture and mindset.

The data/ scores for all 50 of the included countries (XLS) can be downloaded.

The index is developed to identify how a group of countries stack up against each other in terms of readiness for a digital economy. Based on the performance of countries on the index during the years 2008 to 2013 they are categorised to one of four trajectory zones: Stand Out, Stall Out, Break Out, and Watch Out.

  • Stand Out countries have shown high levels of digital development in the past and continue to remain on an upward trajectory.
  • Stall Out countries have achieved a high level of evolution in the past but are losing momentum and risk falling behind.
  • Break Out countries have the potential to develop strong digital economies. Though their overall score is still low, they are moving upward and are poised to become Stand Out countries in the future.
  • Watch Out countries face significant opportunities and challenges, with low scores on both current level and upward motion of their DEI. Some may be able to overcome limitations with clever innovations and stopgap measures, while others seem to be stuck.

How to read the Digital Evolution trajectory chart

Digital Evolution Index

The Digital Evolution trajectory chart

The Digital Evolution trajectory chart
In the example of The Netherlands, their Digital Evolution index is still top-10, however the Evolution within the Digital Ecosystem is at the bottom of the 50 included countries. Similar data is seen for more Western European countries. Of that region the United Kingdom and Ireland are just in the group of Stand Out countries.

Harvard Business Review uses the Digital Evolution Index to compare The Netherlands and Singapore:

Take, for example, Singapore and The Netherlands. Both are among the top 10 countries in present levels of digital evolution. But when we consider the momentum – i.e., the five-year rate of change from 2008 to 2013 – the two countries are far apart. Singapore has been steadily advancing in developing a world-class digital infrastructure, through public-private partnerships, to further entrench its status as a regional communications hub. Through ongoing investment, it remains an attractive destination for start-ups and for private equity and venture capital. The Netherlands, meanwhile, has been rapidly losing steam. The Dutch government’s austerity measures beginning in late 2010 reduced investment into elements of the digital ecosystem. Its stagnant, and at times slipping, consumer demand led investors to seek greener pastures.

Actions for Western Europe

The Stall Out economies of Europe, including the Netherlands, Finland, Belgium and France, could jumpstart their recovery by taking advantage of increased regional integration, selling goods across national borders to the 500+ million consumers in the wider EU.

The Washington Post is skeptical on the creation of a single European digital market. In June 2015 an article stated that it will be hard for Europe to overcome their innovation deficit. This is largely due to confusing and complex national regulations.

Besides that Stall Out countries are also tend to be “aging”. Attracting talented, young immigrants can help revive innovation.

Germany is also in the Stall Out countries but is home to a very ambitious company Rocket Internet. Their mission:

To Become the World’s Largest Internet Platform Outside the United States and China

They have been busy launching e-commerce start-ups across a wide range of emerging and frontier markets. Their companies are poised to become the Alibabas and Amazons for the rest of the world: Jumia, which operates in nine countries across Africa; Namshi in the Middle East; Lazada and Zalora in ASEAN; Jabong in India; and Kaymu in 33 markets across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Links and references

Theory of constraints

The Goal - Theory of ConstraintsThink it was back in 1993 I first read The Goal by Eliyahu Moshe Goldratt. The book was one of the first and most notable in the genre of business novels. The book – The Goal – introduces the theory of constraints (TOC) process for improving organisations. The book is set in a manufacturing company. However the book provides the context for a more generic approach to continuous improvement.

Theory of constraints

The theory of constraints is a paradigm that states that the output of a process is limited by a very small number of constraints. In a process there is always at least one constraint. TOC offers a process to determine the bottleneck/constraint and than restructure either the constraint or the work around it so the constraint can deliver it’s maximum output. Since the bottleneck’s output determines the output of the business process, other optimisation are local suboptimal interventions that do not generate any real business value.

The theory of constraints boils down to:

A chain is as strong as its weakest link.

More verbose: An organisation (especially a process or a business) is only as strong or powerful as its weakest activity or person. A group of associates is only as strong as its laziest member.


A constraint is anything that prevents the system from achieving its goal. In TOC, the constraint is used as a focusing mechanism for management of the system. The concept of the constraint is analogue to the one in mathematical optimisation. In optimisation, the constraint is written into the mathematical expressions to limit the scope of the solution (X can be no greater than 5).

Types of (internal) constraints:

  • Equipment: The way equipment is currently used, is the limit to the ability of the system to produce more saleable goods/services.
  • People: Lack of skilled people limits the system. Mental models held by people can cause behaviour that becomes a constraint.
  • Policy: A written or unwritten policy prevents the system from creating more output.


In general the throughput is seen as the movement of inputs and outputs through a production process. Bottomline it can described as the rate at which a system generates its products or services per unit of time.

In the theory of constraints throughput is the rate at which a system achieves its goal. Mostly this is a monetary revenue and not the items or volume created to be sold or kept as inventory.

Continuous improvement

Goldratt - on-going improvementAs said before the theory of constraints offers an approach for continuous improvement. Optimising the utilisation of the constraint is an important part of the process. Of course this could lead to the discovery that another resource became the constraint. So we continu the optimisation.

As Goldratt states in The Race:

In the midst of a competitive race we should not look for an improvement, we should look to implement a process of on-going improvement.

Beyond manufacturing

IT Operations

The Phoenix Project borrows both content and genre from The Goal. It is a business novel that explains how the theory of constraints can be applied to IT operations. The Phoenix Project describes the problems that almost every IT organisation faces, and then shows the practices (based on the Theory of Constraint, Lean and more) of how to solve these problems.

Interesting days for studying organisational culture

These are interesting days for those studying organisational culture or are just interested in this field. It all started this weekend when the NY Times published: Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace. The newspaper that won 117 Pulitzer Prices devoted two reporters for six months to this article that is very critical on the organisation culture at The article was said to be based on interviews with more than 100 current and former Amazon employees.

A lot of reactions focussed on the bias of the NY Times article. An Amazonian posted a respons on LinkedIn . This post can be seen as a a point-by-point rebuttal.

Amazon is a big company, and gets referenced often. I’ve read many articles that describe us. Some are more accurate than others. Sadly, this isn’t one of them. This particular article, has so many inaccuracies (some clearly deliberate), that, as an Amazonian, and a proud one at that, I feel compelled to respond.

The NY Times gave room for the view of Jeff Bezos and other Amazonians as it published Jeff Bezos and Amazon Employees Join Debate Over Its Culture. And of course there is an internal memo from Jeff Bezos (that can be found at the end of this page and on Medium):

Jeff Bezos:

… The NYT article prominently features anecdotes describing shockingly callous management practices, including people being treated without empathy while enduring family tragedies and serious health problems. The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero. …

The case study continues

That’s were our study of organisational culture continues: Where’s the truth? Is the hell in Seattle? How does this large influential company really behave and does it live up to it’s values. Since the company published its leadership principles we know what it uses to judge itself (or at least says it should use).

Several articles and posts tried to discover the point of view that is closest to the truth (if there is one). GeekWire spoke with a wide range (so probably not the over 100 that NY Times did) of current and former employees to get their take on the story and their insights into the company. It offers a more balanced view. And more and more it becomes clear that perception is everything.

Journalistic questions about The Times’ exposé

And there are other questions to be asked when looking into this matter. That is just what Jeff Jarvis (known by me for his book What would Google do?, but there is more) does in his article Hacking Through Amazon’s Jungle of Coverage.

  • The NY Times article isn’t transparant to what standard is Amazon being held.
  • Another problem to Jarvis is that The Times should have presented enough of conflicting evidence so that we could weigh evidence and decide for ourselves.
  • The Times did not say until halfway down its very long piece that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, which some say is closing in on The Times.

And as Jarvis states:

… one starts to believe The Times might have an agenda, one is left trying to suss out what it might be: against Amazon and its owner, Bezos, who is a competitor; against technology, a direction too much of media is taking…

So the discussion moves to how well the NY Times did on this article and moves away from what should be the focus: issues that arise from high demanding work / work places.

And what did it show me?

Reading all the quotes and soundbites of former and current employees I once again realised that perception is everything. It is not just the NY Times that wasn’t clear to what standards is being judges, none of the employees are clear on this either. What are their expectations of their employer?
And I don’t have SMART criteria either. I tend to benchmark my current employer to previous ones and to my impression of how it is like to work at other organisations. Besides that I’ve been working for smaller companies, I think that I could quite easy come up with former colleagues that were let go that would either bash the work place and it’s culture or to some level agree that there wasn’t a good enough fit.

That leaves me with the question how to deal with the issues that could arise from high demanding work places? What are the issues (in specific cases)? Are there ways of organising or designing an organisation to deal with these? Could we train people to handle the issues we can’t find counter measures for? Please share your thought in the comments…

Design for outcome-oriented teams

While developing an organisation structure for an Agile or Lean business, there is a strong focus on teams being responsible for business outcomes (outcome-oriented teams). These teams are opposed by so called activity-oriented teams (teams responsible for an activity).

To understand the why of the focus on outcome-oriented teams, we need to understand what is a business outcome. Selling a product and generating revenue is an example of a business outcome. This outcome is the result of a chain of activities, like marketing, lead generation, product development, testing and support. To achieve an outcome we often need to break the chain and define suboutcomes. These suboutcomes aren’t that valuable on their own, only in context. If the division continuous, we end up with merely contributory activities. The difference between outcomes and activities is similar to that between user stories and tasks. Activities serve outcomes, like tasks serve the purpose of a user story.

Activities that are no longer directly bound to business outcomes are more likely to be trapped in the pitfall of local optimisation. Activity optimisation is a common cause of silos and of lengthening cycle times. This is because when we organise by activity, no single team can own the outcome (since it broke the being independable requirement).

Careful splitting a business outcome

So we need to be careful how and to what extend we split outcomes. We want to keep both meaning (sense of purpose) and value. How to determine whether a division leads to a suboutcome of an activity? Good business outcomes are:

  • Testable
  • Valuable
  • Independently achievable
  • Negotiable

While splitting into suboutcomes we keep asking whether these suboutcomes remains independent and valuable business outcomes.

Is there still room for activity-oriented teams?

Some support functions in an organisation don’t own independently valuable business outcomes. They are activity-oriented teams, think of departments like HR, admin, legal, finance, controlling. Does this mean that they automatically become silos and should be disbanded?

If the realisation of an outcome is dependent on repeated successful iterations through some core value stream, these activities should not be conducted in activity-oriented teams. Activities that aren’t an integral part of a business outcome’s core value stream could be placed into separate teams without much risk.

However we should remain cautious. Activity-oriented teams tend to “standardise” their operations over time. Their focus moves away from offering custom solutions. Complaints from other teams about rule books and bureaucracy will be your signal.


Definitions used in this post are found in Agile IT organisation design:

  • Outcome – An independently valuable and achievable business outcome.
  • Outcome-oriented team – A team that has autonomy and accountability for an outcome. For example a cross-functional product team.
  • Activity – Action that contributes to an outcome.
  • Activity-oriented team – A team that is responsible for a single activity. Usually a team of specialists (marketing, finance, testing, sales).
  • Cross-functional team – An interdisciplinary, outcome-oriented team. It may consist of hard-core specialists, generalising specialists, or generalists.
  • Value stream – A series of activities required to deliver a business outcome.
  • Silo – A unit (team, department) that tends to protect itself and doesn’t work well with other units.