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SMALL is the new big

4 min read

Illustration from Swimmy a 1963 picture book written and illustrated by Leo Lionni.

Over the last 80 years, the big have been eating the small, but the tide is now turning.

Historically, big business gained competitive advantages by leveraging economies of scale which attracted capital and brains. They soon figured out that often the quickest way to market domination was by acquiring smaller competitors to form large centralised conglomerates.

You know the story. Giuseppe’s, a family pasta business, builds a reputation for the best pasta in the village. The love, care and passion for their craft is undeniable and word spreads. Then one day a larger business sees an opportunity to eliminate a competitor and expand their own range, so a deal is done and gulp, small goes to zero and big goes mega with Giuseppe in its belly. The essence of Giuseppe’s that we fell in love with has been stripped away and replaced with brute marketing force and mass production, leaving customers with a shadow of the real thing while mega-corp moves to the next acquisition with ever greater power.

Eventually whole startup ecosystems emerged to find new “product-market-fits” to feed to the centralised beasts, which has further exacerbated the immense concentrations of power.

We do, however, need to acknowledge that centralisation has benefited society immeasurably and we simply couldn’t have created the quality of life that most of us enjoy without it, lifting the average person to heights of comfort and convenience that were previously exclusive to the elite. Centralisation mustered the concentration of energy and attention that was needed to build the technological foundations for the modern world.

Centralisation as a phenomenon came into power over a time span of generations along with suburban sprawl, supermarkets, fast food, shopping malls and the early decades of the internet. We have so much to be grateful for and we will benefit well into the future from the incredible infrastructure that the age of centralisation has delivered.

But, every phenomenon has its life cycle and the externalised costs of a centralised world have become increasingly apparent. The displacement of quality for quantity, the unfathomable volume of polluting waste, the extreme gap between rich and poor, and the shredding of the social fabric of local communities. These problems are now affecting the lives of the average person, whether they realise it or not, and no amount of modern convenience or comfort can fill the void of real products and services from real people in real communities.

We now hunger for the simpler things in life, we crave real connection, we’re starved of the authentic and this growing desire is transforming into market demands that mega-corps can never meet.

Baran, P. (1964). On Distributed Communications, Memorandum RM-3420-PR.

Enter the age of Coordinated Decentralisation.

The market share of centralised incumbents is now being steadily reclaimed by swarms of micro-enterprises thanks to new competitive advantages of coordinated decentralisation.

Food is the vanguard industry for this movement because, despite the best efforts to centralise, the romance and intimacy of food has maintained a strong culinary and artisanal culture throughout the world with hundreds of millions of independent farmers and food producers dishing up the best the industry has to offer.

Today there is a groundswell of young and energetic food system entrepreneurs creating amazing products and building innovative tools that are liberating human-scale farms and kitchens from all the constraints that have been holding them back for generations.

The most powerful of these tools, in my opinion, are those that enable many thousands of micro-enterprises to be able to work both independently and in concert with each other at the same time. This is achieved by operating on shared information and trading platforms that are ideally owned and governed by the users of the platform. This way each independent member of the platform has access to the economies of scale of the entire platform therefore benefitting not only from the success of their own enterprise on the platform, but also share in the success of the platform as a whole.

This is exactly what we’re working on here at Ooooby.

Here’s a talk from the Groundswell conference in 2022 discussing the Ooooby approach. Best at 1.5X speed/

Best at 1.5X Speed

We call it a “decentralised trading platform with distributed ownership”. These two key properties of the Ooooby model enable the holy grail of both small-scale independence and large-scale clout. Each operator on the platform has autonomous agency (within the agreed values and principles guidelines) and also has a stake in the ownership and governance of the platform as a common asset.

Borrowing principles from many collective organisational models, such as cooperatives, associations, clubs, federations, and DAO’s, we are working on assembling a commons based ownership and governance model that is fit for a high tech future.

We have a plan for the progressive distribution of the ownership of Ooooby which includes an exit-to-users strategy for early stage investors. There are some very interesting models being discussed and we’ll be opening up a forum for consultation with members of the Ooooby network on how to best structure our user ownership and governance model.

If you’re interested in learning more feel free to reach out to me at pete@ooooby.com

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