Emerging Patterns: Looking Back at Platform Trends in Early 2023

Just as the summer kicks in we wanted to look back at the curation work we’ve done over the first – slightly more than – half of the year.
This piece offers a recap of the key trends you may have missed, with some of the most significant posts you can catch up with during the rest of the summer and hopefully spark some great ideas.

Shruthi Prakash

Simone Cicero

July 31, 2023

As we look back at the key learnings from our curation over the first six months of 2023, this blog aims to get you abreast of trends and discover must-reads that we have conceded from our ecosystem of sources.

As our ardent readers know, Boundaryless works consciously towards creating open communities which enable free knowledge — and the next 12 minutes will help you with just that — getting an insightful look at the key things you may have missed.

Key Points 

  • Decentralization in Platforms: Delve into key strategies for handling decentralization’s impact on business, with a focus on robustness, interoperability, efficiency, and management. 
  • Organization Design: Explore new organizational patterns like the 3EO framework and X Teams, while gauging the dissolution of traditional bureaucracies and the importance of fostering optionality.
  • Platforms and Ecosystems: Explore platform protocols, network effects, and different GTM approaches for success.
  • Further insights into product fitment, expansion strategies, and unbundling.


Let’s jump right in:

Software, platforms, and organizational impact

Platform Engineering and DevOps — Understanding “platform theory” in the context of DevOps and software development is becoming increasingly crucial in our ecosystem. In the initial part of the year, we have been reading about the distinctions between platform engineering and DevOps, highlighting how platform structures empower developers to focus on applications rather than operations. Additionally, we also observed the progression of DevOps towards no-code and low-code tools.


Bounded contexts, platform teams and micro-units —Just a few weeks ago we stumbled upon this fantastic take on how to combine Wardley mapping, bounded context analysis, and Team Topologies’ team archetypes. We’re extremely excited as this seems to be a good way to look into “unbundling” organizations into Micro-Enterprises: at the end of the day isn’t a Micro-Enterprise just a stream-aligned team?…or actually a sum of those?



Decentralization’s Impact on Platforms

Key Decentralization strategies — Decentralization’s impact on business is essential to understand for all organizations, especially high-impact and large-scale ones: those players will have to leverage decentralization in the future, as we dive into a more unpredictable world, to avoid fragility. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to start your reading with this piece where Buterin simplifies decentralization into three key strategies: robustness, interoperability, and efficiency.


Increasing Decentralization — On account of managing increasingly decentralized organizations, Aragon’s writing can be of good inspiration as they share their way towards embodying their mission of letting everyone experiment with governance at the speed of software” using smart contracts. Another playbook looking at the management of decentralization is that of a16z crypto which helps identify the ‘minimum decentralizable units’ in a business and prepares the architecture for potential decentralization patterns.

Reimagining Organizational Design

As readers know, we have been strong believers and practitioners of reimagining organizational design. This made us happy to see that our ecosystem resonated strongly with our early discoveries of patterns in the 3EO framework — helping organizations explore topics like modularity, inter-faceability, node-basedness, and commitment to outcomes. Bureaucracies are breaking in front of our eyes.

External focus — The X Teams pattern — from MIT Leadership Center’s Deborah Ancona and Henrik Bresman — explains how externally focused, entrepreneurial teams can, unlike traditional methods of operation, combine internal focus with a strong orientation towards external outreach and learning. Along similar lines, The Economist looks at the need to unbundle and grow through bureaucratic top-down implosion by working with external partners, rather than internal ones, helping make outcome-oriented contracts (getting inspiration from China again).


Breaking bureaucracy — Joost Minaar from Corporate Rebel shares his experience studying companies in Japan and highlights the Fiske’s Relational Model to sense-make the rise of autonomous corporations. He aids insights into how the evolution of social advancement may leave middle-managers redundant, and the need for “control” outdated.



This amazing piece by Dror Poleg — on the other hand — explores the melting boundaries of bureaucracies from the lens of a shifting context of an “office” by illustrating how evolving ways of working — the explosion of remote — may imply the dissolution of bureaucracies and the other way around. He delves into how “Creative and highly specialized jobs will grow in demand and on-demand”, leaving us to rethink the meaning and even the necessity of an “organization”.


Organizations need Optionality — Research by HBR shows the need for organizations to increase their success potential through shifting focus to “Radical Optionality”. The new era of competition can only be won by embracing options that enable firms to transform uncertainty from a disruptive threat into a potential advantage. This article by Snowden also furthers this point, alarming us on how uncertainty should be considered of prime essence if we treat organizations as complex.


Product Lead Growth

Product Led — All paths lead to “PLG — Product Lead Growth” as the most promising go-to-market trend in 2023. Taking note of this, Hila Qu provides the most comprehensive overview of a path to adopting proper Product Led Growth for your organization.

At the same time, we recognize the core importance of the product, it’s particularly precious to ponder how Casey Winters weighs in by stressing a key imperative: to move from customer/founder-driven organizations to product/team-led organizations. This once again resonates with our thoughts on why it’s crucial to listen to signals from the ecosystem.



Product is the Winner— A great example to prove the case in point, on the power of product-led growth, is this study on the success of Triple Whale (a smart data platform for e-commerce brands, that helps track real-time performance metrics — thus empowering brands to take better decisions). NFX in this study highlighted 3 key necessities of product companies — the need to catch the fast-flowing water, early validation of product promises, and setting up quick iteration machines.


How do products combine? — A key complement when thinking about product leadership is this thought-provoking reflection on how products can be kept modular in the product life cycle: Craig Strong emphasizes the significance of fostering autonomy and initiative within an organizational structure by zeroing in on its taxonomy. The importance of portfolio thinking and product composability is becoming key — we’ll see more later.


Technology Advancements and Platform Business

In the rapidly evolving landscape of modern business, technology advancements have become the driving force behind the transformative success of platforms. A lot has happened, so let’s unpack.

The AI Moment — Before we go onto the specifics, we strongly recommend starting with this comprehensive and resourceful article by Elad Gil that provides an overview of the AI and platform industry’s key dynamics and implications.



In this context, it was also such a pleasure (and a reality check) for us to re-read Greylock’s Jerry Chen takes on building moats six years later as he adds deep considerations on the impacts of AI in the digital landscape: “AI doesn’t change how startups market, sell, or partner. AI reminds us that […] the fundamentals of the business building remain the same. The new moats are the old moats”.


Conversational Programming — These two insightful articles by Simon Wardley highlight how conversational programming — the pattern according to which, we’ll start to ask computers directly what to build for us, presents itself as an upcoming substantial paradigm shift. Communicating with machines through context description and not instructions will become key: the power of conversational programming can be fully realized only if we shift from text-based instructions (where syntax, styles, and rules dominate) into a world of maps (where things, relationships, and context rules). Wow.


Customer-Built Software — As An extension of what’s discussed above we’ve found this piece — which further explores concepts around end-user programming/customer-built software design enabled by the malleability of LLM powered software — illuminating.


Generative AI — This article by Packy McCormick is an absolute must-read. In short, it explores how applications such as ChatGPT have infinite time and attention to ponder alternatives thus making it harder for players in the economy to keep thriving — owing to the transaction costs needed to ponder alternatives.

And while Generative AI has been all the hoo-haa, Sameer Singh plays devil’s advocate — if creating content becomes easier, how are we supposed to find the time to read all that? — as he breaks it down in his article titled ‘AI and economies of abundance’.



Finance of the Future

With Fintech dynamically growing, a lot of platform improvements have happened to help customer utilization and increased productivity. For instance, this report points out how embedded finance is moving from single products to bundles, driving much higher value-add, broadening its services, and moving into the realm of relationship banking.


On similar lines, something we found super interesting was to see how an inherently modular and composable concept such as embedded finance puts the traditional posture of organizations in crisis. Both written by Ben Robinson, these articles — especially the latter — take the example of embedded finance to bring home one key point: in modular markets, stable vertical integration and experience setting is more difficult. Customers have an increased ability to self-define their experiences. Resonates with the above.


Protocols and Platforms

As you may recall, at Boundaryless we’ve been wrangling quite a lot about protocols and we have been researching questions such as: how do we create affordances for protocol formation? What’s the role of network effects in protocol formation? Should we build “adapters” instead of protocols? Similar questions and more have been explored by Venkatesh Rao and others on the article that kicked off the Summer of Protocol research initiative (from the Ethereum foundation) where Simone also had the chance to contribute.


This presentation by Alex Komoroske (from the same program) renowned for leading Chrome’s Web Platform PM team, is a must-watch as well. He extensively examines the utilization of lenses such as coevolution, power dynamics, pace layers, and coordination costs which serve as essential tools to develop protocols and platforms.


Having said all this, it’s imperative for us to understand — which approach do we use to bring this stuff to market? Is it a product/network-led protocol? Variant Mason Nystrom sets out to explore this in his research and concludes that “most protocols will have a greater chance of success by taking the product-led protocol GTM approach, as it allows protocols to jumpstart and own their initial demand.”


While we are at it, you should also not skip this video featuring a16z crypto’s CTO — Eddy Lazzarin speaking on how web3 builders design economically sustainable protocols which resist centralization — a true must of this first part of the year.


Platforms and Marketplaces

While there are several ongoing trends, it’s imperative we explore how all this affects the platform and marketplace ecosystems.

Overview — as a nice connection with the previous topic, we suggest you start with this informative and expansive podcast by the a16z, touring through key business concepts, network effects, moats, and more — looking into these basic foundations, including nuances from an increasingly open source and decentralized world.


Product Fitment and Expansion — This must-read essay from Dan Hockenmaier is packed with insights on navigating marketplaces post-product-market-fit. He masterfully unpacks concepts like focusing on product differentiation, mindful expansion, and careful attention to pricing. He then follows up this piece, with another even more astounding article on analyzing transaction cost in market places. Shedding light on 4 different types of transaction costs, he explains why they are disruption opportunities waiting to be efficiently realized.



While we are mindful of expansion, it’s also good to spend a quick minute to read these reflections by Irem Metin on what are the key things to keep in mind when looking into product expansion — including (but not limited to) — architecture maturity, technical debt, and capabilities overlap.



Vertical SaaS — Gradual product expansion is becoming an ever more important aspect as we dive into vertical markets: this is the core topic of one of the most insightful conversations of the year so far, the one between David Yuan and Patrick O’Shaughnessy, delving into the vertical SaaS business opportunity. They discussed its investible nature, the reason why the best entrepreneurs in the space are former customers, and other significant questions, leading us to the conclusion that “Vertical SaaS businesses are inherently multi-product businesses.”


Unbundling — While unbundling and composability seem to be raging on, we also want to offer a counterintuitive reading to cool off enthusiasm: in his terrific article titled “The unbundling fallacy” Hockenmeier explains — why unbundling is not an always economically viable way to get to the market, depending on how much different and/or big is the space where the new vertical can play out. This serves as a good reality check.


Leaving you with inspiration

We felt it was only appropriate to end with one of the most inspirational talks of this season — Jason Calacanis’ interview with AirBnB Co-founder and CEO, Brian Chesky, covering early-stage startup struggles, company’s restructuring to shift focus on customer and product, and AirBnB’s exploration of hyper-focused marketing, and AI opportunities among others.

And while at it, maybe spend a few minutes catching up with Benedict Evans’s annual presentation: is there still scope for transitioning from a physical economy to a digital one? Well, we leave it to you to decide. We certainly believe that there is so much more room for innovation!

And, this brings us to our last point — let’s always be excited at the sight of opportunities.

For this, we have one last piece to share with you, and we would like to believe it’s an important one in case you missed it and want to get a bit deeper than just a caution review: The Compass — Written by four of our own platform experts at Boundaryless, it recaps on what’s been on our action-research radar in the last 12 months or so. We hope that this provides you with a clearer idea about why following Boundaryless’ work is significant for you as a professional and as an organization.


Until next time, happy rest of 2023! And slow down a bit over the next free weeks — if you haven’t already!

Shruthi Prakash

Simone Cicero

July 31, 2023