The Power of Openness: Building a Defensible AI Startup in 2023


Hatched by Glasp

Sep 20, 2023

4 min read


The Power of Openness: Building a Defensible AI Startup in 2023


In the rapidly evolving world of AI startups, the most delightful innovations are emerging from the bottom up rather than the top down. Companies like Midjourney, Runway, and Stable Diffusion have captured the public imagination with their open-source horizontal models. While open technology, open information, and open systems play a crucial role in this landscape, there are several other factors that can contribute to building a defensible AI startup in 2023.

1. Speed as an Advantage:

One of the definitive advantages that startups have over incumbents is speed. Midjourney's success can be attributed to its quick product execution, allowing it to outshine competitors like DALL-E. Startups should embrace this advantage and focus on developing new product paradigms and interfaces made possible by AI. By creating products that are difficult for existing software companies to replicate, startups can establish a more defensible position in the market.

2. Building a Consumer AI Company:

Successful AI products often start out looking like consumer companies. The largest Discord communities, including Midjourney, Open AI, Blue Willow, and, are all consumer AI companies. To grow mindshare in the AI community, startups can develop an online personality and engage with issues relevant to developers and regulators. Offering perks to existing community members, such as gated access to beta users through Discord, can foster customer evangelism and attract new members. Appointing power users as moderators in branded community spaces further strengthens the sense of community.

3. Verticalized Solutions and Workflow:

In a world where anyone can access large language models (LLMs), building verticalized solutions based on a deep understanding of a target persona is a defensible approach. By focusing on specific industries or user groups, startups can create tailored products that address unique needs and workflows. Moats are further cemented by prioritizing collaboration, integrations, permissioning, and workflow considerations. Understanding the buying power of the target audience and their actual needs is crucial when evaluating the market.

The Meaning of Open:

Open systems have proven to be more successful in fostering innovation, value, and freedom of choice for consumers. At Google, the belief is that open technology and open information are the key components of an open system. Open technology involves releasing and supporting open-source code that contributes to the growth of the Internet. It also entails adhering to accepted standards or creating new ones to benefit the entire Internet ecosystem. Open information, on the other hand, emphasizes transparency, user control, and providing valuable services based on user data.

Openness and Innovation:

Closed systems may deliver well-designed products in the short run, but they tend to stifle innovation in the long term. In an open system, competitive advantage comes from understanding the fast-moving landscape and leveraging that knowledge to generate better, more innovative products. The successful company in an open system is both a fast innovator and a thought leader, attracting customers through thought leadership and retaining them through continuous innovation.

Open Systems and Industry Growth:

Open systems allow innovation at all levels, from the operating system to the application layer. By growing an industry as broadly as possible, open systems stimulate economies of scale, increase productivity, and reduce costs for all competitors. This, in turn, yields greater rewards for all participants. Google's commitment to open source, open standards, and open information reflects its goal of promoting choice, competition, and innovation within the industry.


To build a defensible AI startup in 2023, startups should leverage their speed advantage, focus on developing consumer AI products, and create verticalized solutions based on deep understanding and collaboration. Embracing openness, both in terms of technology and information, can lead to greater innovation, value, and freedom of choice. By prioritizing transparency, user control, and valuable services, startups can build trust and establish a strong position in the market.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Embrace speed and focus on innovative product paradigms and interfaces enabled by AI.
  • 2. Develop a strong online personality and engage with issues relevant to the AI community.
  • 3. Create tailored, verticalized solutions based on a deep understanding of target personas and prioritize collaboration, integrations, and workflow considerations.

In a world that values openness and innovation, building a defensible AI startup requires a forward-thinking approach that embraces the power of open systems, technology, and information. By doing so, startups can position themselves for long-term success in the dynamic AI landscape of 2023.

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