Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How a great leader can transform an entire market by one strategic decision

I would like to go back to December 13th 2008, when I had the opportunity to meet up with Jimmy Wales, the creator and founder of Wikipedia. Wikipedia Academy was being started in Chennai, India, to encourage people to contribute back to Wikipedia and Jimmy Wales and Sue Gardner had flown down to Chennai for the event. The talk that I had with Jimmy gave me an insight of how he has become the leader of this massive “movement” Wikipedia. I was questioning him about the success of Wikipedia and he had this to say, “Wikipedia grew a lot just before the dot com burst and then the dot com burst happened. We were losing money during the time and we couldn’t pay our own employees, and there was a decision that I needed to make. I either had to close Wikipedia, save the remaining dollars and send my employees home, or think of something to save the company.” What he came up with was a really unique concept the world wasn't used to at all. He decided to stop moderating the articles submitted to Wikipedia and instead allowed open editing by public, placing trust in the power of people. The rest as they say is history. Jimmy also told that if the dot com burst didn’t actually happen, Wikipedia would have still been a moderated encyclopedia and it might not be as famous and as open as it is now. He was certain that the so called dark times in every industry and recessions are the times when the confident and brightest entrepreneurs actually take a brilliant step and become a market leader or create a market that is non-existent as of now. He also told that presently all countries are in recession and this could be the time for young entrepreneurs to step in and grab their opportunities. (This was back in 2008)
Just to add authenticity to my claims ;) During the Wikipedia Academy meet up

Wikipedia has grown leaps and bounds but Jimmy is still sticking to his two ideals, “Trust in people” and “No Ads”. There are statistics which show that only 0.1% of the viewership of Wikipedia actually contribute back in making articles and this 0.1% is making such a huge impact themselves in having this much of information with regular updates and amazing accuracy. The latest strategic decisions in Wikipedia is to get people to contribute in English as well as in the regional languages and maximize the impact of people by setting up Wikipedia academies around the world. So how does Jimmy manage Wikipedia without ads? Who pays for their operating expenses? It’s again the people. Every year wiki goes down on its feet and asks for donations to cover the estimated cost it would require over the year.
So why do you think this post would make it's way to a strategy blog? The first one is when I was reading through “Do you have the right leaders for your growth strategy”, I was reminded of the leader that Jimmy has been and his influence in the growth of Wikipedia (the performance evaluation criteria for Wikipedia was growth of viewership back then and their biggest goal was to make the costly encyclopedias’ obsolete). On a personal note, I feel that Jimmy was a brilliant leader who was completely tuned to the market even during really hard times like the dot com burst. One more thing that caught my eye was that he was an optimist. It does work wonders when you have leader who is an optimist. Was this a blind decision by Jimmy Wales to make the company open to public editing without moderation (or did he just turn lucky)? I believe not, the conviction with he did it showed that he had a structure of something like Wikipedia (at its majestic present state) in mind. Was the risk worth it, is something that is open to speculation. If he had not taken the risk back then, there would be no Wikipedia now and the advent of open source would have been further delayed. Risk taking might be considered reckless but Jimmy was confident in his idea and I believe that this one strategic decision by a great leader has transformed the entire market and has shown the world that there is still "hope" in the power of people.


Do you have the right leaders for your growth strategy? - Katharina Herrmann, Asmus Komm, and Sven Smit


  1. Shrav,

    Good cred's on the photo. Are you still in contact with the founder of Wikipedia?

  2. Actually, I'm not in contact as of now. But he is definitely someone I'd like to meet again.


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