More than half the companies on the Forbes Global 2000 list come from the United States. And with good reason. In Launchpad Republic, Howard Wolk and John Landry argue that entrepreneurship is more vibrant and sustainable in the United States than anywhere else in the world—due to a number of important factors.
“The common reasons are a large marketplace, lots of immigrants, and research universities,” Wolk says. “These are important, but we argue that the country’s specific culture and political economy play a key role. In particular, we have a system that empowers upstarts to challenge established players. That system emerges not from any grand decision but from our ethos, our politics, our decentralized financial and corporate mechanisms. Our culture favors individuals, including as consumers, rather than existing producers. As a result, disruptive innovations find a way into our economy much more easily than in other countries.”
Wolk, an entrepreneur and former White House lawyer, and Landry, who holds a PhD in economic history and was an editor at Harvard Business Review, wrote Launchpad Republic because “many people outside the entrepreneurial ecosystem do not understand or appreciate how this type of ‘creative destruction’ or ‘creative augmentation’ really works,” Wolk says, “and how unique it is to American history and its economy.”
The book also argues that entrepreneurship is a rebellious act influenced by America's democratic system. “American history is full of stories of how entrepreneurs challenged powerful opponents and won,” Landry says. “One of our favorite examples is that of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who at a very young age challenged a state monopoly granted to the patrician Livingston family in New York. That is the sort of gumption that can be seen across American history and in lots of industries. And it is not something that occurs in many other countries, where large companies, powerful families, major banks, and, in some cases, big unions tend to control the economy and maintain the status quo.”
In the book, Wolk and Landry detail how startups and established companies make each other stronger through symbiosis. Startups prevent big companies from becoming lazy, and big companies help startups establish a market and can even play the role of distributor, supplier, or acquirer. “Big companies are important, but as others have noted, it’s easy for them to get complacent,” Landry says. “They’re good at making and delivering goods at scale but not at innovation. And even the best-run giants have limitations as a result of strategic focus and discipline. As a result, we need startups and other smaller companies to come up with fresh ideas. As those innovations develop, large companies can take advantage of them if they are smart. If not, the startups might have to scale up and become big companies themselves.”
Landry hopes that readers will come away with an understanding of how “America’s success is more closely related to our political system, corporate system, and financial system than most people realize,” which, he says, will alter how people see issues. “We tend to take entrepreneurship for granted,” he says, “but it depends on specific institutional and cultural foundations. Similarly, readers outside the United States can appreciate how and why America has sustained itself both politically and economically over such a long period of time.”
Wolk hopes readers will appreciate the wider context of entrepreneurship. “There are many issues that come up every week relating to issues in the book,” he says. “China, Big Tech/antitrust, inequality, sustainability are just the most prominent ones. We believe that if people understand the how and why of American entrepreneurship, it will help them think about some of these contemporary issues differently.”