The term “startup” has been bandied around with increasing frequency over the past few years to describe scrappy young ventures, hip San Francisco apps and huge tech companies. But what is a startup, really?
“A startup is a company working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed,” says Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker.
When I hear the word “startup,” my mind immediately begins playing a reel of a bunch of twenty-something year old web developers, huddled together in a retro office somewhere in the SF Bay Area. Drinking beer at midday, laughing about the epic, cool culture they’ve got going, and chatting about the fact that they spent the weekend hanging out with their venture capitalist besties.
So, when I hear people use the word “startup” in association with a small businesses—say a restaurant, cafe, hair salon or dental practice—my mind balks.
And I’m not entirely wrong.
The thing is, a tech startup or any type of startup for that matter (doesn’t have to be technology-focused) and a traditional, new business venture, are different for a number of reasons, most notably: the way they think about growth.
A startup is a venture that is initiated by its founders around an idea or a problem with a potential for significant business opportunity and impact. Often the actual development starts even before that with a search of an idea or a meaningful problem worth solving and building a committed founding team aligned with a shared vision to make that vision into reality.
Aim of the initial founder(s) is to establish a committed co-founder team with the necessary skills and abilities to be able to validate the initial problem/solution fit and product/market fit, before scaling it to significant company and self-sustained business.
So in addition to the innovation process itself, from idea to value-generating product and business model, startups also need to have a strong and committed founding team and develop both of these together into a real growing business and organization that captures the value being created as a great company.
A great company is a self sustaining entity that is no longer dependent on any single individual or other organization, where all necessary knowledge, values, strategies, IPR etc. are permanently embedded to its existence in a way that it can continue to operate, improve and build value for customers, shareholders and other key stakeholders, while remaining financially stable by the value of solutions and products it creates.