Startups sure have become something of a phenomenon in the last few years. They are hot on the agenda of most conferences and on the lips of those at the helm of agencies and brands.

Startups = innovation = technology = cool = “We need to work with startups!”

Startups collaboration meeting business

This is great news for the SMEs of this world. However, I have a problem. Startup, in my opinion, has officially become a buzzword. The problem with that? It is overused to the point that they are meaningless. Startup in my opinion can join the other eye glaze-inducing words such as ‘platforms’, ‘big data’ and (my least favourite) ‘marketplace’.

Many of the companies I work with (typically 1-2 years old and making a small amount of revenue) often tell me that they no longer introduce themselves as a startup as this tends to evoke negative connotations. They feel that this gives the big boys a license to not take them seriously and provokes an ‘us and them’ attitude. On the flip side, when that’s not happening, they’re being called on for ‘new shiny toy’ show and tell purposes only. It seems the word has eroded in value and doesn’t do justice to the amazing work that so many of these companies deserve.

The problem with the word is that it is used to describe pretty much anything. As mentioned in a previous Techworld blog, ‘startup’ has a tendency to be used as a euphemism for small companies that haven’t got very far. Not great for those young companies that are making real progress. In contrast it can also be used to describe a $10 billion company whose founders are yachting around the Caribbean Sea! To add to the confusion, we’re also talking about long established companies changing to ‘think more like a startup’, hell, some of these old guys are trying to claim they STILL ARE a startup! Talk about putting a ton of pressure on the word, it can’t possibly be used to do justice and define all of these things and more!

As the debate roars on as to what exactly defines a startup, I’d like to propose that we use three different terms to help. They should describe three sections of a startups life:

  1. Starting-up (ideation, team forming, proof of concept
  2. Started (at the point of commercialisation, making a small-medium amount of revenue)
  3. Running fast (in serious growth phase, team of 40+, starting to put in place culture/management structures)

So, from this day forward, I pledge to make every effort to banish ‘start-up’ from my vocabulary and use these three terms instead

  1. Early stage companies
  2. New ventures
  3. Growth businesses

Let me know what you think. Will you be joining me?