What is a startup anyway?

What is a startup anyway?

I've come to the conclusion that the word/phrase 'Start-up' is now totally without useful meaning. This has probably been true for a while, but I constantly see its use abused, conflated and inverted.

Wikipedia defines it as:

Startup: a company, a partnership or temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. These companies, generally newly created, are in a phase of development and research for markets.

The important part for me is the whole 'searching for a repeatable and scaleable business model'. Therefore if you have a decent business model, you are not a startup, you are a business.

I spoke to an apparent 'Start-up' recently, they constantly referred to themselves as a Start-up. "How many employees do you have?" I asked, "500, and its our 5th year" was the response. I should have asked "What are you starting up? An air force?"

Then there is the other end of the scale, 'Start-ups' that can never have a business model no matter how hard they try, all they thought about was their idea, not about making money. Having your idea crystallise is cool, sure, but spending years of your life on this idea with zero chance of it making any difference to your life (other than the pain), not so cool.

It appears that some organisations wear the 'Start-up' label as a badge of honour, for me it is quite the opposite, it means you haven't really thought about how you are going to make money (granted some start-ups find this overtime, but these are the exception.)

Sudden acquisition is not a business model, a point put lucidly by Hugh MacLeod's book - Ignore Everybody, quite simply he says:

If your biz plan depends on you suddenly being “discovered” by some big shot, your plan will probably fail.

Much like the sage advice that gamblers only tell you when they win, our self-induced tech-bubble clamours to tell us of the success stories, the Instagram and WhatsApps. These are black swans, nay, they are black swans that won the annual black swan swimathon. This hype is inflated by angel investment/seed funding mockery, I'm pretty sure some people think that the idea of a start-up is to collect as much funding as possible, getting to round G funding being the end of level boss.

Find a way of winning that doesn't involve being a slave to someone else's will.