The Community Answers: What Is A Startup?

October 28, 2014

9:00 pm

Brandon Gadoci, in a blog post last week from Disruption Corporation, posed the question “Where Will Startups Be in 100 Years?” Gadoci notes how we have studied entrepreneurs from the early 1900s, quoted them, put them on T-Shirts and Oatmeal sites. Startups then didn’t know each other, and set out on solo ventures to change the world. “In 100 years, startups will look more like they did 100 years ago,” claims Gadoci in this article. “It may be that the majority of startup founders barely know each other.”

The startups then certainly never would have referred to themselves as “startups”, either. So I wondered, as I checked through my Rolodex of startup founders and community supporters: So… “What is a startup?”

Here are the answers I received.


Trey Bowles of The DEC

“As a startup, you don’t really knew who you are yet, which is why we see entrepreneurs pivot one or more times as they are seeking out what their business model will become. I think this is typically a business that is less than 7 years old and is less than $10mm in revenue. There is no one set definition for a startup so we all have our interpretations, but I think some of the key elements of a startup includes at least one visionary who is courageous enough to believe they can create a vision, implement and scale that business model at a rapid pace.”

Michael Hughes of OneVest

“I like Steve Blank’s definition: a startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.”

Nicole Gallub of Pelonkey

“To me, a startup is any one person OR group of people actively pursuing a business idea.”

George Diab of OpenFloor

“Something crazy people do because they don’t want to wear a tie…or pants.”

Jimmy Jacobson of Wedgies

“You can say, “I am working on a startup” or “I have a startup”. Don’t ever say, “I started a startup” though. That just sounds dumb. You can’t say, “I’m a small business owner”. Because most small businesses probably do better than a startup ever will. You can say “I own my own business” but that won’t be true the minute you take money from an investor (or your parents) for your startup. You could say, “I am the majority share holder in my own business” up until you raise a Series B round of fundraising. Then you probably gave away most of your company to investors. So just stick with “I have a startup”.


So what is a startup? A startup is a company in that it should have employees, a CEO, pay taxes, etc. It is also a business in that it should exchange services or goods for money. The biggest difference between a startup and a small or medium size business is uncertainty. There are a lot of unknowns in both endeavors, but in general small business can follow an existing model that has proven results. Like buying a franchise, opening a restaurant, or starting a real estate agency. A startup is a business that is offering a product that has never existed before to an existing market (like Mailchimp), or has created an entirely new market (like Airbnb). Since the markets and products are new, there aren’t pre-existing models for expenditures, revenue, or even customer acquisition that the startup can follow.”

AJ Agrawal of Alumnify

“A startup is like a roller coaster ride. For a few seconds, it’s an amazing thrill and the next second you wish you never got on.”

George Moncrief of VegasTechFund

“To me, a startup is all about rapidly iterating on ideas in order to prove out a working model towards becoming a “real” business.”

Liza Avramenko of CheckIO

“Startup = people + an idea.

One-person startups are very unique and are rather an exception from rules. I believe in teams because if you want to go big you need to be able to inspire others and enjoy working together, building a cohesive team. And an idea presumes a change, which is an innovation or an improvement. The combination of these two things sets a startup apart from a small business.

A startup stops to be a startup when its business model has been proven, it’s profitable and a departure of any team member won’t effect business. At this point a startup has become a company*”  (*presuming we are not talking about non-profits)

John Richards of BoomStartup

“Steve Blank says it well, and Eric Ries has tried to improve upon it –A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”

Jinger Zeng of Skyworks Aerial Systems

“A project that’s so addictive that you simply want to keep working on.”

Rick Turoczy of PIE PDX

“A startup? It’s the both the best thing you can do and the worst thing you can do. The most fulfilling and the most soul wrenching. And it’s something you’ll love and hate, day after day. It’s the thing you have to do. Because you just can’t help it.”

Dylan Bathurst of Close5

“It’s a company that’s built to grow quickly and to a very large scale.”

Fodè Diop of Evasive

“A startup is resilience. A startup is refusing to die, while knowing that all odds are stacked up against you. Like the old adage says, ignorance is bliss. I honestly had no idea how difficult and hard building a startup would be. But I could not see myself doing anything else, besides working to solve really hard problems.


To be real, I’m still discovering what a startup is.”


Hey, Fodè… We are all on that discovery, daily – aren’t we.




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Previously the Managing Editor at Tech.Co, Ann Diab has a background of launching and nurturing of startups and tech companies. Empowering and educating entrepreneurs and startups to better productivity and culture is her passion. Growth Manager at WorkingOn to enable folks all over the world to enjoy work and improve communication. Follow me on Twitter.

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