Startup – [stAHrt-uhp] (noun): “a new organization or business venture.” Short, simple, and utterly ambiguous. Courtesy of Wiktionary.
Fortunately, the Urban Dictionary expounds on this unsatisfactory brevity with: “A recently formed company. In modern terminology, it has come to describe a company formed with a business model relying on the internet.” Better, but it’s just not definitive enough.
Paul Graham‘s definition is much more elucidative: “a startup is a company designed to grow fast. Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup. Nor is it necessary for a startup to work on technology, or take venture funding, or have some sort of “exit.” The only essential thing is growth. Everything else we associate with startups follows from growth.”
Forbes.com describes it as a “scrappy young venture”, a term more befitting a kid with a lemonade stand than a meteoric tech disruptor.
Investopedia’s take is just as verbose and long-winded (albeit revelatory) as you would imagine it to be: “a company that is in the first stage of its operations. These companies are often initially bankrolled by their entrepreneurial founders as they attempt to capitalize on developing a product or service for which they believe there is a demand. Due to limited revenue or high costs, most of these small scale operations are not sustainable in the long term without additional funding from venture capitalists.”
Finally, the most expository description of all is found on Wikipedia. It’s not so much a definition as it is a sprawling and…well…wikipedia article.
One interesting thing I noted while definition-diving is that the word ‘startup’ implies an attempt at something- that a risk or gamble is being taken; indeed an undeniable truth for most entrepreneurs. However, nowhere did I read about any limitations or requirements on the number of employees, amount of startup capital, or profitability, etc. This doesn’t mean the definitions were lacking in this regard, it actually means these factors are not conditional to a startup’s existence or development, and that’s a good thing.
So, there are dozens of definitions, but what is a startup really? What are the definitive characteristics that are only revealed after churning through some veteran VC’s thousand-page biography or binging on an entire season of Silicon Valley. The aforementioned textbook definitions might tell us what a startup is or does, but they omit the vital defining characteristics that most entrepreneurs often spend too long searching for. They are told what it is but are never told how to manifest it successfully.
Still unsatisfied, I decided to kick things up a notch and ask some key people from different parts of our startup tech apparatus; the developer, the CEO/founder, the investor, and the industry evangelist. What is the most important characteristic that a startup should have? This is what they said:
What is the most important characteristic that a startup should have?
Marta Sjögren – VC, Northzone: “The most important aspect to get right as a startup is the team-vision-product fit; as an investor, the first three things I look for are team ((why) is this team going to succeed?), product-focus (is this team made up of product-fiends?), and vision (are they thinking big enough?).”
Niklas Agevik – CEO/Co-founder, Instabridge: “The most important quality for a startup is it’s culture – it’s really the only factor on which you can compete with larger organizations with more resources. There is unfortunately no good answer for what is a good culture within a startup. But not shying away from hard work and being able to have open discussions about challenges and problems are definitely key elements.”
Fiona Hutchison – AppDev student, Hyper Island: “One of the more important characteristics for a successful startup is to have the right people working on the right things. It’s true that startups are typically small and involve few people with limited budgets, but even if there are no funds to put towards hiring an accountant (or any role that does not involve creativity), one should seek out guidance or educate oneself about key roles that help contribute to successful companies.”
Tyler Crowley – STHLMTech evangelist: “I believe the most important characteristic for a startup to have is curiosity. A genuine curiosity to turn over every stone in search of the true solution to the problem they are solving. Too often startups get discouraged when the solution they believed in doesn’t work out as planned, but a team that has a real curiosity for the problem will look in the hidden places where the real jewels are.”
And there it is. An innate curiosity, the right person doing the right thing, a synergistic culture, and the team-vision-product trifecta are the key ingredients that comprise a successful and promising startup. What do you think is the most important characteristic a startup should have? Let us know in the comments below!