In 2015, I was (poorly) rapping on how early stage ventures were systematically called “startups” because pretty much everyone has vested interests in labeling them as such. We’re now in 2017 and there is always a deeply rooted misconception about what is a startup.

The fact is that startups are not “just” innovative companies but also a scalable one. They don’t want to destroy and rebuild a tiny part of the market, they aim for turning the whole market around. And when experts end up speaking of scale-ups it’s more than often to cope with the abusive use of this ‘startup’ label.

Original Apple Team

That being said, let’s scroll through the 25 hints that you might be a startup, not “just” a vanilla innovative venture:

  1. Size matters from day one.
  2. Time-to-market is your top priority.
  3. Team is already proficient at launching a company and following through.
  4. Team not composed of “serial entrepreneurs” (you might have created a startup or two max).
  5. Holy trinity is there from start (CEO / CTO / COO).
  6. You know who you need to hire, why and already target best-in-class people.
  7. You already have a network and insiders attention as well.
  8. You don’t care for business angels, local networks, or beauty contests to get seed money.
  9. You cut corners when needed and ask for forgiveness later on.
  10. You don’t trust or need patents (except in biotech, or defense).
  11. Barriers to entry are built via critical mass.
  12. There was a business model from day one, even if it changed twice already.
  13. The project may appear non-scalable at first given our current perspective.
  14. You leverage a significative level of risk.
  15. You accept to create a dissensus around your vision (EVs are dead, hydrogen will be back).
  16. Big picture is always in focus for everyone, granular details are sorted out along the way.
  17. You have selective listening when customers’ feedback is involved.
    Concentrate on finding the “Ah-Ah moment”.
  18. You demonstrate added value by doing and delivering, not market research or Gartner’s insights.
  19. No money is spared when needed (talents and market inception).
  20. You’re business-driven by trade, techno-driven by necessity.
  21. Copying is acceptable if it serves the big picture (or to learn).
  22. You make money to demonstrate potential, then reinvest, demonstrate again, and sometimes remember to pay the bills.
  23. You know how to navigate cash-flow envelope, dilution risks, but will try to over-reach (or die).
  24. Everything non-critical is outsourced and you keep opex as high as possible.
  25. You don’t build to flip the company to Google.

You might not have all symptoms at once, but if you already have a dozen of them… you might just be a startup.

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