The Telegraph recently published an article criticizing start-up culture for corrupting our youth and killing real entrepreneurship. Their argument is that society and the media give the impression that anyone with an idea can build a successful tech startup; and at these startups, profitability is seen as unimportant compared to raising more funds, gaining users, and cashing out to a big company.
There’s certainly a valid point here, and much of the issue is that the startup stories which tend to get media attention are the fairy-tales where young people fresh out of college build billion dollar companies.
I’ve been thinking about this, and I believe another part of the problem is that entrepreneurship outside of the venture-backed startup bubble lacks a good set of words to describe it. Startups and the tech media use their own set of jargon. “Unicorn“. “Series A“. “Pivot.” “Disruption.” “Acqui-hire.”
You see headlines like this and you wonder what anyone outside the startup industry must think we’re talking about.
But there are companies which forge their own path, grow without external investment, and focus on profitability from the start (I know. I founded one). They listen to customers, not investors. These founders don’t get invited to sexy startup conferences or have breathless articles written about them in Techcrunch. They target revenue in the millions, not in the billions. They hire people who want more stability than working in a startup, and figure out how to retain them.
If you want examples of “big” tech companies that grew like this, think 37signals or Atlassian. But most of these companies will never grow to thousands of staff. And it also doesn’t have to be a tech company – it could equally be a chain of cafes, or someone designing a better way of harvesting rice.
But what do you call a company like that? If I want to search for like-minded-entrepreneurs-who-aren’t-interested-in-the-whole-startup-bubble, what do I search for on meetup.com? What do I write in my job listings?
I recently attended 7in7, a conference for people-who-travel-and-work-remotely-without-a-long-term-home-base. It was only a couple of years ago that this community started to coalesce, and an important point was when they agreed on what to call themselves as a community – digital nomads.
It’s time we realized there are more types of “small, growing, agile companies” than what we now know as “startups”. Let’s give them names.
It’s time to stop chasing unicorns, and start building businesses.