Are you Really a Tech Company?

I go to a lot of events. Firstly because I get bored easily, but mainly because I like hearing what people are working on and their ideas.

I have noticed an increasing amount of companies and events that label themselves as ‘tech’, and I challenge if they actually are.

To me it feels like some older phrases that are slowly dying and losing their meaning.

“I work with computers”

or

“I work in IT”

Honestly, most of the population works with computers now, they have been in workplaces since the 70s. Do they need to be singled out anymore? Aren’t they just another tool we use in our every day lives? Can you even imagine working without a computer in the modern age.

The second phrase is harder to dissect, as computers have become more accessible, usable and unreliable. The concept of an IT department is becoming less prevalent and relevant. My own pedantic definition would be that if you create, manage or support systems for a company (or companies), you “work in IT”. If you are creating things with a computer (this includes for other computers, i.e. a software programmer), you do not “work in IT”, and I will correct people when they say I do.

Anyway, I digress.

If we can agree that “IT” or its modern equivalent, “tech” is just a series of tools that we employ, I challenge many of those who say they are a “tech business”. Or the more guilty party for employing this buzzword, are you really a “tech startup”?

If you are creating software, hardware or a combination of the two to help solve problems others experience you are a tech company. If you are a service provider to businesses or consumers, then you are a tech company. You are creating technology, not employing it.

If you are using someone else’s technology to achieve your aims, then you are not a tech company. You may be innovative and disruptive, but you are just using a technology tool to achieve your aims. Many companies the World over create tools and workflows to suit their business, that does not make them a ‘tech company’ or a ‘tool company’.

I realize there is some grey area here, this is just a blog post. Some companies do a bit of both, creating a platform and then using it for a business idea. Others build technical offerings on top of existing projects. But I feel that for a lot of supposed ‘tech companies’, the definition works.

Getting Back to ‘Tech’ Events

Events are the most guilty of misusing the word ‘tech’. I frequently attend ‘tech’ pitch competitions that are abusing the word because it’s ‘cool’ and will attract an audience.

Let’s take some examples I have seen recently at pitch events.

“We make self-powered sensors” — Well, strictly I would say you’re an engineering company, but yes, you can be a ‘tech company’.

“We have a platform for arranging deliveries” — Nope, you are a service company using technology. If you started offering this platform to other companies, that might change things.

“We have an app that does ‘X’” — You are a service company. Maybe you made your app (not always the case), but you are just using technology.

“We are creating a scalable database for companies to store large quantities of data” — You are a tech company.

“We have created a fleet of electric bikes for people to hire by the hour” — Grey area, if you designed or created the bikes yourself then you are creating technology, but as the company is likely keeping the technology to itself, it’s leaning towards a service company.

“We have created a proprietary high-speed messaging system” — You are a tech company.

So what?

Why is this a problem? Well, maybe it isn’t really, but it annoys me, so that’s why I’m writing about it.

I go to tech events because I love technology and when I hear a bunch of pitches that are just plain and simple business ideas that happen to use tech, I lose interest. And I’m not the only one. I have spoken to others at pitch events who feel the same. It dilutes the concept and makes it worthless. Attempting to attach yourself to a cool term just so you can ride on it’s coat tails is a shallow thing to do. I’m not saying it doesn’t work, but still, it will kill the meaning and gravitas of the word if you continue to do so.

The question is… What do we use instead?