Umm… So What Are Startups Anyway?

Ideation Stage

So maybe the question of this article is very basic to some but I am answering this because a lot of people still ask me, so what do you do exactly? Well you see, I work with startups.

Marketplaces are becoming more digital and these changes are affecting how we start businesses. Although, the digitization of the world is still nascent to many, startups are not nearly new.

Forty years ago in 1976, if you were to ask someone… do you want a personal computer? They wouldn’t know what you were talking about, yet the technology to get a PC into every household was ready and a young group of engineers who knew this were excited by the prospects. In reality, they had no idea what they were doing but they were energized by the possibilities. This group of engineers would go on to develop the integrated circuit of electronic circuits on one small plate of semiconductor material or as we know it, the silicon chip. This chip would propel PCs and space rockets and it has become the foundation of more possibilities to come.

In the documentary Something Ventured, you will hear one of these engineers say “I became an accidental entrepreneur” and that could not be any truer. Excited by the possibility of the silicon chip, these engineers needed money, so they wrote a letter to a bank pleading for help; banks don’t usually invest in such risky deals and new technology is often considered risky. Although, there was one investor who believed in the possibilities of the silicon chip and that is when “venture capital” was born.

Forty years later and entrepreneurs and engineers from around the world are using that same model from 40 years ago to launch the next great innovation. Microsoft, Apple and Facebook, all began with drive, engineers, really cool science… and capital to make it possible — in that exact order.

Startups are the vehicles in which this model for innovation is developed, designed, validated and marketed.

Keep in mind, startups are temporary businesses (a predecessor of a company). They function very differently than large organizations. Steve Blank, a serial-entrepreneur and educator in startup methodology often puts it like this:

Think of startups like a motorboat while large organizations are like cruise ships, usually due to hierarchy and regulations. In the early stages of innovative development, it is essential for startups to function like a motorboat because teams must be able to make quick and effective decisions to get to market faster. So where in a motorboat can make a sharp turn, a cruise ship will take far more time.

With the wake of the internet, so much more innovative solutions have become possible. With the ability for startups to make quick and effective decisions, they have been declared…

A promising and timely method to approach the world’s problems.

As Wikipedia puts it, a startup is …

“a newly emerged, fast-growing business that aims to meet a marketplace need by developing or offering an innovative product, process of service.” Wiki

It is very important that for a startup to become successful and transform into a company, it must meet a marketplace need. Innovation is different than invention in that it actually solves a person, improves and disrupts an old way of doing things or adds new value. For instance, a t-shirt with a digital display that flashes messages and pictures that can be changed from day-to-day does sound really cool, it doesn’t actually solve a problem nor does it meet a marketplace need. Plus, imagine how difficult it would be to wash. While a gel coating that will allow a battery to last up to 400 hundred years or a 3D solar powered cell, that can more effectively capture sunlight are in fact innovations that meet a marketplace need for energy, and are currently in design and development.

“In April 2016, UC Irvine Student Mya Le Thai coated nanowires in gel that allowed it to be recharged hundreds of thousands of times”.

The way I see it, startups are problem-solvers and change-makers. And that’s exactly what we need.