We’ve journeyed through the interwebs to bring you startup terminology that is way past its prime to test your weekend patience
How many times have you read the “About” section of a startup’s site and cringed at its superfluous mission and vision statements? How often have you rolled your eyes (internally or externally) when hearing startup pitches at a tech conference?
Yes, wannabes will always be wannabes, but recently it’s been getting out of hand. What was once hipster terminology is now mainstream. Perhaps a little bit too mainstream.
In startup-land, entrepreneurs have their own terms in describing an aspect or a phenomena unique to the industry. But with everyone wanting to be a part of this startup lifestyle, a lot of startup terminology has lost its initial value. Startup buzzwords are now landing on fellow entrepreneurs’ hate or hit lists, with people promising violent deaths to those who utter them.
We get it — being with startups make you feel like you too, are the next Mark Zuckerberg. They make what you’re doing sound a bazillion times cooler, and project your business idea as the next big thing.
In marketing your business, you’ve started to believe in its purpose and that it has what it takes to be profitable and useful to the community. And dropping buzzwords certainly help with that.
But there’s a fine line, folks!
Using these terms in every sentence on an email, newsletter or your site is counterintuitive to that goal. The meaning of these words is dulled thanks to massive overkill. Instead of informing and clarifying, you’re starting to sound like a shady car salesman.
Here at e27, we want to help. So we’ve scoured the web and picked the terms that are driving your fellow entrepreneurs and potential business partners nuts, and that should really be used with a lighter hand.
What it’s supposed to mean: Leverage is commonly used in investment banking and debt. You could use this whenever you’re trying to use borrowed capital or other financial instruments in order to increase the potential return of an investment.
Unfortunately another definition of ‘leverage’ is to ‘take maximum advantage of’ and that’s where the problem begins.
Why it’s overused: A lot of startups want to show others how they have been able to ‘effectively maximise’ the resources and opportunities given to them by their fellow investors and friends. They also want to frequently portray themselves as the casual-yet-professional entrepreneur. Basically, they leverage every occasion to drop the word leverage.
What it’s supposed to mean: Innovation is inextricably linked to the startup world, the blood that keeps it pumping. The term is meant to refer to imaginative concepts, breakthrough business models – the creme de la creme of tech ingenuity. Innovations primarily advance industries and replace or improve past technologies.
Why it’s overused: The term is now thrown around like a basketball during an NBA match. A new product that gets launched with hauntingly familiar specs as its predecessors? Innovation. Tinder for cats? Innovation. Found a new way to suck up to your boss? Inno-bloody-vation.
What it’s supposed to mean: Like ‘innovation’, the word ‘disrupt’ is synonymous with startups and tech. Defined by Innosight Co-founder Clayton M. Christensen, the term is used to describe new technology that replaces an existing technology, displacing established market leaders and having a significant impact on society. Think MP3 players/digital music versus CDs/physical albums or horse-drawn vehicles versus mass-produced cars.
A proper disruption brings forth new life into traditional industries, shocking incumbents and customers alike.
Why it’s overused: The term has taken a life of its own, a staple term in press releases. ‘Disrupt’ has been diluted, used to describe the simplification of tech or a practice, rather than actual disruption, which displaces and completely changes the spending practice and the culture of a society.
Anything these days can be disrupted — your laptop with a virus, your love life with your mother and your vacation with your company cellphone.
4. Game changer
What it’s supposed to mean: In a similar vein to disrupt and innovation, a company, product, or a leader that’s a game changer has either enabled or caused a major and significant upheaval in the industry.
Why it’s overused: Not every move made is game-changing. There’s a difference in making processes easier or more convenient, and truly shaking up the scene. However, in an effort to charm other fellow entrepreneurs and potential mentors into giving you their business cards and valuable time, desperate times call for desperate measures.
Besides, what kind of compliment can you use at startup networking event? Rockstar? Please. Those are used for startup employees.
5. Uber for X, Airbnb for X
What it’s supposed to mean: This term was used to provide context as to how relevant a startup is in their specific vertical. For example, by describing a startup as the “Uber of food delivery startups,” the startup positions itself as a market leader in the food delivery vertical.
Why it’s overused: It’s now an introductory statement rather than a point of comparison. Some startups use this as a primary means to establish credibility, rather than depending on the merit of their products and services.
While imitation is considered the sincerest form of flattery, using “Uber for X” to primarily describe your startup is like telling your college professor that you could get an A on your exam because you look like the smartest kid in the room.
In the end, execution determines a startup’s success.
What it’s supposed to mean: Author Eric Ries first coined the term pivot in his best-selling book, The Lean Startup, which refers to startups shifting its focus from one aspect of the business to another. It’s supposed to signify an impactful change to the startup — either by modifying its business model, target audience, or even core idea.
Why it’s overused: Nowadays, the implied definition of pivot has become the scapegoat lingo of entrepreneurs who can’t make proper decisions about their company. It’s as if they want to say, “Well, I’ve realised that I am not doing a great job with my startup, but I’d like to establish a false sense of hope to my investors and my family that I’m still being a game changer in the startup industry, which is a lie too.”
Pivots are major decisions in a startup and are not easy decisions to make, just like the time you decided to receive an incredible pay cut by joining a startup.
What it’s supposed to mean: Simply put, an algorithm is a calculated pattern that can be performed. It is a procedure or a formula in solving a problem. Developers use different software languages to achieve different means, and produce specific outputs from their given inputs. Writing or coding these instances based on logic (eg. if-then statements), can be classified as algorithms.
Why it’s overused: As cynically described by Reddit user @SamBehnam, ‘algorithm’ is a term used by programmers, (or in most cases, a startup CTO), in order to simplify whatever they’ve accomplished in the startup’s application or technology.
Oftentimes, algorithm is used on wide-eyed business folk, who usually have zero to little knowledge about code, bugs, or any other developer-related woes. Let’s be honest, do you really want to know all that complicated jargon? Or would it be better to pretend to know? Wait, do investors even care?
Hopefully, this list didn’t ruin your weekend – but what do you think? Are we just overreacting startup hipsters, or have you also had your share of misused and overused terminology?
Admittedly, we (yes, us too) still use these words because of their usefulness in describing the unique, crazy world of startups. Now the challenge lies within the community in balancing buzzwords with sincerity and having a critical eye in discerning hype from reality.
This article has been written with the support of Donna Louise Rajendran.
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