A startup is a company designed to grow fast. Being newly successful essay example does not in itself make a company a startup. Nor is it necessary for a startup to work on technology, or take venture funding, or have some sort of “exit. The only essential thing is growth.
Everything else we associate with startups follows from growth. If you want to start one it’s important to understand that. Startups are so hard that you can’t be pointed off to the side and hope to succeed. You have to know that growth is what you’re after. The good news is, if you get growth, everything else tends to fall into place. Which means you can use growth like a compass to make almost every decision you face.
Let’s start with a distinction that should be obvious but is often overlooked: not every newly founded company is a startup. Millions of companies are started every year in the US. Only a tiny fraction are startups. Most are service businesses—restaurants, barbershops, plumbers, and so on. These are not startups, except in a few unusual cases.
A barbershop isn’t designed to grow fast. Whereas a search engine, for example, is. When I say startups are designed to grow fast, I mean it in two senses. Partly I mean designed in the sense of intended, because most startups fail. But I also mean startups are different by nature, in the same way a redwood seedling has a different destiny from a bean sprout.
That difference is why there’s a distinct word, “startup,” for companies designed to grow fast. If all companies were essentially similar, but some through luck or the efforts of their founders ended up growing very fast, we wouldn’t need a separate word. We could just talk about super-successful companies and less successful ones. But in fact startups do have a different sort of DNA from other businesses. Google is not just a barbershop whose founders were unusually lucky and hard-working.
To grow rapidly, you need to make something you can sell to a big market. That’s the difference between Google and a barbershop. Almost everyone needs their hair cut. A barbershop serves customers in person, and few will travel far for a haircut. And even if they did the barbershop couldn’t accomodate them. If you write software to teach Tibetan to Hungarian speakers, you’ll be able to reach most of the people who want it, but there won’t be many of them.
If you make software to teach English to Chinese speakers, however, you’re in startup territory. The distinctive feature of successful startups is that they’re not. It might seem that it would always be better to start a startup than an ordinary business. If you’re going to start a company, why not start the type with the most potential? If you write software to teach Tibetan to Hungarians, you won’t have much competition. If you write software to teach English to Chinese speakers, you’ll face ferocious competition, precisely because that’s such a larger prize.
The constraints that limit ordinary companies also protect them. If you start a barbershop, you only have to compete with other local barbers. If you start a search engine you have to compete with the whole world. The most important thing that the constraints on a normal business protect it from is not competition, however, but the difficulty of coming up with new ideas. If you open a bar in a particular neighborhood, as well as limiting your potential and protecting you from competitors, that geographic constraint also helps define your company.
Your niche both protects and defines you. Whereas if you want to start a startup, you’re probably going to have to think of something fairly novel. A startup has to make something it can deliver to a large market, and ideas of that type are so valuable that all the obvious ones are already taken. That space of ideas has been so thoroughly picked over that a startup generally has to work on something everyone else has overlooked. I was going to write that one has to make a conscious effort to find ideas everyone else has overlooked.