The word startup carved its place in our lexicon like never before in the early 2000s. Back then, it was mostly synonymous with a small tech business, led by some millennials with ambitions and big potential. It was seen as a crazy risky thing to choose the path of a founder. Still, people really got the appeal because they were seeing these unprecedented and unconventional businesses such as Facebook, AirBnB, Uber, Google, Amazon and others.
In the last 20 years the industry around startups and tech companies have evolved. What people think when they hear the word has changed as well, but not only for the good.
Back then, it was seen as a very bold move to quit a “decent” and “stable” job. Well, that changed didn’t it? With that change, becoming a founder and building a company became more mainstream. It became cool to say you were building or working for a startup. It was also seen as a way to do good for the world while you were taking risks and earning more.
Perhaps it wasn’t as visible then, but for those in the industry it was clear these mega successful companies really opened eyes for a lot of people and generated a huge risk appetite for newer startups. And back then, the general perception was that these tech companies were forces for good.
The scepticism that started in the early 2010s with Facebook getting involved with politics turned into a full-blown disdain for some of the practices held by these companies when we had rolled into the late 2010s. How Amazon treats its workers, the toxic culture in some of these high growth companies and the flopped IPOs made people rethink and recalibrate what they understood when they heard the word startup.
Today, it is difficult to paint a oversimplified and unitary picture of what people think when they think startups, however, it is certain that the overall tone has shifted away from the unbridled optimism and the coolness of the early 2000s.
Wherever the general perception shifts; the fact remains that startups are indeed value creation engines where talent, risk appetite and money come together to provide consumers and businesses with something they want. This is timeless.
What’s more, the tools available to creators and the way the work culture has been shaping – especially with the post-pandemic nudge to a more remote and work-from-home way of living – meant it is progressively getting easier and quicker to get new businesses off the ground.
With tools such as Calendly, AirTable, Slack, Zapier, Stripe, Canva, Trello and a whole slew of other productivity tools, not to mention the low/no-code solutions out there, it is a different ball game. It is more competitive, most user needs have been met, but definitely not all. Which means there is room for more entrepreneurs.
It is more competitive and you need to know your craft. The only way to get good at it is to do it. Having spent a lot of time with founders as well as interviewing them in the Startups of London Podcast, true entrepreneurship begins after your first failure.
It is an incredibly difficult thing to build a profitable business. It is complex as hell and you have to solve problems all the time. The thing is; it doesn’t get easier. But you can get better.
So yes, I am of the opinion that the general perception of a startup has shifted towards more negative as the shadow cast by the tech giants have grown. But at the same time, it has gotten easier to build with access to more tech tools, more acceptable to quit a full time job or moonlight a side-project, and more competitive. If you are up for the challenge, you can get good and beat the end-game boss, because despite everything, it is one of the most fair games out there to build wealth and to do good for the world.