Guide to 20 Popular Startup Terms

Guide to 20 Popular Startup Terms

We bust the jargon for entrepreneurs new to the startup scene

By David Kiriakidis

From the sun-drenched hills of California to the rain-sodden pavements of East London, the stunning rise in tech startups over the last 10 years has brought about a whole new vocabulary. And it’s everywhere.

Words like 'unicorn' and 'pivot' have seeped from the boardroom to the TV screen, and have become as big a part of modern culture as the ventures they originate from. But to many entrepreneurs outside the tech startup scene these words are confusing, but still relevant.

What's a digital nomad? And what on earth does MVP stand for? Here’s our guide to the top 20 examples of startup jargon that you need to know.

Accelerator – Also referred to as an incubator, an accelerator is a programme designed to rapidly grow a startup through a combination of mentorship, access to technology, office space and, sometimes, capital. With the wide variety of accelerators available, it can be difficult to work out which one is right for your business, so check out lists of programmes, like this best tech accelerators list.

Activation – Another word for a product or company launch.

Bootstrapping – When the company founder is having to rely on savings and money from friends and family to grow the business in its very early stages.

Burn rate – How quickly you spend your capital; some startups find that they spend more early on, but others find their spend is fairly even.

Decacorns – These are the 'big boys' – the companies valued at over $10 Billion. Notable members of the 'club' include Uber, WhatsApp and Snapchat.

Digital nomad – A term used to describe someone who works online, and therefore often works from home, in coworking space, or is based abroad. Basically, it's that guy you always see in the coffee shop, in the exact same spot every day, with his laptop and chai tea latte.

Disrupting – When a startup sets out to revolutionize its sector or industry.

Exit strategy – How you plan to sell the business, pay investors back and create a nest egg for your future.

Gamification – When you’ve got a product or service which is, shall we say, not the most exciting thing in the world, so you incorporate elements of interactive design to increase interest in your product.

Full stack developer – A developer with specialized knowledge in all areas of software development.

Hockey stick – When a startup experiences steady growth and then a sudden rise, so that on a graph it looks a bit like a hockey stick.

MVP – This is Minimum Viable Product. It’s the service or product that has the highest return on investment versus the risk / effort involved.

Pitch deck – A short presentation used to pitch your business plan to potential investors. Just like putting together your business plan, there are multiple ways to do this. For a good idea of what to include, check out Guy Kawasaki’s pitch deck template here.

Pivot - This is when 1 or more of your products or services has failed, so you take the company in different direction.

Scale up - The process by which a business plans to grow in terms of size, market, geographical location, etc.

Seed round – The first period during which a startup is looking for funding or investment. Normally this is followed by a ‘Series A round’ where a second set of investors come on board at a higher price than the first round.

Stealth mode – When a startup keeps its products or services under wraps, so it doesn’t alert potential competition.

Unicorns – Startups that have been valued at more than $1 billion such as Instagram, Evernote and Shazam. Although in reality, unicorns are beyond startup stage.

VC – A venture capitalist pours people’s money into early-stage, high-growth startups in return for equity.

Vanity metrics – Figures and statistics that are often used to show the growth of a startup that don’t actually mean anything, i.e. 2,000 to 200,000 impressions on Twitter.

Bonus word...

Dave ratio - I came across this in my research and had to include this as, a) it’s my name, and b) I shall now be applying it to many aspects of my life. In fact, it may be my new favourite phrase. It’s a method by which people can work out the gender parity in an organisation by comparing the number of women to the number of men named Dave. At Fleximize we have a ‘woman to Dave’ ratio of 11:1.


Of course, there are endless other terms springing from startup culture. Conner Forrest at TechRepublic compiled a comprehensive glossary of terms – it's great read if you get the chance. For now, why not pivot over to the rest of the Knowledge Hub, where you can learn how to disrupt, activate or scale up. See what I did there...?