Entrepreneur

Grow up! Calling your company a ‘startup’ shouldn’t be a security blanket

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After $336 million in VC funding, reaching a valuation of $1 billion and a staff of 700 employees, how did Jason Goldberg describe his troubled company Fab last month?

It’s a f*cking startup.

In a public memo, now deleted from his blog but preserved in angry amber by the snarkers at Valleywag, he sprinkled the f-word around more liberally than a Tarantino character and hammered out the message that despite it all, the company was still a startup.

Today, Fab is making more layoffs and will be down to 200 employees.

The black hole

There’s a point at which the word “startup” becomes a crutch.

That’s arguably what has happened with Fab. Starting out as a gay social network before metamorphosing into a flash deals site then into a more traditional style-orientated online retailer, the amount of money, time and people poured into what now looks like a black hole would be shocking to any sector besides the startup world.

At his previous startup, Jobster, Goldberg managed to burn through $48m in VC funding. So far it seems Fab’s greatest success is to chew up even larger piles of other people’s money.

Fab culture

The reason I’m picking on Fab in particular is that it illustrates a problem with the world “startup” and the culture that comes along with it in forty foot high neon letters.

Even after all that investment and ramping up Fab to hundreds of employees, Goldberg was still clutching on to the notion that it was somehow early days, as if defining your business as a startup and not a grown up company is a kind of cheat code for avoiding the inevitable.

No amount of kooky soft furnishings and free food can make employees feel better about the dawning reality that jobs are going and money isn’t coming.

Just a phase

The idea that it’s fine to take your time working out how to make money as long as you can hustle up enough venture funding was further strengthened by the announcement earlier this month that Quora is joining the latest batch of Y-Combinator companies.

The five-year-old Q+A site has raised over $141 million – $80 million of that this year – but is joining the accelerator, normally a berth for early stage firms, as “an experiment”.

To at least some of those investors who’ve put tens of millions into Adam D’Angelo’s baby the move must have been more than a little worrying. Quora has said it wants to “remain independent forever” but what about a return on investment?

At some point, a company has to grow up. Its time as a startup should be a productive phase not a way of life.

Of course keeping the best parts of the startup mindset is important – flexibility in roles, optimism, quick decision making – and corporations spend millions trying to suddenly inject those qualities into their hidebound, siloed organisations.

But you have to grow beyond that.

There would be fewer job losses and less wasted investment capital if more founders were focused on building businesses that left the startup label behind than clutching on to it as a safety blanket. Fab is not a startup, it’s a business that’s failing.


Mic Wright is the founder and CEO of The XX Corporation, a new kind of media company. He was previously Chief Tech Blogger at The Daily Telegraph, held staff roles at Stuff and Q Magazine and has written for almost every British national newspaper. He currently lives in Dublin and tweets at @brokenbottleboy.

Read Mic’s column every week at Tech City News.

This post originally appeared on Tech City News, VentureBeat’s editorial partner in London.

This story originally appeared on techcitynews.com.


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6 comments
Joshua W Hays
Joshua W Hays

I've always looked at it this way: startup = bootstrap. When and if you have taken money, be it from investors or customers, you become a "business".

Tiffany Delph
Tiffany Delph

This is why I have hesitance with working for a "startup" these days

Lafayette Howell
Lafayette Howell

The irony is that dumb ass "gamblers" who refer to themselves loosely as investors perpetuate this crap. It reminds me of the suburban dictum in sports of "everybody gets a trophy" and we dont keep score. The hucksters who keep getting money thrown at them for very esoteric reasons figured out that remaining a startup is safe as playing T-Ball. Nobody is REALLY keeping score, right?

Glenn Gutierrez
Glenn Gutierrez

About damn time someone said this. Or at least get the dialogue going on, "You're well past the early-startup stage. Cut it out!"

Raj Mohan
Raj Mohan

True, not after raising a million dollars...