How to Speak Startup: A Primer

When I first started working at Spinnakr last month, I discovered that the startup community speaks a special language only understandable to initiates. In the beginning, I had no idea what anyone was saying, but after interpreting context clues and spending lots of time on the interwebs, I developed an articulate toddler’s vocabulary of startup words. Herewith, the essentials:

A/B Test
/Ay-Bee test/ noun

When in doubt, always decide based on performance in a test!

When in doubt, always decide based on performance in a test!

When a company can’t decide between two solutions, so they essentially put the decision up to users. Half of users see option A, the other half option B. Whichever is received better (i.e., more clicks, more traffic, more social shares) is the winner.
We couldn’t decide if we liked the pop-up or the overlay message more, so we compared them in an A/B test to find out which one worked best.

Accelerator vs. Incubator
/akˈseləˌrātər/ noun vs. /ˈinkyəˌbātər/ noun

Accelerators are generally 3-4 month-long programs in which startup founders have access to financial support, a team of mentors, and a communal space to spawn original ideas. In exchange, the accelerator has a small financial stake in the company.

Alternatively, incubators are less programs and more a space to actively construct an idea. They have an entrepreneurial spirit, offer office space, and typically cater to ideas that began internally.

Bootstrapping
/ˈbo͞otˌstrap eeng/ noun

No investors? No money? No problem, just bootstrap it! Using whatever resources you have available as to avoid finding investors.
I’ve totally struck out with all the investors. But, NBD, I don’t need capital! That’s what bootstrapping is for!

See also: Pulling oneself up by one’s “bootstraps.” (19th c. English origin indicating an impossible task).

Conversion
/kənˈvərZHən/ noun

Spoiler: everyone!

Spoiler: everyone!

Turning your brand’s admirers, lurkers, flirters, and creepers into actual customers. Without turning fans into groupies, you’ve got nada.
You wouldn’t believe our conversion rates lately. It’s like 85% of our site visitors are signing up. EVERY day. We are KINGS of user engagement!

Disruptive
/disˈrəptiv/ adjective

The creation of a new, innovative market that disrupts an existing one. If it ain’t broke, be picky and fix it anyway.
Cell phones are the OG disruptive innovation. People used to have only landlines . . . and those are pretty much obsolete these days.

Badges send a strong signal that whatever tool you're using has been gamified.

Badges send a strong signal that whatever tool you’re using has been gamified.

Gamification
/geim ih fih kei shun/ verb

The integration of virtual reality gaming concepts into activities IRL (in real life) by which participants earn points, badges, bonuses, and other incentives. Boosts engagement.
If it weren’t for gamification, I would have never had the chance to be the mayor of anything.

Growth Hacker
/grōTH hakər/ noun

Marketer + Coder + Engineer; someone who brings viral results rather quickly. Although many argue that this is a new field that’s unique to startups, others argue that growth hacking is merely marketing strategy wearing new media’s clothing. Whichever side of the debate you agree with, there’s no denying that “growth hacking” is the buzzword of the moment.
If I hear the term ‘growth hacker’ one more time today . . .


Hack
/hak/ noun

Someone who claims competency in an area; but in terms of results, they’re obviously not. Don’t be fooled by fools!
You call yourself a growth hacker? You don’t even know what it means, you hack!

Onboard
/on-bohrd/ verb

Reaching out to newly acquired customers to extend gratitude for their business whilst teaching them something useful about the product. Who doesn’t want to feel noticed,appreciated AND capable of using whatever they just purchased?
I recently signed up for this new referral targeting product and they onboarded me the same day with a walk-through of the product. It was awesome!

Eric Reiss purportedly coined the term "pivot" whilst watching this episode of Friends. (Image: NBC)

Eric Reiss purportedly coined the term “pivot” whilst watching this episode of Friends. (Image: NBC)

Pivot
/ˈpivət/ verb

When a seemingly brilliant startup realizes something’s just not right. Instead of abandoning ship, the solution is to pivot; or tailor the startup to a market that’s more available by turning a little to the left. . .a little to the right, or all the way to something totally different.
Crap, our original idea isn’t working out, in the words of Ross Gellar, we need to ‘PIVOT.’ Ever forward!

SEO
/ess ee oh/ noun

Short form of “search engine optimization,” meaning doing whatever it takes to keep your results in the top of the returned results from a search engine query. It’s an important factor in driving free traffic to your website. Point being the analogue to the tree falls in the forest thought experiment. If you’re not in the first 3 results of a Google search, do you really exist? Nope, you don’t.
If you want to be noticed, you’ve got to be top three on the Search Engine Results Page. If you want to be top three, you better have a good SEO plan.

Scalability
/skāl əˈbilitē/ noun

A system or product’s capability to handle growth (especially viral growth) in a timely and appropriate manner.
We need to create scalability within the business if we are going to grow 200% in the next six months. 

According to Drew Conway, data scientists have competencies in hacking, maths, and data. (Image: Drew Conway, with our notation at center)

(Image: Drew Conway, with our notation at center)

Unicorn
/ˈyo͞onəˌkôrn/ noun

A very rare talented person with several rare skills who’s almost mythically hard to find. See also: growth hacker.
We hired this new guy at work who can do LITERALLY everything. Design, Code, Sell. EVERYTHING. He’s a ruffing Unicorn. 

Usability
/yoo-zuh-bill-it-ee/ noun

Just like it sounds . . . how likeable, functional, and enjoyable (i.e., usable) a company’s product is.
The usability of your app has gotten so much better since you ditched that diagonal scroll bar thingy.

User Test
/ˈyo͞ozər test/ noun

When a startup tests its UX (user experience–even I knew that one) by having users test the system or product; gives the startup a chance to work out any bugs before the official launch and/or make sure people are actually somewhat interested in the offering before a lot of money gets spent.
We’ve got to stop iterating on the basis of our hunches. Let’s see what people actually do with our tool–I’ll set up some user tests for next week.

Viral
/ˈvīrəl/ adjective

Growth at an exponential rate. Marketing analogue of the spread of a virulent disease (see the  SIR model  describing susceptibility, infection, and recovery). We all have hopes that our content will be as viral as the flu, with the exception being that we’re banking on zero recovery once people are infected by our offering.
I promise, this content is going to be more viral than that video of a panda sneezing!

Work-Around
/wərk əˈround/ noun

A technique used to side-step problems in programming, functionality, or design in order to continue moving forward.
Awesome! I just figured out a workaround for posting Instagram pictures on Twitter. TAKE THAT new terms of service!

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