It’s easy to define things using dichotomies. Democrats or Republicans. New York or LA. In technology, it’s often startup or big “enterprise” company. When we describe things this way, we miss out on some important nuances. After all, our world is spectral and always changing.
This is especially true in staffing. As recruiters and consultants, we have to realize that our clients are not categories – they are evolving organizations made up of real people and real choices. String those decisions together day after day and you can get to some interesting places. My colleagues work closely with an incredible variety of clients so I decided to put the question to them: what is a startup? If your company grows from three people in a garage to a futuristic campus full of people, is it still a startup?
To help shape the conversation, we used three guides:
- Eric Ries defines a startup as “a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”
- The traditional table or diagram of startup stages based on rounds of funding, milestones, etc.
- The Greiner Curve, which charts the challenges and phases of any company’s growth.
Comparing the Greiner Curve to the commonly accepted stages of growth for a VC funded startup was especially helpful for us as we tried to put the challenges our clients face in perspective. Our group developed a long list of criteria for startups: strategies, people, technology, funding, size, business model, assets, and user base among others. Everyone offered their own definition based on their own experiences placing people ranging from the first technical employee to the next generation of developers after a big round of funding.
When I’m talking to the developers I represent, I frame the conversation around my client’s mission, the methods they are using to achieve that mission, and where this person will fit into that process. Many of the best developers want to work on a team that improves their process with testing, user data, openness, and feedback. In this environment, everything is driven by a strong sense of purpose for the product and the user. People are often surprised when they find out that companies of all sizes and in all industries can have elements of a “startup environment.” From a public radio station to a big printing company, many organizations benefit from an entrepreneurial mindset and startup strategies. If the manager sees the team’s mission in startup terms, the developers on that team will have a startup experience.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to achieve consensus in a discussion like this but asking one question can help us start to answer others: how can we tailor our services to where our clients are now and where they want to be, what unique staffing needs or challenges exist in each stage of growth, where does our own company fall on the chart, and how can we help our candidates make the best career decisions.