First, I would like to draw your attention to this post (and blog in general):
It's maintained by a guy (I think) who writes anonymously about his experience in the Hi-Tech world. I usually don't fancy anonymous writers, but this is the exception that confirms the rule - by being anonymous he allows himself to be free of any politically-correct barriers, and not being afraid of being sacked by writing what he thinks about his work and employer. The result is well-written, interesting, thoughtful, funny, and still written with style and manners. Give it a try, you'll like it!
Anyway, I'd like to asses the issue of defining a Startup company. Inevitably, I had to check what Wikipedia had to say. The emphasis there is more on the company's age ("limited operating history"), size and potential growth. In general, they are more concerned with the financial aspect of the matter - a Startup company is a company that is highly scalable and can produce huge ROI very fast. They also mention that it usually focuses on creating a product, rather than providing services.
In The Beginner's other post and comments, people related more to the atmosphere at work:
Not Startup (anymore):
"When you have a purchase order system in place that is automated and requires the signatures of half the company (company size is irrelevant here) for a purchase of a paper clip."
"Feeling like a small bolt in a large machine where you can no longer influence anything"
"people covering their asses by adding the whole company on every email they send"
"working your ass for some idiot that has a reserved parking space that is never occupied before 9:30 am or after 5:30 pm, who is earning 5 times your pay and who’s only donation to the company is when he keeps his mouth shut and doesn’t generate any trouble by releasing another stupid decision"
"A small place, good atmosphere, people working all to one goal."
"the added bonuses - a pool table, cool offices, or some other crap"
IMHO, there is no single definition to a Startup company. I've seen companies of 15 that could never be considered a Startup, and worked together with almost 150 other employees for a superb Startup. In every company you have smart people, and those who are smarter, you have "the company ass-hole", and after you've worked for a place enough time - some things start bugging you badly, Startup or not.
So where should the line be drawn?
Well, I think that there are many parameters involved. No Startup fits all of these parameters, and some of the parameters are purposely vague, but in general, a company who complies to most of these parameters, is likely to be, to some degree, a Startup company. Almost sounds like a Fuzzy Logic rule...
So here is my (incomplete) list, in no particular order:
- Size - a Startup company must be small. At least it should feel small to the employees as well as to the outside world. I've worked for a company with almost 150 employees who still felt small, but that's rather uncommon, and very difficult to achieve.
- Age - the company and employees must feel young. It doesn't mean you can't have workers of 50+. If you even have one, young, important and charismatic individual - it could do the job. I've also seen companies where people of 30+ were called "the eldest", and still the company felt old. So don't go firing all your guru's with 20 years of experience now!
- Speed - in a Startup company, things move fast. Decisions are taken on the spot. The word "process" is only used as a running instance of a computer program! The overall mood can switch from one extremity to the other in a few minutes. People walk fast in the corridors. There is action in the air!
- Belonging - people feel they belong to something great. There is a purpose to your work. When someone asks you something, you help him because you want him to succeed, knowing it will help us. You'll delve into his problem until completion, even if you'll have to solve it yourself.
- Believing - employees must know and believe in the company's goals and capability to reach these goals. They must also feel that they are making a difference - they must believe in their ability to impact the company's success.
- Potential - it should be evident that, in all matters (company size, sales, products, ...) - there is much more to be done than that which has been done. There should be a feeling of huge potential. Also, employees should have the feeling that once part of this potential will be achieved, they will be significantly compensated financially (stock options, bonuses, etc.).
(Note: I feel I haven't finished this post - I'll complete this list later on...)