Tag Archives: startups

Defining the Future

The No-Bullshit Startup Dictionary: A

I have an admission for you. I’m addicted to startup buzzwords.

Seriously addicted. Somebody once told me that I sounded like a corporate lorem ipsum generator. I wasn’t even surprised.

I don’t mean to do it—it’s just that startup buzzwords are so comfortable. Their familiar confines help mark me as being part of a very exclusive set of knowledge holders. They elevate me and put others down. They include those I want to talk with, and exclude those I don’t. A small part of me hates what I just said. A large part of me does it anyways.

To atone for my sins, I’ve decided to create a startup dictionary. No bullshit: a simple definition of the term, and an example. Next time you have to listen to me or anybody else who talks in buzzwords, you’ll at least be able to understand what we are talking about: and you should be part of the conversation.

If there’s anything I’m missing, please comment below.

Download / By James Tarbotton

Startup Dictionary with code(love)

Let’s start from the beginning:

The No-Bullshit Startup Dictionary: A

Tweet: The No-Bullshit Startup Dictionary by @Rogerh1991 #startups #tech http://ctt.ec/4JR4w+

A/B Split Test: A random experiment where you test two variants of something against each other and see the results. Most often used to test variant A of a webpage and variant B to see which performs best, and gets more views and clicks. Example: See this case study by Optimizely.

Acquihire: When a larger company buys a smaller company just to acquire the people behind the smaller company. Example: Facebook’s acquisition of essentially failed New York startups, Hot Potato and Drop.io for their employees.

Agile: Agile refers to agile software development. This means that instead of spending many years developing a web platform, many startups now release web platforms in a short time, then use live customer feedback to develop successive improvements on the first version.  Example: See this test first, develop later mentality in action.

AirBnB: A web platform that allows you to rent out somebody’s guest room for a night or two, and to loan out your spare space as well. Typically seen in explanations like “My company is the AirBnB for 3D Printing”. Example: Check out their website.

Alibaba: A web platform that is used as a trading platform for wholesalers around the world. Most often brought up because they are about to go public and raise lots of money. Example: Check out their website.

Ajax: Ajax is a set of techniques that allow a webpage to reload data from the server without you having to reload the page itself. Example: Gmail was one of the pioneers of this.

Angel: An angel investor is often one of the very first people to provide funding for a startup in return for shares in your startup. Example: Paul Buchheit is the creator of Gmail, and has active angel investments in about 40 startups.

AngelList: A web platform where angel investors connect with startup founders. Example: Check it out here.

Annual Recurring Revenue: Typically applied because a lot of startups work on a monthly subscription basis, annual recurring revenue is a prediction of how much revenue is locked in with subscribers that will pay every year. Example: How Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, views Annual Recurring Revenue for his subscription based business.

API: An application programming interface is a set of standards for how software should communicate with one another. Web APIs allow for the easy transfer of data from one platform to another. Example: Twitter’s API allows you to search through tweets.

Asynchronous I/O: A form of input/output in technology that allows for many processes to happen at the same time, rather than going through one process at a time. Can often allow webpages to load faster. Example: The modern web software platform Node.JS built on Javascript is based on this technology and concept, allowing for real-time applications to get new data without reloading.

AWS: Amazon Web Services is a popular hosting solution for many startups. They host their websites on servers owned by AWS, which charges a fee for the service. Example: Check out their website.

Watch out for the rest of the series covering the rest of the alphabet—join our mailing list!

Longform Reflections

How Startups Can Truly Change The World

In the Amazonian forests, wildlife presenter Charlie Hamilton Jones was looking to make a statement. He went and bought a patch of Amazonian wildlife, looking to protect it for generations. Instead, he wound up buying a cocaine plantation. The most dangerous one in the area, owned by the “most dangerous family”.

When he went to confront the drug dealers, he was in for a surprise. Far from being gun-toting murderers, they were desperately powerless. Charlie had always demonized those who had spoiled his precious forests: now he saw that they were merely doing what they had to do to survive.

They implored him to “pay them so they wouldn’t do it”.

The story of the 20th century has been the elevation of private incentives to a quasi-religion. Capitalism won the battle of isms, and reigns supreme to this day. Credited with lifting billions out of poverty, the march of private capital seemed to be a matter of destiny.

Now that the story has flipped to the next chapter, we can clearly see that there are numerous issues with rising private incentives above social needs. From climate change to political and economic chaos, the world seems to lurch from crisis to crisis, with no end in sight.

There is a sense that many systems are broken, and that there needs to be change. But where does it begin?

What can be done starts with the digital communities building the future. These startups have achieved such an impact that even in the material economy of the past, they are worth billions of dollars. They can, and should be a force for change.

Change with code(love)

Change with code(love)


What does it take for startups to change rather than adapt to society? 

Tweet: What it takes for startups to change rather than adapt to society by @Rogerh1991 http://ctt.ec/ITWA0+ #startup #tech

1-Define new metrics.

GDP rewards everything from traffic jams to oil spills. It is the crudest way to account for innovation: it only captures the benefits that can be captured privately from social good.

This leads to entire companies shutting off access to social goods in order to reap private benefit: LinkedIn has built an entire empire on restricting valuable information away from those that need it, for example.

Sales or users are the easiest way to measure growth, but for forward-thinking startups, a measure of social impact should be implemented as a key performance indicator: from the number of people who are able to learn something new on an edtech platform, to the number of trees saved on a communications platform.

Socially-oriented investors like the Omidyar Network and the non-profit arm of Y Combinator will notice. Ultimately, social value will spread as a key metric not only for intrinsic reasons, but for extrinsic ones as well.

Society grows great with code(love) from Reddit

Society grows great with code(love) from Reddit

Technology that helps empower and enable others is immensely powerful, for all of the right reasons. Communities that grow from that technology can generate advances so powerful that huge amounts of money will flow regardless: we saw this with Linux spawning the $10 billion+ Red Hat corporation.

2-Think long-term.

Startups can’t just think of short-term growth curves. In order to create a sustainable society, startups must think of the long-term future.

Instead of just focusing on short-term profit, Salman Khan of Khan Academy has put himself on record as to saying that the profit motive actually harms his mission of creating sustainable long-term value.

Salman Khan of Khan Academy with code(love)

This is why Khan Academy has been created with a non-for-profit model: in order to create the social value it needs to, unhindered by shareholders constantly demanding the company sacrifice itself to get some numbers now.

The great startups of the future will be able to pursue their social goals without much thought to private goals.

They will build for centuries rather than building for fiscal years.

3-Strive to change behavior—not adapt to it

Respected venture capitalist Chris Dixon has argued persuasively that the best startup ideas are not the freshest ones: they are the old ideas left around that were pursued with ambition by new startups that looked to control all facets of the value chain.

From Uber, to Tesla, to Warby Parker, these startups embedded their digital culture into every facet of the value chain. They challenged entrenched traditional incumbents head-on by fundamentally changing user behavior patterns.

People who use Uber or AirBnB would find it difficult to come back to the traditional way of hailing a cab, or taking a hotel out.  That is because these full-stack startups chose to change their user’s behavior rather than adapt to it.

Uber with code(love)

Uber with code(love)


Rather than creating an application to make it easier to book a hotel, AirBnB redefined the hospitality industry by making it a part of the sharing economy. It allowed you and I to rent out each other’s unoccupied guest rooms, and to be hosted by those with extra space from city-to-city, creating game-changing disruption of user behavior.

AirBnB is now worth $10 billion.

Digital startups that strive to control all facets of the value chain achieve material success. They are at the forefront of changing the way humans interact with one another, and changing the world around them.

4-Embrace open data and open source

I gave a talk once on the importance of adopting software principles to a capital-intensive biotechnology industry. Because of the rules of the new knowledge economy, the largest cost for companies expanding are the minds of skilled builders.

One of the cardinal rules of software engineering is “DRY”—don’t repeat yourself. Taken on an aggregate level, this means that if somebody has built it already, you shouldn’t build it again.

Embrace open source with code(love)

Embrace open source with code(love)

The lean philosophy that forms the basis of the modern startup demands it. Lean means not to waste—and developing something in a proprietary silo when others are doing the same thing is waste.

When your most expensive cost is that of bright minds, you cannot afford to waste them working on solutions that have already been built.

The data-driven side of startups demands the best data available. Embracing open data sources ensures that everybody can get the data they need to inform the choices they must make.

Startups looking to change the world should embrace open source and open data as powerful leverage points in their David v. Goliath sagas, following Elon Musk’s example. In doing so, they build the health of the open movement, and reinforce sharing as the default of the digital economy.

5-Nurture a culture of building

Brian Chesky, AirBnB’s founder, made a really good observation on the importance of culture: it cuts out the need for corporate process if everybody on the team has a sense of what exactly they need to do. Instead of being high-touch, and micro-managed, a team with a good culture would automatically organize themselves to deliver the expected results.

Process is a proxy for making sure your people are aligned. If, however, you build a culture of building, you won’t need as much process, and your brightest minds will be free to solve every problem they see. If all of them are aligned with long-term thinking, social impact, ambition to change behavior, and open principles, there is no need for you to manage a team to create positive private and social impact: all you have to do is provide the end vision.

I heard of some of the guys behind Google Ventures talk about what propelled Google’s success: allowing bright young minds the latitude to fuck up without worrying about it too much. The culture was set to help these young kids experiment and grow, infusing Google with a set of new ideas day-by-day, and the room to see where those ideas went.

Nurturing a culture where tinkering with good ideas to watch them become great projects is the norm—this can only help a startup grow stronger. It will change the way it perceives itself—and more importantly how the startup shapes others.

How AirBnB was built by Anna Vital with code(love)

How AirBnB was built by Anna Vital with code(love)


The challenges that surround society seem numerous, sometimes too many to surmount. We shouldn’t despair. Locked within each startup is the potential to truly change the world.for the better.

By defining new metrics, thinking long-term, striving to change user behavior, embracing openess, and building a culture around these values, startups will be the change they want to see in the world.

Defining the Future

Seven things billion-dollar startups do

Here are some ingredients for billion-dollar startups I’ve isolated.

If this inspires you to build, join our mailing list. 


1) Make one button do something magical for the consumer. (Uber)

Uber with code(love) from Uber blog

Uber with code(love) from Uber blog

2) Make technologies enterprise-friendly (Red Hat)

Red Hat with code(love) from linuxjournal.com

Red Hat with code(love) from linuxjournal.com

3) Create a well-balanced marketplace (AirBNB)

AirBnB growth curve from AirBnB with code(love)

AirBnB growth curve from AirBnB with code(love)

4) Aggregate information across several networks (Hootsuite)

Hootsuite with code(love)

Hootsuite with code(love)

5) Create a software solution to a very specific enterprise pain point, helping automate the process (Zendesk)

Zendesk with Arcaris

Zendesk with Arcaris

6) Empower individual consumers to do something magical with a great interface (WordPress)

Wordpress with code(love)

WordPress with code(love)

7) Facilitate a lucrative yet “unsexy” industry (Alibaba)

Alibaba with code(love) from Alibaba

Alibaba with code(love) from Alibaba

Longform Reflections

Building Gender Inclusiveness into Startups

If there was a Godwin’s law for technology, it would go something like this: go to a startup event. Hear or be the person pitching a dating application. Stop—you’ve lost.

Entrepreneurs are trained to solve real pain points—their own, especially. The truth of the matter is that when you’re with a bunch of single, young men, this is one of the first problems they will encounter: the lack of single, young women. The solution that comes to mind? Yet another application. If it can solve the broken hospitality, and taxi industries, surely it can solve the lack of gender inclusiveness in the startup scene.

The Internet is being shaped by males to be comfortable for other males. For those of us fighting for an open, and inclusive web, this is something that should change, and it’ll certainly take more than a new application.

Only about 5 to 10 percent of the venture capital devoted to early-stage ventures goes to females. This isn’t through blind luck, or through lack of trying. A double-blind study delivered the exact same startup pitch with both a male and female voice, and found that the pitch delivered by the male voice was preferred 68% of the time by investors, with no change other than the voice delivering the words.

Three out of ten entrepreneurs starting their own business are female. It gets even worse in Silicon Valley, where only one out of ten people starting technology startups are women.

Part of this has to do with factors external to the community itself. The ratio of women studying in computer science, one of the most valuable traits to have in a technology startup, has decreased from 37% of degree holders in 1985 to 14% in 2010. This is a societal issue, and there are no silver bullets.

Nevertheless, there is a feedback loop that links the startups that hire computer science majors with those who choose to major in the field. Women can and should feel comfortable working with technology, and carving out space in the Internet.

Building Gender Inclusiveness into Startups with code(love)

Building Gender Inclusiveness into Startups with code(love)

They should because women are very successful with technology. While there is selection bias (to be a female founder in Silicon Valley is to be an extraordinary person), the fact that women-led technology companies have achieved 35 percent higher return, and bring in 12 percent more revenue when venture-backed, all while running their companies on two-thirds of the funds allocated to their male counterparts—all of this adds up to data that can only seek to encourage the inclusion of women in the startup world because it makes economic sense to do so.

It also makes intuitive sense. Successful communities are built on being open, and diverse. Everybody suffers when a perspective that could enhance the community goes under-represented or ignored.

The goal of technologists should be to build their technologies to be open and accessible to all: how can that goal be achieved when the community it is built with doesn’t reflect those values?

This isn’t just an existential problem for the startup community, it is one for society at large. With median real wages constantly decreasing, and investment in startups constantly increasing, the reality is that those who are able to run their own business will be the ones who thrive in this new digital age.

All of the work achieving gender inclusiveness in the material economy of the past may fall by the wayside in the digital economy of the future.

There are ways to reduce this risk. Here are some:

1-Build an inclusive community

Easily said, hardly done: thus the crucible of the problem.

Etsy is a uniquely female-led internet community, an enclave for a group of mostly women selling to a group of other women. The problem Etsy faced is that the engineers responsible for fleshing out this community was, like most startups, dominated by males.

It was only by switching  from poaching male senior engineers to training female junior engineers, that Etsy was able to change its internal culture. Etsy encouraged women to join its’ ranks, and created a sense of belonging for female engineers. In doing so, the company was able to attract high-level engineering talent, both male and female, who were inspired by the initiative.

There are no silver bullets, but change only comes when people move towards it.

Building an Inclusive Tech Community with code(love)

Building an Inclusive Tech Community with code(love)

2-Highlight the leaders that emerge

The role of female leaders that emerge from an inclusive community cannot be understated in a world where storytelling wields immense power. Sheryl Sandberg is able to inspire a generation of women to consider technology, and future leaders that step into her shoes will have a powerful narrative for which they will be contributors: the narrative that anybody that deserves to be a leader can become a leader in Silicon Valley.

The next generation will need leaders to look up to in the future, and it is up to technologists in the present to ensure that those leaders have the right platforms to tell their stories.

Highlight leaders in technology with code(love)

Highlight leaders in technology with code(love)

3-Reach out to the next generation

The next generation will need more than female leaders in technology. Technology needs to be relevant and cool for girls for there to be significant change going forward. Stressing how technology is a means to an end can help immensely: the applications of code in fields ranging as far as fashion to film-making can help girls realize that code is interweaved with every aspect of their lives.

Initiatives like Girls Learning Code and the Chic Geek which seek to educate girls about how they can build the future will help immensely. We need them to succeed, and for there to be further initiatives in order to break the loop that prevents women from entering technology because they don’t feel like they belong in the field.

Reaching out to the Next Generation with code(love)

Reaching out to the Next Generation with code(love)

A startup is built upon a viewpoint that is different: that it alone can succeed where so many others have failed. This is the birth of innovation: the belief that we must think differently to build differently. Silicon Valley was built on thinking differently—it was built on the premise that it doesn’t matter who you are—what matters is what you do.

In order to fully live out that promise, technologists should strive to include as many people as possible and judge them on the fruits of their labour. They should embrace inclusiveness as a key value, and see to it that they mean what they say. Change only comes when people move towards it.  It can start with women, but it will never end. There is no end to the iteration of the products the Valley builds: why should there be any when it comes to its community of builders?



Thanks to Kylie Toh of the Chic Geek for giving suggestions, reading this over, and providing pictures from Ladies Learning Code, and Girls Learning Code

Research Sources

VC money tilting towards males: http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/03/22/292467848/need-money-for-your-startup-being-an-attractive-male-may-help

1 in 10 of those starting businesses in the Valley are women. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/232090

Decline in women holding CS degrees: http://www.ncwit.org/sites/default/files/legacy/pdf/BytheNumbers09.pdf

How women-led startups have impressive economic metrics: http://www.eweek.com/it-management/google-encouraging-more-women-led-startups.html

How real wages are declining: http://www.businessinsider.com/real-wages-decline-literally-no-one-notices-2013-6

How Etsy Attracted 500% more female engineers: http://www.fastcolabs.com/3005681/how-hack-broken-gender-dynamics-workplace

For more:

Check out http://geekfeminism.org/

Julie Ann Horvath’s departure from Github

Julie Pagano’s blog

Shanley’s post on how to work towards solving systematic sexism