Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s alone.
What’s the real difference between a startup and a small business?
There’s been a lot of people talking about this since the term “startup” first joined our vernacular during the dot-com bubble. I think it’s because our brains are wired to categorize everything — so knowing what compartments to put “startup” and “small business” into ends up seeming really important.
While I’m not going to tell you I’ve read every article on the subject, many strike the same cord. Startups are all about the growth and scalability of a venture. Small businesses are all about the lifestyle goals of the owner. Steve Blank — founder of E.piphany, Zilog, MIPS Computers and more — also has a really good answer to this question.
Is there value in me writing yet another article extolling the difference? No. Blank is smarter than me. And frankly, why does the difference matter?
Let’s imagine an entrepreneur sitting at a bar, spinning on some big idea. Suddenly between sips, inspiration strikes and she grabs her phone.
What do you think she begins searching for? Is she typing “startup versus small business” into Google, consumed by the torrent of results and the label for what her idea will become?
“I’m just sure I want to be a startup,” she says.
Does this happen? Hell no.
Startup versus small business
The difference seems dangerously biased. In today’s world, it feels like the word “startup” has been twisted into a new meaning, reserved solely for high-growth tech products aspiring to become the next Uber of all Ubers. And the term “small business” feels not so Uber, right? It’s the name subjected to mom and pop stores and beauty shops. It’s like a hipster versus. anti-hipster convention with the divide growing between plaid and plain.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve probably witnessed this. You’re at an event and someone asks you what you do. You feel the entrepreneurial measuring stick coming out, instantly sizing up your startup-edness. Somehow you feel “less” with no Series A financing, no exit strategy and no new, disruptive tech platform in tow.
Is such logic diminishing the entrepreneurial journey one takes to create a business? We don’t need more differences between startups and small businesses.
While we may exit differently, we all start the same — as entrepreneurs. It’s the starting point that matters most. It’s the two questions we as entrepreneurs ask regardless of the form entrepreneurship takes. What problem am I solving? How do I scale myself?
I know many startup founders. I know many small business owners. And I know both are asking these questions as entrepreneurs.
Startup versus small business — who cares about the differences? Our choice is not building a startup or small business. Our choice is whether to be an entrepreneur or not.
Jon Kohrs is chief innovation officer for Damascus Edge and founder of Fresh Eggs. He works in user experience design in public policy and infrastructure sectors. Once a band geek, twice a father and forever a Wildcat, Kohrs was farm-raised in rural Kansas and is now rooted in Kansas City.