12 Days of Startup Buzzwords

The holidays are in full-swing, Christmas music is blasting in department stores, and everyone is spending a little more time with friends and family. Inevitably, you will run into someone you have not seen in a while - a distant relative or someone you went to high school with - and in that moment, you have to share your story with them.“So, what do you do?”, they ask.

As someone working in and around startups, you launch into your thirty second pitch. “I’m working on a startup that is basically Airbnb for dog houses. We’re working on an MVP, using lean methodology, hacking away to try and disrupt this market. Specifically, I’ve been curating all of our content, working on SEO/SEM, and gaining traction with some early adopters.” 


Every industry has them - the words we love to hate and yet, ironically, use way too often - buzzwords. There’s a fine line between understanding their meaning and use, and sounding like you’re trying too hard. Below is my personal list of startup buzzword favorites. Feel free to use them at your own risk (if you can sing it to the tune of 12 Days of Christmas, bonus points).

MVP - Forget “Most Valuable Player”, in tech, MVP stands for “minimum viable product.” The MVP is a strategy that allows for fast and data-driven testing. MVPs are used to validate assumptions that you are making while building a new product.

Pivot - In business, pivoting can be defined as changing the direction of the business based on what the market and your users are telling you. Take Groupon, for example, which started off as a fundraising platform for social campaigns.

Freemium - Think Candy Crush. It’s free, to an extent but it is actually a freemium model. A widely-used pricing strategy, freemium models provide their products or services for free, and money is charged for more advanced versions or updates.

Crushing it / Fired up - Expressions used when someone is doing their job particularly well, or hitting/exceeding all of their goals. For example, “I’m so fired up, our Sales team is crushing it this month!”

Rockstar / Ninja / Unicorn - It is not uncommon to see any of these three words in a job description at a startup. Typically, these words are descriptive and intended to portray that working at a startup is difficult and takes a *very* unique person and skillset.

Lean - A methodology based on the idea of continuous, incremental improvement, the lean movement in tech began with Eric Ries’ book, The Lean Startup, a must-read for any aspiring entrepreneur.

User Experience - As techies like to call it, UX is defined as every aspect of a user’s interaction with a product or service. The quality of experience is defined by the perceived quality of the interaction, typically measured by ease of use.

Curate - Pinterest may be the best example of a tech company that allows people to discover and organize information, acting as content curators. This idea of curation has now been widely used on the web with everything from fashion to media.

Hack - When working in tech, if you are solving a problem, especially if you’re a developer, you are hacking.

Bootstrapped - Starting a company with little or no outside capital (venture or other institutional money) is called bootstrapping. One of the best-known bootstrapping success story is 37signals.

Crowdsource - If two heads are better than one, then a crowd is even more powerful. Crowdsourcing is the process of getting work, money, content, etc. from a large amount of people, via Internet. Wikipedia gave control of their content to everyone across the world.

Disruptive - Every entrepreneur is looking to “disrupt” something, but the true meaning of disruptive innovation is hard to find. Truly disruptive innovations help create new markets and replace old technologies. Remember Blockbuster? Their business of in-store entertainment became obsolete when Netflix began to offer tech-integrated access to video entertainment.

Share your buzzwords in the comments below. Happy holidays!

Kailey Raymond is a proud alum of the very first Startup Institute eight-week program in Boston. She is now the Associate Director at Startup Institute Chicago. Say hello to her on Twitter @kaileyraymond.