How do you define a start-up?

August 28, 2013
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Community members at the iHub in one of the idea-sharing sessions.
Community members at the iHub in one of the idea-sharing sessions.

, So what is a start-up? What really constitutes a start-up? Is it the developers? Is it the Technology behind the platform? Is it the idea? Is it the size of the company?

I found myself asking these question after I realized that Kenyans have different perceptions of what a start-up is. First there are those who do not want to associate themselves with that name as they consider it bad in a way or they think it belittle their mighty companies. Then there there are those who think start-up is defined by the cutting edge technology behind the platform. Look at the comments on this post at Hapakenya,com. One guy JoeyOmaita wrote:

“When I hear the word “startup”, I expect a custom-coded site/app with APIs and such. Not a WordPress or Joomla theme as is the case with Ghafla. Anyone could do this with WP. I’m not discrediting them for their efforts but what were they being mentored about?”

A  start-up is generally a new company designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. In other words a start-up is a company in the phase of development and searching for markets. That is generally the more accepted definition but then people have different perceptions as what the start-up is. We always bring up the argument that the users do not care what type of tools, programming language or platform used to build a system as long as it works for them. In reality that is true and as long as the system can solve a given problem, the users will be happy all the time. Nobody cares what type of programming or tools are behind Mpesa as long as they receive or send the money.

The above is all good but in a country where innovation has become a buzz word, it is important to look further than the normal “if it works for users it is fine”. For it to be Innovative, it has to be something more than the usual cut and paste kind of system. I think it has to be something new, something fresh, something extraordinary. The newness, would mean adding something to the world and or doing something pre-existing in a much better way than it has been done before.

If we are to take Ghafla as an example. The Ghafla platform might not be innovative but the concept of what they are doing has redefined the entertainment industry. Many might not like the way they are doing it but they have forced others to change their tactics. Believe it or not they made the likes of the mighty Standard Media to go in that  direction. Now sometime you look at the Standard article and then compare it to a Ghafla article and you wonder which is more sober! Anyway, in my opinion anything that redefines or disrupts an industry will always be innovative and on that respect, Ghafla cannot be dismissed just like that.

Finally, those who think start-up is  a word that they should not be associated with. I hear them and I understand their thinking, but I think they are wrong but that will be a story for another day. Just keep it here.

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