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A guide to startup jargon

Entrepreneurial jargon is common in the start-up world and knowing the lingo will impress co-working colleagues and make a big difference when pitching to investors.

Using buzzwords is a valuable skill for founders looking to get ahead.

However, it’s important to remember that while using the right language can help you connect with your audience – buzzwords will never hide a bad idea or an undercooked pitch.

Here are some key terms that founders should know when trying to get ahead.

Knowing the lingo is crucial in any new business venture. Picture: Getty

Growth hacking

The process of a startup intensely focusing on ways to grow a business fast.

Growth hackers often experiment in marketing, product development and sales, using untraditional and untested methods.

Their core principles are often lead generation or customer acquisition and they tend to be heavily reliant on social media and targeted advertising.


Emerging in 2010 gamification is when a startup adds game elements to its app to encourage purchases, engagement and customer loyalty.

This strategy is not suitable for every business, but companies who make their apps fun with games on average report better customer retention and bigger profits.

Seed money

A small investment made early on to help a startup before they are generating money.

Usually the funds only amount to tens of thousands of dollars and are made in exchange for equity.

Mostly, this type of investment comes from family, friends or crowdfunding and essentially helps setup the company to a stage where it can be pitched to bigger investors.


A startup company valued at more than US$1 billion.

They are named after the mythical creature because of their rarity.

In Australia well-known unicorns include software company Atlassian and Canva, a graphic design app.

Canva founders

Canva now has over five million monthly active users. Picture: SmartCompany


This is a work style where when companies operate from a shared space rather than a private premise.

Co-working can range from leasing; a desk in an office with other organisations, hiring out boardrooms short term, or taking out section of an office for larger companies.

There are also new industries embracing co-working with creative photography rooms, warehouses, beauty salons and yoga studios increasingly on offer.


When you are founding and building a company on your own finances you are bootstrapping.

By not seeking external help you get to maintain control over the decisions, but it can leave you with limited funds and all the risk.

Scaling up

Essentially scaling up is growth, however, beware as there is a small difference.

To scale up means your business is growing rapidly, but demand can be met using the resources available without further investment.

Burn rate

This is how much money you are spending to get to the point where you generate cash flow.

It is often calculated using your monthly spend, including overheads, and is essentially how long you have to reach your goal before you burn through all your funds.

Churn rate

This refers to how quickly your customers drop off after initially signing up for a service or product.

Start-ups need to acquire new customers to grow, but if the cost of getting a customer can be costly, so you also need to keep them for repeat business.

If your churn rate is high you need to figure out why and fix it fast.


This is how your great idea makes money.

It is one of the most important aspects for startups, as for many businesses their revenue stream may not come from the actual product or service they offer.

A good example is Facebook, which offers people social media for free, but it makes money through advertising and data collection.


This is an old-school business term, meaning a shift in your approach when things aren’t working or could be done better.

Usually a company pivots to obtain more potential profit or improve a core area of the business.

Pitch deck

This is a short presentation put together by a company when seeking finance from investors.

Powerful pitch decks need to be informative, concise and easy to act on.

This is how companies such as Uber and Airbnb gained funding when starting out.

Woman working on laptop

A good pitch deck is essential for any start-up. Picture: Unsplash

Exit Strategy

This is another common business term, but when it comes to startups it refers to how a founder intends to sell their organisation to a bigger company for a profit.

It is often a key point of interest for financial backers, as they want to know when and how they are likely to get a return on their investment.


An organisation set up to select startups or founders and offer them an intensive range of education, mentorship, investment connections and sometimes financing.

Accelerators are designed to encourage rapid growth, ie acceleration.

There is often a competitive application process for top accelerator programs and in many cases the organisation asks for equity in return.

Accelerators are different to incubators, which offer similar benefits but are primarily government funded or not-for-profit.

The way you use language is important and the key rule is to speak the lingo of the people you are trying to reach.

But, remember you don’t need to use big words to show you are smart and if you use them too much or in the wrong context it could leave you looking the fool.

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