If it quacks like a startup, it is a startup…

Mike Cannon-Brookes asks Is Atlassian still a startup? And when is a startup not a startup anymore? Well, Mike, the answer’s simple. If it still feels like a startup, it’s a startup.


Being part of a startup is about the attitude, not the company size. Successful startups – the ones that take the world by storm, the ones that everyone wishes they could work at – are those where the employees/partners/associates are energised and passionate about their work. The focus is delivering a great product or service, not merely a good one. You can’t do everything, but what you can do, you do with 100% dedication. It’s not a certain recipe for success, but anything else is a near certain recipe for failure.

I’ve worked at three startups now (though never at the really early stages). When they lose this feel, the change was always dramatic and noticeable – it’s not a question you ask, but a realisation that hits you like a punch to the stomach. If you have to ask the question, you’re probably still a startup. 🙂

The most noticeable sign you’re no longer a startup – when you get concerned about defending marketshare rather than how to grow it. The change to a defensive, risk-adverse mindset kills the startup mentality (risk-adverse startups don’t even get off the ground). I’d also say that becoming a publicly listed company kills the startup mindset as well.

Wotif lost the startup feel about 18 months ago, I think. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still a great place to work, with great people – but it’s not a startup anymore, and to be honest the change wasn’t positive. It’s a comparable size to Atlassain in most ways – similar employee & revenue size (126 employees, AU$45.5million in revenue for FY2006), but it’s not a startup anymore. Congratulations on keeping the startup feel, Mike, and keep those world-class products coming.

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Author: Robert Watkins

My name is Robert Watkins. I am a software developer and have been for over 18 years now. I currently work for people, but my opinions here are in no way endorsed by them (which is cool; their opinions aren’t endorsed by me either). My main professional interests are in Java development, using Agile methods, with a historical focus on building web based applications. I’m also a Mac-fan and love my iPhone, which I’m currently learning how to code for. I live and work in Brisbane, Australia, but I grew up in the Northern Territory, and still find Brisbane too cold (after 16 years here). I’m married, with two children and one cat. My politics are socialist in tendency, my religious affiliation is atheist (aka “none of the above”), my attitude is condescending and my moral standing is lying down.

2 thoughts on “If it quacks like a startup, it is a startup…”

  1. Amen to that, Robert. To be fair to Wotif, I don’t think they see themselves as a start up anymore either. They are fairly conservative ASX S&P300 company (funnily enough, one reason I left is that I didn’t see the IT mgmt making the transition as successfully as I would have liked).

    1. Oh, I fully agree that Wotif deliberately tried to “grow up” and out of startup mode, and nothing has changed in that respect in the 20 months since I wrote this particular entry. It’s a valid choice, and probably the better one seeing as we are a publicly listed company and all. But I still preferred the work culture back in the start-up phase. Ah well, that’s life.

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