Enterprise startup companies have often played major roles as hotbeds of technological innovation. Agile and focused, the startup acts as David to large-scale tech giants representing Goliath and can break new ground by introducing innovative concepts which become technological standards across the industry. Startups can be disruptive across numerous functions and categories, whether cloud, retail, security, service, consumer shopping, or any other field where traditional processes can be challenged. In many cases they have supplanted existing vendors with dynamic solutions.
Some famous examples of startups which pioneered new ways of doing business are Amazon, started 20 years ago by Jeff Bezos in his Washington State garage, which arguably kicked off the online shopping phenomenon. HP was started by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard in another garage in Palo Alto, CA 75 years ago. And Apple, of course, can be described as the quintessential startup, founded by a couple of twenty-somethings named Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
Not all startups become world-renowned rock stars; some lesser-known examples (which are nevertheless multi-billion dollar companies now) are Airbnb, which facilitates travel and accommodations, and Xiaomi, an electronics company. For every famous startup there may well be hundreds more which receive less press and acclaim but yet still thrive in the background.
Startups succeed by finding a niche and doing it well. Unlike companies such as Microsoft and Google, which seek to be many things to many people, startups begin with one key element (which often expands as they build momentum; Google was a startup itself in 1998).
This is not to say that great ideas only appear in small places, of course. However, there is a special blend of risk-taking in a startup, where capital often consists of people's personal savings, workers may put in twice as many hours as that of a normal company, and employment may be uncertain next year, next month or even next week. The drive and determination these companies exhibit show what's on the line in their "make it or break it world." Often their interpersonal culture is a contributing factor to success.
Naturally, it's not all wine and roses for many startups - the grave of technology is littered with many bellyflops which crashed and burned such as Pets.com and eToys, neither of which could survive even after injections of over $100 million dollars. It's clear the right element of leadership, drive, talent and luck, and not just funding (though no startup survives without it) is essential to determine who sinks or who swims.
What are the most important tech startups to watch today? It depends upon who you ask; consumers, business leaders, and technologists can all play a role in determining who will be in the spotlight... or headed for the exits. More importantly, where are they swinging market share aware from existing enterprise software players?
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Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.