Imagine you’re in an elevator, the doors glide closed and you’ve got 60 seconds to impress.

In the world of startups, your pitch might just hinge on a few well-chosen words—a linguistic dance of startup buzzwords.

This isn’t about slinging jargon to sound fancy; it’s about compressing complex ideas into nuggets of pure, communicative gold.

In the bustling startup ecosystem, a lexicon has evolved; words like pivotscale-up, and disruptive technology are more than just fancy talk—they’re the currency of ideas and innovation.

As a business owner, why should you care? Master these terms, and you unlock a new level of industry insight—because knowing the language is synonymous with wielding power.

By the end of this read, you’ll not only decode the hype; you’ll be throwing down terms like venture capital and growth hacking with ease, armed with an understanding that could sway your next big meeting or secure that crucial funding.

We’re not just dropping names like Y Combinator or Silicon Valley for clout; we’ll dissect these buzzwords, and by doing so, dissect the beating heart of the startup world.

Ready to talk the talk? Let’s dive in.


A photo from the Y Combinator accelerator

An accelerator promotes the growth of a startup. Entrepreneurs employ these programs to scale their companies as fast as possible. They usually last from 3 months to one year.

Btw, we have an article with UK accelerators and incubators. You might want to check it out if you’re from Europe.

Agile as a startup buzzword

In business parlance, being agile means responding to fluctuations in market demand immediately.

In software development, agile management means focusing on slow steady steps instead of going for big launches. This gives a company the opportunity to gain customer feedback and use it to improve the product continuously.

Angel Investment/angel investors

Angel investors grant early-stage startup funds in exchange for a stake in the company. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is a famous angel investor who invested in both Google and Uber.

Bleeding edge

When a company is on the bleeding edge, it means it is making ground in new technology or approach.


Bootstrapping is a form of reinvestment. When a company makes a profit, the leader uses the money to develop it further. This gives their business financial independence.

Without having to rely on other investors, a founder gets to keep full control of their company.

Bridge loan

This is a short-term loan a startup can take. It generally lasts from two weeks to three years. It is synonymous with a swing loan and often helps a company survive till it acquires long-term financing.

Burn Rate

Burn rate refers to how fast a company spends or ‘burns’ its investors’ assets. This always refers to negative cash flow because the company hasn’t become profitable yet.

Burn rate is a great way to keep track of the company’s spending. It’s generally evaluated every month.

Cottage business

Cottages are small, unpresuming buildings. A cottage business is essentially the same.

This type of company operates on a small scale and rarely intends to expand. A good example would be selling homemade goods on Etsy.


Also known as crowdfunding, this method refers to sourcing ideas or funds from a crowd. With the advance of technology came many platforms that make this much easier.

Customer journey

The customer journey encompasses every moment a customer has interacted with a business. It doesn’t mean just buying a product, it can be simply visiting the company’s web page.


A decacorn is any company that passed the 10 billion dollar valuation mark. WhatsApp and Snapchat are some of the most famous decacorns.


A dragon is any startup that managed to raise 1 billion dollars from investors in just one round.

Early adopters

Early adopters are valuable product-tester during the company’s early stages. However, they are not its final target audience.

Equity financing

Equity financing increases the company’s funds. It does so by selling shares to potential shareholders.

These investors then receive dividends or wait for an exit such as an initial public offering or acquisition. This way, they can recover their investment.

Exit Strategy

When the company wishes to leave a certain market sector, it must have a good exit strategy in mind. This will help them achieve their goal without gaining debts or losing shareholder equity. This strategy helps the company seize a market opportunity the moment it arises.

An exit means transferring the ownership of your company to another one while repaying your investors.

First Movers Advantage

This is an advantage of a company that comes up with a certain product first. This helps them find solid footing in the target market. Think of it as a halo effect. Customers look more favorably to those who come first.

Thus, FMA helps the startup build brand recognition and customer loyalty.


True to its name, gamification means including game-like elements in a product or service. This can be anything from milestone rewards to competition with other users.

This marketing technique can motivate consumers to use the product more often.

Growth equity

Growth equity benefits startups that have good growth potential but lack the necessary capital. This form of private equity investment helps such businesses grow further.

Companies must have a functional business plan and positive cash flow to be eligible for this type of investment.


Contrary to accelerators, incubators fund startups during their early stages. These organizations practically babysit the new company for the first couple of months. Sometimes, this arrangement can last for years too.

Of course, it isn’t for free. Incubators get equity in return.

Lean startup

This type of startup has to work with lean resources. In other words, with minimal funds. Every entrepreneur dreams of this kind of opportunity because it helps them avoid debt.

Many software companies are lean startups because they only need hardware and professional programmers to function.

Low-hanging fruit

A low-hanging fruit is one you can reach easily. In the business world, this refers to a product that is ready or almost ready to enter the market. This product must also have strong potential to be monetized.


Of all the startup buzzwords, mobile-first is the most self-explanatory one. It simply means that a product initially focuses on mobile phones rather than computers.

If the product does well on the small screen, the company can adapt it to bigger devices later.


LTV or lifetime value of users tells you how much money you get from your customers.

On the other hand, CAC refers to the cost of acquiring a user.

Logically, your LTV should always be higher than your CAC. If a startup wishes to be successful, it has to keep this ratio stable.

Minimum viable product (MVP)

No, MVP doesn’t stand for the most valuable player. In business jargon, it refers to a minimum viable product.

An MVP is important during a startup’s early stages. This prototype version of a new product must appeal to its early adopters.

As its name implies, it’s the cheapest and least developed product that consumers are willing to buy. Many investors first ask companies to release an MVP before they invest in the business. Their funds then help develop the product further.


OPM or other people’s money refers to financial leverage. It represents borrowed capital which a company can use to grow itself.

Pain Point

Pain points represent the problems customers deal with daily. A startup’s goal is to capitalize on these problems by devising solutions. If the customers like this solution, the startup will start scaling rapidly.

Pitch Deck

In the startup dictionary, a pitch deck is a simplified version of the company’s business plan. Its main purpose is to attract would-be investors. It usually takes the form of a short 10-slide PowerPoint presentation.

To achieve the best results, the pitch should be as brief and on-point as possible.


Pivoting means using the company’s tech and resources for a new purpose. It can also refer to branching out to a new market section or changing the company’s objective.

Ramen Profitable

Owners of ramen profitable companies have enough income to buy ramen dinners. However, they can’t afford to live a more luxurious lifestyle.


Retargeting is a strategy that aims to lure in customers who already interacted with the product via a website. It achieves this by sending banners or e-mails to would-be customers. This can entice them to buy the product.


Runway represents the time the startup has before it depletes all of its financial resources.

Scale up

A company in the scale-up stage makes enough profits to sustain itself. It then focuses on branching out to different geographic locations and market sectors to expand its customer base.

Seed funding

Seed funding is the capital a startup receives during its infant stages. The idea is that this money nurtures it from a seed to a fully grown tree. It usually comes from friends, families, or investors. Startups need this money to gather the tools and resources necessary to manufacture their product.

Stealth mode

Stealth mode means keeping a company’s product or service hidden. This keeps it safe from its rivals.

Term sheet

The term sheet lists the ownership percentage and voting rights of the company’s investors. They get these benefits in return for funding the business.


Traction is the measure of a business’s progress and momentum. It represents the rate at which the company gains value from its users. High traction means the company is doing well.


A unicorn is a company that reaches a 1 billion dollar valuation in just a few years. These companies are compared to unicorns because of how rare they are. Uber and Airbnb are both unicorn companies.


VC stands for venture capital. Venture capitalists invest in a startup with low profitability. However, this is one of the riskiest forms of investment because they have no guarantee the company will succeed.


Vesting means gaining ownership of a present or future payment, benefit, or asset.


A wireframe is a sketch of an app’s or a website’s intended look. It depicts everything from the general layout to specific graphic elements’ location.

What do zombies mean in the startup world?

This is one of our favorite startup buzzwords. Zombies are companies that barely scrape by. They have enough finances to keep going. However, they have large debts and spend all profits on covering these debts. While they can hold them off, they can never pay them back fully.

In short, these are stagnant companies without a future.

FAQ On Startup Buzzwords

What’s the fuss about this “pivot” I keep hearing?

Pivot – it’s like a dance move for startups. When the initial idea isn’t cutting it, they swing to a new strategy without missing a beat.

It’s agile, it’s smart, and it’s about surviving when the game changes.

Can “bootstrapping” actually pull my business up by its bootstraps?

Absolutely. It’s when you grip the reins and fuel your startup with personal finances or revenue, not outside funds.

Think: self-reliant, gritty, and keeping it lean. That’s bootstrapping.

What’s the real lowdown on “disruptive technology”?

Disruptive technology is the rebel that doesn’t just join the party, it flips the tables. It’s innovation that shakes up industries, changes how we live, think, work.

Hello, smartphone revolution.

Is “minimum viable product” just a fancy term for a half-baked product?

Not at all. Your MVP is your product’s essence, stripped down to core features to meet early adopters.

It’s not about cutting corners; it’s about smart, strategic development that listens to feedback and grows.

Everyone talks about “scaling up” – but what does it truly mean?

Scaling up is the art of wisely amplifying your startup’s operations to meet growing demand without crumbling.

Think of it like upgrading from a rowboat to a cruise ship while sailing full steam ahead.

Why do I need to care about “seed funding”?

Seed funding plants the initial financial seed that sprouts your startup.

It’s early-stage financing, critical because it nurtures your business from a delicate sapling to a sturdy tree in the concrete jungle of the market.

What’s an “angel investor” and do I need one?

Angel investors are not celestial beings but might as well be. They’re the benefactors who believe in your startup before it’s cool.

Beyond cash, they often offer guidance, expertise, and a network. An angel might just be your startup’s guardian.

What does “burn rate” mean and should it keep me up at night?

Burn rate’s the speed at which your startup is using cash before generating a positive cash flow. It’s got a rep for causing insomnia because it’s a ticking clock.

Manage it well, and sleep comes easier.

Is a “unicorn” as mythical in the startup world as it is in fairy tales?

In startup speak, a unicorn is rare and magical, indeed. It’s a privately-held startup valued at over $1 billion. Not mythical, but definitely not common.

What’s the “runway,” and no, I don’t mean at the airport?

The runway is how long your startup can keep running before cash dries up. It’s all about the fiscal fuel in the tank.

Too short, and you might not take off. Plan for a long one to reach cruising altitude in business skies.


Weaving through the maze of startup buzzwords feels like deciphering an insider’s code. But now, phrases like scale-upagile development, and venture capital fit into your vocab like well-played chess moves. As the angel investors of knowledge, we sought to demystify the jargon, empowering you to navigate startup convos with finesse.

  • You’ve got your MVP—vital for testing waters without drowning.
  • Understood that bootstrapping is valiant, though not the only route.
  • Discovered disruptive technology isn’t just noise, but a symphony of innovation.

In this rapid-fire startup realm, words pulsate with potential. They’re not just buzz; they’re the buzz saws cutting through the market’s thickets. Delve into them, embrace them, and you just might find yourself not only talking the talk but walking the walk, on the runway to your very own unicorn status. Remember, these terms are more than just catchy—it’s the knowledge behind them that’ll fuel your ascent. Keep climbing; the stratosphere of startups awaits.

If you liked this article with startup buzzwords, I have a few more interesting ones for you. Want to know about the startup mindset or about life working at a startup?

You should also check out these articles about what is considered an early-stage startup, how many shares should a startup have, what a CFO does in a startup, what a COO does in a startup, and what a CTO does in a startup.


I'm the manager behind the Upcut Studio team. I've been involved in content marketing for quite a few years helping startups grow.