Defining exactly what it means to be a startup can be a bit of a challenge. There's no concrete defintion, just as there is no determining factor when a business has grown large enough to shed its startup identity.
We caught up with four growing companies and startup experts to get their thoughts on when a tech startup evolves into a tech company.
Jen Alessandra, senior vice president of human resources
Employees: 2,300 worldwide
What would you define as an Austin "startup"?
- Maintaining a high level of profitability while beginning to drive explosive growth (early in the company’s life cycle from 1999 to 2008)
- Outside investment (2005)
- Going public (2009)
- Going private (2016)
- Product diversity (from one product in 1999 to 30-plus today)
- Number of employees (2,300 worldwide)
- Geographic diversity (from one office in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to a global footprint in 14 countries)
How has your involvement in the Austin tech community evolved as SolarWinds continues to grow?
As the company has grown and hired more employees, there’s been a multiplying effect on how we’re able to invest and participate in the community. SolarWinds is committed to serving Austin and all communities in which the company operates globally. We started the company’s “Geeks that Give” program, which is employee-led and develops SolarWinds’ community-focused activities based on efforts that strengthen local communities in three areas: developing healthy neighbors, healthy minds and healthy spaces. In each city where SolarWinds has a significant presence, the company partners with one to two non-profit organizations to meet community needs. Specific to Austin, SolarWinds has ongoing commitments with Breakthrough Austin, Lifeworks and the Central Texas Food Bank.
Lizette Fleher, director talent acquisition
Employees: 500-plus worldwide
What would you define as an Austin "startup"?
As a company founded here, we feel the Austin startup is defined by a culture that takes its cues from the city — from the way we conduct business to the way we celebrate milestones. Because many tech professionals have come from other hubs like New York and San Francisco, our startup community has the ability to compete nationally and internationally, while retaining a local culture that is unique to Austin.
At RetailMeNot, we’ve incorporated our Austin roots into the way we conduct business, whether it’s rewarding employees with passes to Austin City Limits Music Festival or treating our clients and other out of town guests to some of the best BBQ in the country.
Did you ever consider RetailMeNot as a startup?
RetailMeNot was absolutely a startup grown from just our CEO and founder, Cotter Cunningham, in 2009 to a few employees in a small space on South Congress as WhaleShark Media. We focused on building world-class technology, establishing a vibrant culture, something that is still important today— while expanding on a national and international scale. Today, we have over 500 team members globally. We’re headquartered in Austin and have offices in the UK, France, the Netherlands, the New York City area and Phoenix, AZ.
As we’ve grown, we’ve protected the culture of our startup heritage characterized by things like hackathons, an open seating plan and accessibility of executives.
What have been some of the major growth indicators over time, moving the company away from a typical "startup" definition?
As RetailMeNot transitioned from a startup into a publicly traded company, there are several key things that stand out. Early on, we expanded internationally, and most recently we acquired GiftCard Zen to introduce new content to our audiences.
Our app is recognized as one of the top five shopping apps where consumers across the U.S. begin their shopping journey, and it won the Webby People’s Voice Award for best mobile shopping app. This year we have launched sites in Spain, Italy and Poland. We’ve also added new content in the app with food and dining offerings.
How has your involvement in the Austin tech community evolved as RetailMeNot continues to grow?
RetailMeNot has been a leader in the Austin startup community. Our employees enjoy participating in the annual Startup Games, though we have now moved to the Level Up category for larger companies. We host a summer speaker series with local founders and innovators for our interns, which helps introduce them to Austin as a larger technology hub. Our leadership is involved locally by speaking to the local tech community and hosting and participating in tech meetups throughout the Austin community.
Adam Lyons, CEO
Joshua Baer, founder