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When is a startup no longer a startup?

 It was during this year’s Movin’ On conference, mid day, under the sun, in a discussion with some Legal Logik and conference participants, that one of our interns asked me a question that would spark a fury of thinking in me. “Jamie, is Legal Logik still a startup?” The question was such that I didn’t know how to answer. I was conflicted. Legal Logik was my brain child, launched as a result of my dissatisfaction with the then current legal model, which I felt was not adequately serving startups, individuals, and the business communities alike. I wanted to create a new vision of law with innovative services and pricing models that made legal information and services accessible to anyone. I wanted so badly to create a law firm that would truly make a difference for entrepreneurs in the province and beyond, helping them turn their ideas into reality. At the beginning, it was me, my big idea, and one intern working out of a small office in St-Laurent. We didn’t have a business plan, mentors, or financing. Just a vision that we tried to make real by bootstrapping it. Legal Logik grew fast. Soon we hired more lawyers, an accounting team, a marketing department, and a group of young interns. Since our inception, we’ve launched our e-commerce boutique, a host of new services, and initiatives like LogikED, our community legal education program. We took Logik TV, our video series, to the airwaves, and opened offices in Quebec and Saguenay with plans for imminent expansion into Ontario and New Brunswick. What started as an idea had worked – People were attracted to our young and dynamic law firm that put the customer first, focused on the experience, and was obsessed with convenience, accessibility, and educating our audience through our style of “lawtertainment.” But now, 5 years later, are we still a startup?

When Is A “Startup” No Longer A “Startup”?

According to Investopedia, a startup: “…is a company that is in the first stage of its operations. These companies are often initially bankrolled by their entrepreneurial founders as they attempt to capitalize on developing a product or service for which they believe there is a demand…” Sure, that’s the technical definition of a startup, and it makes sense that a startup would cease to be a “start-up” once it matured beyond the initial phases of its development. But in the past decade, the word startup has come to mean far more than its dictionary definition. Today, the word startup is embedded with culture, with a mentality, and a vision of what it means to start and grow a company. Startups are creative. They are agile and flexible. They look to the market and look for a gap that has yet to be filled, and they pool their knowledge and resources, often with limited budgets, into creating and commercializing a solution. They are driven by energy, passion, and vision. Startups are risk-takers. The success of any startup is not determined by how many MBAs are on the team or how much funding they could get. The success of a startup is the result of an idea that is too good to doubt, a passion for changing something that is too strong to ignore, and a perseverance that can’t even be slowed by the countless obstacles on every startup’s path. After my mind spun with these thoughts for days, I have my answer. Legal Logik is still a startup. It will always be a startup. And the day it stops being a startup will be the first day of its decline. But for a team like ours, energy-filled legal innovators who do what they do because they love it and believe in it, that day will never come. So what about your company? Are you still a startup? Or has growth slid you into traditional models and robbed you of the “startupness” that was the reason for your initial success?

Why You Should Never Stop Being A Startup

The qualities that have helped so many startups go from zero to hero in short order are qualities that should be nurtured by every company, no matter how young or old. My flurry of thinking led me to define five core qualities of a startup:

1. Paranoid

Startups and their founders are always paranoid about their existence. Startups are constantly seeking to justify their existence in often overcrowded and heavily capitalized markets. They never stop questioning their relevance and never stop innovating their product or service. They never forget how easy it is to be swallowed up by the competition. It’s that paranoia that gives them their edge and helps them stay relevant and exciting.

2. Grateful

The success of a startup is fundamentally based on a unique product or service. Without something truly unique, the company will just be one among many and easily ignored. But there’s more. Startups are unique in the way they think of and treat their clients, perceive and treat their employees, and all other stakeholder for that matter. They don’t just see customers as wallets and staff as cogs in a wheel. They cherish everyone involved and believe in building relationships. The way they relate to and communicate with staff, customers, and investors is unique too. Whether it’s a fun-filled card in the mail, a staff axe-throwing competition, or a customer appreciation event in a private room at a Japanese Izakaya downing sake bombs, startups show recognition. They know people are the cause of their success and without those people, they’re nothing.

3. Fast

Startups cannot exist without being excessively rapid in their execution of the unique product or services they offer in the marketplace. The well-known internet marketer Eben Pagan calls it “speed of implementation”. Without this speed, startups fail to maintain their relevancy and edge in their industry and risk losing market share to their younger, hungrier, and more nimble counterparts.    If you find projects getting bogged down or launches being delayed, make speed of  implementation a team priority. Explore what’s in the way, what needs to be done differently, and what process or system will help the team stay fast.

4. Visionary

Passion seems cliché these days. We see mugs, posters, memes, and even books telling us to be passionate. But passion isn’t a button you just turn on. It’s not a trait you’re born with. Sure, startups are passionate. But passion is the result of vision. Every startup is built upon a vision of what could be. That unique vision is what resonates with team members, drawsinvestors, and attracts hoards of clients and ambassadors. So, yes, startups and their teams are passionate, but that doesn’t mean you should make it your aim to be passionate. Passion is the result of vision. If your vision doesn’t move and inspire, make it your focus, even if it takes months, weeks, or longer. Are your staff getting tattoos of your brand? Some may say this is extremism, but that kind of behaviour speaks to the unwavering loyalty to and belief in a company’s vision. Consider it a good sign.

5. Decentralized

Image goes hereMost startups have done away with hierarchy. Instead, equality imbues their culture. While each person may have a certain position, set of responsibilities, and skills, ideas and feedback from everyone are welcomed and there’s no fear of sharing or iron door-blocking off the boss’s office. To maintain their “feet on the ground” approach to innovation and implementation, a startup must remain decentralized in order to respond in real time to shifts in the market and consumer behaviours. The startups that can’t will end up lagging behind their competitors who can out-think and out-act them due to their agile management approach. For all these reasons, Legal Logik is still a startup and will always be a startup. And you should be too!