Geek speak: The tongue-in-cheek guide to startup talk, from unicorn and elevator pitch to "winter is coming" and "acqui-hiring"

Mike Butcher
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Unicorn, decacorn or uniscorn? (Source: Getty)

With so many tech startup entrepreneurs descending on London for TechCrunch Disrupt Europe, we thought we’d try and familiarise you with how to deal with the geek hordes, as they invade London’s bars and cafes for the week.

With our handy guide, you too can learn to speak like a startup guru. Thus, when someone says "we’re the Uber for gluten-free dog food” you’ll know how to react. Here’s our tongue-in-cheek guide to the startup speak.

Elevator pitch

While not generally performed in an elevator (or, "lift" if you're British) this is the short, 30 second, pitch you might have to emotionally vomit onto a journalist or investor if they witheringly ask you what your company actually does while checking their Facebook feed.


A “startup” which is is still called a startup despite being valued at over a billion dollars. The correct retort is to reply with a mysterious “Ah, but Winter Is Coming…"


A “startup” which is still called a startup despite being valued at over 10 Billion dollars.


The look of disgust somebody gives you when you refer to your startup as a future Unicorn.

My Little Pony

A startup worth only tens of millions.

Winter Is Coming

All Tech Geeks are fans of Game of Thrones (it’s the law), so this is a witty reference both to the show and the fact eventually the tech bubble will have to burst, and no-one will be able to raise any more VC money.


When a bigger company wants to hire the engineers in your company but is happy to toss away your hilariously bad business. Usually your investors agree and are relieved to get out.

Cashflow Positive

Your company actually brought in a couple of quid last week.


When you realise the company is not working and you need another idea to hang on to that investor cash with another wacky idea. E.G. Have-drinks-with-friends app Burbn became Instagram.


Software as a Service. Otherwise known as a really boring web site your boss tells you to use for accounting and which probably makes a tonne of money but no-one knows how (or has ever heard of it).


Venture Capitalist. VCs raise money from rich people and places like your grandma’s pension fund to take stakes in enough startups so that one of them gets sold for billions, thus making up for the crappy losses on the others. See also: Gamblers.

Pre-Money Valuation

The valuation of your company before you raised those millions in Venture Capital, but also a number you basically made up and tell to tech journalists.

Post-Money Valuation

A number that you made up with your VC and tell to tech journalists.

Burn Rate

How much investor money you spend every month to finance overheads while making no revenue. In other words, most of it (see also Runway).


How much time you have left before you run out of an investor’s cash. Long runways are therefore better.


These days nothing short of a Billion Dollar exit is acceptable, thus it’s a “good exit”. A bad exit is: “He only got $250m for it”.

Liquidation preferences

The small print in the contract you signed with your investors that means you ended up with no money after an Exit.

The phrases you'll hear... and what they really mean

“I’m a serial entrepreneur" / A person who had two ideas, both of which failed.

"We need investor-board fit before product-market sync” / We have to fool the investors long enough to actually start making any money.

“I work in Tech PR” / I have several journalists’ email addresses and a hefty expenses bill at the bar.

“We’re doing great” We are not doing great.

“Bootstrapped” / We don’t have any money and no-one will give us any.

“Minimum Viable Product” / We vomited up this weird, broken app and hope some schmuck downloads it.

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