Thought Leadership

The 100 Year Old Startup

By Colin Walls

When was the word “startup” [or maybe “start-up”] coined as a term that describes a company at the initial stage of formation? I have done a bit of research, but not arrived at any firm conclusions. Personally, I do not think it was widely used before 1990.

I guess we all have an idea of what a startup is, but its meaning does seem to be a little fluid …

From time to time I have considered the idea of starting my own company. The idea of creating something new is attractive. On one occasion I came very close to actually doing it, but I was nervous about my cash flow projections and did not proceed. This turned out to be a good things because, as it turned out, I would probably have gone out of business inside a year as a result of a financial downturn. Mostly, I rather like the comfort and security, such as it is, of a salary coming in each month.

The alternative was to join a startup, which is what I did in 1986. The company was Microtec Research, which had about two dozen employees, almost all in California. I was the #3 employee outside of the US. Although the company was about a decade old, it had a strong startup culture – mostly pragmatic and careful with money. An IPO took place in the early 1990s – somehow this did not result in a windfall for me. I was not really very clued up on stock options and things like that. In due course, we were acquired by Mentor Graphics, which is how I have ended up where I am now. A 5000 person, billion dollar, multi-national company is a long way from a startup!

I have written about Evernote before – I am a big enthusiast for their products and evangelize at the slightest opportunity, but I will refrain for the moment. Evernote are a Silicon Valley startup [assuming Redwood City might be considered to be part of Silicon Valley?]. They seem to have some interesting ideas about how to build and run a company. They talk about the concept of the 100 year old startup. Broadly the idea is to build a company that can be sustained as a viable business, with a startup mentality, but not aim to be acquired after a few years. They feel that maybe this company culture can be maintained indefinitely. I will not be here in 95 years to see whether they have succeeded, but I will be interested to watch their progress over the next few years anyway.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at