Dog food, unicorns and hockey sticks: busting scaleup jargon from Accelerator to Zombie

Orla Browne, September 30, 2019 3 min read

Navigating the tech startup world can be hard, learning a bunch of new skills, and if you’re an early-stage entrepreneur, juggling approx 10 roles at once. You might not anticipate though, the need to also learn a whole new language. 

Tech is notorious for inventing and rebranding business concepts, with snazzy new lingo. While some of it does seem silly or superfluous, it is important to get a handle on the vocab you’ll be hearing at meetups and demo days forevermore. If you’re one of the indoctrinated initiated, remember this stuff’s not everyday vernacular; don’t be that inconsiderate jargonaut. Helpfully either way, our jargon-busting startup glossary catalogues the worst and most frequent offenders.

Explore the scaleup glossary >

Food and fauna

Startup communities seem to be an animal friendly bunch, and weren’t not just talking about the office dog on the website listed as “Chief Happiness Officer”. Just take a look at the unicorns, futurecorns, straw dogs and dogfooding populating the glossary. 


Coined by VC investor Aileen Lee in 2013, a unicorn is a privately-owned tech company valued at over a billion dollars, so called for their mythical rarity. A decacorn is a company valued at $10bn. 🦄

Similarly founders seem unusually food-motivated, with Jeff Bezos’ Two Pizza Rule, Paul Graham’s Ramen Profitable, the dreaded Low Hanging Fruit, and talk of eating someone else’s lunch

Two Pizza Rule
/tuː ˈpiːtsə ruːl/

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s way of limiting meeting size. If there are more people in the room than can be fed by two pizzas, nothing will get done. 🍕


Sector-specific vocab can be necessary, but you sometimes get the impression it’s also either accidentally or deliberately exclusionary. The Ivy League Computer Science dropout founder might think that publishing job descriptions looking for “Software Ninjas” or “Full-stack Rockstars” will make their startup sound cool and exciting, but it’s also been found to be pretty off-putting to anyone who doesn’t also look like a legacy Harvardman.

/ˈnɪndʒə/ /rɒk stɑː/

Annoying words to describe great talent. Often used as job titles or in job descriptions e.g. “Front-end Ninja”. Increasingly being rejected and fazed out as exclusionary and clichéd. 🎸


There can be a fine line between a term offering useful nuance to a concept and being highjacked for euphemistic bs, the cynical might even call some of it doublespeak. We’re looking at you stealth mode, pivot, pre-revenue and wantrepreneur. Still, you’re as likely to hear them in Spinningfields and Shoreditch as Silicon Valley, so they’re worth getting to grips with.

Stealth mode
/stɛlθ məʊd/

A startup operating under the radar, keeping their key propositions secret before an official launch so as not to alert competitors. Also used to pique interest, or signal that investment has been raised, which may or may not be true. 🕵️‍♂️

Cult following

It’s said that joining a startup can be like joining a family, or at times even a cult (👀WeWork). And some of the terminology does sound distinctly religious and clan-like. Rituals, ceremonies, tribes, circles and evangelists all have their own places in the startup lexicon. What next, people with “Master” in their job titles?

Scrum Master
/skrʌm ˈmɑːstə/

A facilitator for an agile development team. They help the team to reach consensus for what can be achieved during a specific period of time, and solve challenges and blockers impeding progress. They’re also crucial for time management and team morale.


Part of a tech sector job title, denoting senior expertise in a niche or emerging area, with responsibilities including spreading the good word about their subject matter, internally and/or externally. Prefixes include Brand, Tech, Data, Change and Chief. 👼

Explore the scaleup glossary >

Whether you find it annoying gibberish, cool slang or practical terminology, the lingua franca of startups must be one of the most unique and extensive of any industry. And honestly, what we’ve put together is the tip of the iceberg. Master the must-know mumbo jumbo, from Accelerator, to Zombie.

Explore the scaleup glossary >

Early Stage