If you don’t know your Slack from your SPAC, you’re not alone. Jargon can make it tough to follow the UK’s booming tech sector at times; our language, like tech itself, is always evolving. To help demystify the sector and make it more inclusive, our Scaleup Glossary keeps one eye trained on busting the latest buzzword du jour. Here are five examples of jargon that you are likely to encounter when monitoring tech’s latest developments.
In the early 2010s, private companies valued at more than $1bn were labelled ‘unicorns’ due to their rarity. Valued at more than $10bn, decacorns could be imagined as their rarer and even more magical cousins, with pointier alicorns and even bigger bank accounts. And the paddock is expanding: in June, we revealed that the UK more than doubled its number of decacorns after adding seven new ones in the first half of 2012 – five of which have appeared on our Future Fifty growth programme – which is an incredible achievement.
When reading about mythical animals in a tech context, you may encounter the acronym ‘SPAC’, which resembles the name of a pointy-eared Star Trek character. It stands for Special Purpose Acquisition Company – a legal entity with no assets or operations that raises capital through an IPO for the purpose of acquiring an existing company. Successfully executed, SPAC mergers could help founders “live long and prosper” by providing a faster route to exit versus a traditional IPO. But they also carry risk as SPACs, which are often called “blank-check companies”, cannot know the company they’re going to acquire ahead of time. As Net Interest writer Marc Rubinstein puts it, SPACs are, “a bit like the wardrobe as the portal to Narnia, complete with unicorns on the other side”.
Indeed, tech jargon often strays into the realm of fantasy. Rooted in 80s sci-fi and depicted in 2018’s blockbuster Ready Player One, the term ‘metaverse’ is used to describe an alternative reality where virtual spaces converge with the internet to form a world where people can interact in real time. The term saw a spike in popularity on Google Trends in July after Mark Zuckerberg declared that Facebook’s future lies in the yet-to-be-commercialised space. When “the Zuck” gets excited about something, the industry tends to sit up and pay attention, so expect rapid developments in the ‘Oasis’.
Responsible for a third of UK tech unicorns, fintech is a powerhouse of a tech sub-sector – and it is one where humour and jargon often go hand-in-hand. ‘Dogecoin’, a meme-based cryptocurrency initially created as a satirical homage to bitcoin, is a case in point. Though its legitimacy is still debated, the digital asset has gained a following in the wake of endorsements from Tesla founder Elon Musk, Kiss rocker Gene Simmons and – in what can only be described as a marketer’s dream – Snoop Dogg (aka Snoop Doge).
‘NFT’ refers to another curious phenomenon. Non-Fungible Tokens are “one-of-a-kind” digital assets that can be bought and sold like physical objects while providing the owner with verification of ownership. They have particularly captured the imagination of the ‘art’ world, which has seen digital artworks auctioned for millions of dollars. Anything can be sold as an NFT. In March, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey sold his first tweet (which read ‘just setting up my twttr’) as an NFT at a charity auction for $2.9m, with the businessman who paid the sum comparing the sale to buying a Mona Lisa painting. It just goes to show that beauty is in the eye of the NFT holder.