The Key Differences Between a Startup and a Small Business

Last Updated: 

June 5, 2023

What does it mean to be a startup and what does it mean to be a small business? In many ways, these two types of companies are quite similar. They both have similar objectives, strategies and goals. However, there are some key differences between them that you should consider before deciding which type of company is right for your venture.

Key takeaways on differences between startups and small businesses

  1. Scale and Growth: Startups are typically focused on rapid growth and scaling their operations, aiming to disrupt existing markets or create new ones. Small businesses, on the other hand, are often focused on maintaining a stable and sustainable operation.
  2. Innovation and Disruption: Startups are driven by innovative ideas and disruptive technologies, aiming to solve a unique problem or address an unmet need in the market. Small businesses often offer established products or services in a specific niche.
  3. Funding and Investment: Startups often seek external funding from investors or venture capitalists to fuel their growth. Small businesses are often self-funded or rely on traditional financing methods like loans or personal savings.
  4. Risk and Uncertainty: Startups operate in a highly uncertain environment, taking risks to pursue ambitious goals. Small businesses, while still facing risks, often have a more stable and predictable business model.
  5. Scalability and Replicability: Startups aim to create scalable business models that can be replicated and expanded rapidly. Small businesses may focus on serving a specific local market and may not have plans for extensive scalability.
  6. Time Horizon: Startups are typically built with a long-term vision and the goal of eventually becoming a large company or being acquired. Small businesses often have a more immediate focus on generating consistent profits and sustaining their operations.
  7. Organisational Structure: Startups are often lean and agile, with a focus on experimentation and rapid decision-making. Small businesses tend to have a more defined organisational structure and may be more traditional in their operations.
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The Structure of the Company

Startups are typically smaller than small businesses. They may have a single founder or a small team, and they often have a specific focus and niche, for example, creating an app for dog owners who want to find local dog-friendly restaurants. Startups are more likely to be tech-focused than other types of companies, but not always; if you're interested in starting your own business, don't let the word "startup" stop you from considering something else!

In addition to these general differences between startups and small businesses, there are also some key elements that make each type unique:

What's the mission and how will it change?

A mission statement is a clear, concise statement of your company's purpose. It should be written in a way that can be understood by anyone and it should be short and simple.

For example: "We are here to make people happy."

This sentence contains two key elements, the why (our mission) and how (we do it). We'll address each of these elements in turn below.

When to use a startup strategy when trying to grow your business.

When you're trying to grow your business, it can be tempting to try the same tactics that have worked in the past. However, if you're looking for a more innovative way of doing things or want to be different from the competition, startups could be right for you.

Startups are great for testing out ideas and seeing how they work in practice before committing fully. If an idea doesn't work out as expected, which is often the case with new products, you'll have less invested than if you'd gone ahead with full production and marketing campaigns on your own dime beforehand. 

This makes it easier and less expensive (in terms of both time and money) for entrepreneurs who aren't sure whether or not their product will succeed at market level yet still want some insight into its potential marketability before committing all their resources into making it happen!

Startup vs. Small Business

There are many differences between startups and small businesses, but the most important one is that they're not the same thing.

A startup is an early-stage company. It has limited resources, little to no revenue or profit and high risk for failure. A small business may be established for years with a steady stream of customers and profits, but it's still considered a small business because its size doesn't match those of larger companies: think mom-and-pop shops rather than Walmart or Amazon.

Vision and Mission

The first and most obvious difference is the vision. Startups are driven by a clear, compelling mission that they want to accomplish. They have an idea in their head of how they can change the world and make it better, or they want to create something new that solves a problem no one else has been able to solve before.

Small businesses also have visions for what they want to achieve, but these tend not to be as grandiose or ambitious as those of startups, and the reason why is pretty simple: small businesses are focused on being profitable instead of disrupting industries or growing fast (or slow).


Culture is an important part of both startups and small businesses. It's a set of shared values and beliefs that guide behaviours, which can become an advantage for a company if they align with the goals of the organisation. For example, if you want your employees to be productive and motivated in their jobs, then it would help if they were passionate about what they do (or at least interested enough not to quit).

In addition to being an asset for attracting talent or keeping current employees happy, culture also helps define who your company is as an entity, what makes it unique? How does its identity affect its products or services? These questions need answers if you want customers who actually want what you're selling them; otherwise they'll just choose another option instead.

Growth Strategy

Growth strategies are also different between startups and small businesses. Startups are more likely to grow by acquisition, while small businesses typically grow organically.

This isn't always true, it depends on the kind of company you're talking about. But in general, startups have more money to spend on acquisitions than small businesses do, so they tend to be more aggressive in pursuing them as a means of growth (though there are plenty of exceptions). Smaller companies often rely on organic growth: they focus on building up their existing customer base and improving upon their existing products or services rather than buying out competitors or entering new markets altogether.


The first major difference between a startup and a small business is how they fund their operations. A startup relies on funding from investors, who are often individual people or groups of people who have money to invest in the company. In contrast, small businesses typically rely on banks and other financial institutions to provide capital in exchange for interest payments on loans.

Startup businesses are different from small businesses in terms of vision and mission, culture, and strategy.

The main difference between startups and small businesses is their vision and mission, culture, and strategy.

Startups have a different vision than small businesses because they are focused on finding new ways to solve problems that haven't been solved before, or at least not in the same way before.

Startups also have a different mission than most small businesses because they're not trying to make money right away; instead, they're working on creating something new (the "product") that will eventually be sold or used by others but might take years before it generates any revenue for the company itself (if ever). So startups usually don't have an income stream yet, they're more concerned with developing their product or service than making money from it yet!

In addition to having a different vision from most other types of companies out there today, startup founders tend to have very little experience running businesses before starting up themselves, and this means there aren't many experienced mentors around either! This can lead some people down bad paths when trying something new like founding something entirely new instead so keep reading below about what makes these types differ too.

FAQs on startups and small businesses

Are you confused about the distinctions between startups and small businesses? In this FAQ section, we address common questions and provide insights into the key differences between these two types of businesses.

What defines a startup and how is it different from a small business?

A startup is a new business venture that's in its early stages. It can be risky and unpredictable, but it also has more room for innovation and creative thinking than an established small business does. A startup has a higher chance of failing, but if it succeeds, it could grow into something much bigger than your average mom-and-pop shop!

Startups often have fewer employees than established businesses do, because they need to be nimble enough to pivot quickly in response to changes in the marketplace (or even just changing customer preferences). This means that when you work at one of these companies as an employee or contractor, your job may change frequently, and sometimes quickly!

What are the primary objectives of startups compared to small businesses?

Startups are focused on finding product-market fit, while small businesses are working toward stability. This is the main difference between these two types of companies: startups have a higher risk of failure and small businesses have a higher chance of success.

Startups also rely more heavily on venture capital (VC) funding than do small businesses, which tend to operate with cash flow from operations as their primary source of financing for growth.

How do startups and small businesses approach innovation and disruption differently?

Startups tend to focus more on innovation, while small businesses are more likely to focus on disruption. This means that startups often focus on a single product or service, while small businesses may offer multiple products or services in order to disrupt an industry.

Startups tend to be more focused on technology than people, but this isn't always the case, it depends on what kind of startup you're talking about. For example, if you have an app idea that requires a lot of coding skills and knowledge about computer science then yes; it will probably be more technical than working with people (i.e., hiring employees). 

However if your business idea has nothing to do with technology (for example: selling cookies) then there won't be as much emphasis placed upon your technical skills as there would be if it was something involving code like an app or website creation software package such as Wordpress which requires advanced knowledge regarding websites' structure.

What funding sources do startups typically seek, and how is it different for small businesses?

A startup is a company that's in the early stages of development. A small business, on the other hand, has been around for a while and can be any size, from a one-person shop to an international corporation with thousands of employees.

Startups usually seek funding from investors or banks; they're focused on growth and innovation. Small businesses also rely on loans but will often also use their own cash flow (revenue) to fund operations if needed. 

For example, if your business has $100k in annual revenue but is growing rapidly and expects to bring in $200k next year, it may not need additional capital until then, and even then only if there are specific plans for additional expansion or hiring new employees!

What are the main risks and uncertainties associated with startups and small businesses?

There are many risks and uncertainties that come with starting a business. For example, it's not guaranteed that your startup will be successful, or even make it past the first year. You also need to be able to adapt quickly in case something unexpected happens (for example: if one of your customers stops paying).

Small businesses have lower risk because they've been around longer than startups and have more experience managing their resources effectively. They're also generally more stable because they have fewer employees who depend on them for their income, so if something goes wrong at work or at home, small businesses won't feel as much impact as startups do when something goes wrong with their company culture!


A startup is a small business that has the potential to grow into something much bigger. Both types of businesses have similar goals, to make money, get customers and employees, but they differ in their approach to achieving those goals. The biggest difference between a startup and small business is that startups focus on innovation and disruption while small businesses focus on efficiency and optimisation.

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