What does it mean to be a start-up today?

Basic Elements

What it means to be a start-up today is certainly a simple question, but one that needs a very articulate answer. 

It certainly does not mean having a lot of free time and sleeping soundly, and it certainly does not mean being relegated to unpleasant, underpaid work.

Doing start-ups today has undoubtedly become easier than yesterday, if by start-ups we mean that circle of entrepreneurial activities in their initial phase, whose social object is linked to the sphere of innovation; and, today, doing innovation is easier thanks to the proliferation of public funds, VCs and business angels. Unfortunately, in Italy, we are still a long way from solving the problem of access to credit for this type of entrepreneurship, partly due to the malpractice of some investors in asking little and expecting much (too much) from founders.

In addition to significantly improved access to credit, there has also been a small improvement in the supply of services for start-ups. This is due to the joint action of several incubators and private companies whose services have been improved and tailored to the specific needs of innovative entrepreneurship in its early years.

Beyond the ecosystem that only partly qualifies what it means to be a start-up today, these few lines are meant to give an answer to what are the basic elements needed to create the alchemy of a start-up, postponing in-depth studies on specific subjects related to this topic to other posts on this blog.

The idea

Certainly, in order to even remotely think about a start-up, it is necessary to have an idea. Having an idea does not mean having an intuition. An intuition is “a simple, instantaneous, synoptic cognitive act; it therefore designates a form of immediate knowledge, as opposed to any knowledge of a discursive nature”; whereas an idea is a much more complex term that must be declined within the sector it falls into and, in its broadest and most generic meaning, constitutes the representation of an object in the mind: the notion that the mind receives of a real or imaginary thing, the fruit of its own consciousness.

An idea is something more complex than intuition, it develops from it but constitutes a more evolved state where the intuition is filtered and elaborated on the basis of one’s knowledge and skills, coming out modified and, therefore, improved from its initial state.

Sometimes it is necessary to wait months before an intuition is transformed into an idea, as the elaboration process is repeated cyclically, sometimes enriching it with the contribution of the first embryonic elements of the ‘team’ that we will see later.


Needless to say, in order for the process of transforming an intuition into an idea to bear fruit, it is necessary to have the necessary skills for the sector one wishes to approach. It will almost certainly be necessary to go into the technical aspects of the chosen sector in greater depth, by virtue of any protocols specific to the topic one wishes to address, in order to prevent them from constituting an obstacle to the development of the business model.

Studying and working on the subject are certainly preliminaries to setting up a start-up, however, it is practically impossible to cover all the specific skills needed for each element related to the business model, and it is here that the need for the next fundamental element, the ‘team’, emerges.

The team

The team sees its value manifesting itself already in the very early stages of a start-up’s development but, in reality, it has only begun its relationship with the start-up because it will be instrumental in every single stage of its development.

Choosing team members is very difficult and there are various schools that more or less agree on the subject; we will therefore avoid going into too much detail by pausing only for a moment to mention one element without which, apart from schools, it is certainly not possible to form a team: trust.

Between team members, it is necessary to go beyond mere respect, there must be trust so that everyone is able to express their value to the fullest, individually and as a team member.

The team is the flywheel of the idea, it amplifies the scope of knowledge and expertise from which the idea is filtered, which emerges from this process greatly enriched and ready to be timetabled in its various stages of design and development, the roadmap.

The Roadmap

Fundamental from the very first moments following the definition of an idea is the creation of a checklist of actions necessary for the progression in the design and development of the idea and the scheduling of each action. 

The roadmap plays a pivotal role in relation to the distribution of the various actions, as it also constitutes a connecting element in the event that an action requires the intervention of different actors than originally planned or, in the event that several actions converge for a subsequent joint phase. Needless to say, it is necessary to respect the timeframes set in the roadmap and their eventual re-scheduling in the event of unforeseen and/or unexpected events.

It is easy to see how the roadmap is not a rigid document but, rather, an extremely fluid one that must be able to adapt to unforeseen events, slowdowns and pivots, right down to the various branches that the idea might take and that might not converge on a single business model.


The last basic element in the creation of a start-up is the Advisors. Advisors have the function of guiding the action of the founders and that of the team in general; they differ from the latter in that their competences are fundamental but at the margins of the development of the core business; they constitute a conditio sine qua non for its setup but are extraneous to the process of providing the service or selling the good.

The rationale for the need for their presence is obvious, as are the immediate benefits that start-ups reap when they are able to include professional advisors in their network for each of the basic needs of a start-up: legal, fiscal, financial, project, technical.

Making start-ups today

To be able to do start-ups today, these elements are extremely crucial: The idea, The skills, The team, The roadmap and The advisors. Without these essential elements, it is difficult if not impossible under normal market conditions to make it through the initial stages that characterise the life of a start-up.

Once these elements have been aggregated, after taking the first steps in the development of the core business, it will be possible to proceed with a financing round of the start-up, i.e. its pre-seed. This eventuality is excluded in the event that the start-up plans to pursue the initial stages of design and development of the core business with its own economic means or through possible financiers who have entered at the only previous moment, i.e., those of validation of the idea.