Revenant (noun), one who has returned, as if from the dead.

Have you watched Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar-winning performance in The Revenant?

Have you ever wondered what the title meant?

Well, the word “revenant” is from the French word “revenir”, meaning “to return”. In this case, it means to return as if from the dead.

From a startup perspective, this word is particularly interesting.

For one thing, it is probably applicable to a large number of startups. And for another, it has not one but two different meanings.

The first application is for startups that have been written off for dead but make a miraculous return. An inspirational phoenix-like resurgence that merits hosannas and emulation.

Take Slack, for example. Originally envisaged as a gaming startup, the company was on its deathbed when it decided to take a left-field punt on a small tool that it had developed for internal use and open it up as a platform for customers. To cut a long story short, the platform emerged as a category-defining workplace software and won rapturous praise and popularity on its way to a decacorn—a company valued at over $10 billion—level public listing.

The other meaning is at the polar end of the spectrum. There are few things more derogatory than this tag in startup lore.

Zombie.

Zombie startup.

In a land, where failures are ostensibly celebrated as much as success – for the sheer audacity of trying – being tagged a zombie is the ultimate pejorative.

Why so?

A zombie startup is an animated corpse – a walking dead that has outlived its natural existence but doesn’t want to accept death and therefore continues to linger on in a mindless, meaningless state. Stuck in a limbo where success is not possible but failure is not acceptable.

What is interesting is that there are some startups where both these meanings possibly apply.

Take Reverie Language Technologies, for instance.

A Bengaluru-based startup that offers local language technology solutions, Reverie has had a long and eventful journey before it was recently snapped by Reliance for a sum of $37 million.

There are folks in the startup ecosystem who see Reverie as a zombie startup – long stuck in a rut with little prospect of breaking out.

There are others who see it as having come back from the dead and celebrate the Reliance acquisition as the ultimate badge of success.

Which of these versions, if any, is a true representation of the company?

AUTHOR

Sumanth Raghavendra

Sumanth is a serial entrepreneur with more than eighteen years experience in running startups. He is currently the founder of Deck App Technologies, a Bangalore-based startup attempting to re-imagine productivity software for the Post-PC era. Sumanth’s columns appear regularly in leading publications. He holds MBA degrees from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and Thunderbird, The American Graduate School of International Management, USA.

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