To start, I consulted the official definitions, to see if I could anchor in something that I understood well.
Oxford English says:
The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry
The use of science in industry, engineering, etc., to invent useful things or to solve problems
As I’ve been working on describing what it means to be a technology investor, this question has plagued me. I’ve been surprised by this, as a shallow consideration of that question lands me on “software and hardware companies”. But General Motors has 100 million lines of code in each of their cars. Is General Motors a technology company? Why is Groupon a tech company? Because the service is distributed through the internet? Warby Parker makes eyeglasses. Perhaps those were technology in the 1200′s, but surely not now, right?
Maybe Casper is a tech company because it is venture backed. In that case, is Tuft & Needle not? What about GitHub before the Andreessen Horowitz financing? Or Basecamp/37Signals? I loved this tweet:
I tried explaining Soylent to my mom and she was like, oh you mean Slimfast? I was like yes but now made by and for men, so we call it tech— Nellie Bowles (@NellieBowles)March 31, 2016
My view on this has been evolving a bit, but today it stands as such: there are 20th century companies, and there are 21st century companies. A 21st Century company believes in digital distribution as a core competency. It realizes the power of a modern brand requires that it include transparency, intimacy, and a strong willingness to proactively cannibalize its business model.
As for technology, my working definition is: “a tool that radically solves problems.” After all, technology pre-dates scientific knowledge (and mathematics), as does engineering. Indeed, the printing press was once technology, as was writing — as was the wheel. If your technology is not radically solving a problem, perhaps it isn’t technology. Perhaps it is simply software, or simply a business on the internet. Food for thought.