I love technology, specifically the ways in which technology drives change, innovation and advancement. I am so passionate I can’t help but strike up conversations with anyone willing to talk tech. As such, I have had many conversations with CEOs of small and medium-sized businesses. Below is a typical dialog that usually causes me to scratch my head.

Me: Technology strategy has never been more integrated with business strategy than it is today.

CEO: I agree it’s important, but we use technology, we’re not a “tech” company, we’re a company.

This is where I get a little perplexed; I mean, what’s the difference? Technology is intertwined into our lives. How can a company exist without technology, and to that extent, aren’t we all “tech” companies? It got me thinking about how I would define a “tech” vs. a “non-tech” company.

First, I had to qualify “tech”. Legitimately, technology could be considered anything that advances a species, I could argue the first stick used as a tool is technology. But focusing on something relevant AND current, I will limit this exercise to the digital age. The age of computers and digital information. So back on topic, what’s the difference between a “tech” company and a “non-tech” company?

Let’s walk through this. My first thought, a “tech” company provides an online service of some sort. But that’s not really true, or at least that is not really clear. Dell is a “tech” company, so is Canon, and they build and sell physical products. So maybe a “tech” company either delivers a digital service, or a technology product. But again, that is not really accurate. Amazon is considered a “tech” company, and they started by selling non-digital books. Netflix is another, and they started by renting DVD movies. And what about Dollar Shave Club? They sell razors, but from an online only subscription based website, are they a “tech” company? It seems the definition is starting to get a little cloudy.

So maybe “online” is the key. A “tech” company either is an online service, or sells a product online. Again, still not accurate. Apple, Dell, Microsoft, and other companies considered “tech” companies, have physical storefronts, yet are still considered tech companies. Oh and if you were curious, in the case of Apple,  their retail side generates roughly 18 Billion in Revenue! Not bad for a traditional “storefront”.

So if the product doesn’t have to be digital, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be considered technology itself, and finally it doesn’t have to be delivered or supported on the Internet, then what the heck is the difference between a “tech” company and a “non-tech” company?

This is where I think it gets interesting. After considering the question, it seems there is only one logical conclusion. There is ONLY one major difference between a “tech” company and a “non-tech” company, REGARDLESS OF INDUSTRY. But it has nothing to do with products, services, or delivery mechanisms. What is it, you ask? It is simply acceptance, or buy-in! Companies decide to be “tech” companies, then they evolve their products and create business models to support them. That’s it! It’s a mindset, a philosophical approach; not a physical or environmental one. A decision from the executive level to BE a “tech” company.

Netflix decided they are a “tech” company and asked how they can use technology to enhance content delivery – Blockbuster did not.

Uber said they are a “tech” company and asked how they could enhance personal transportation – most cab companies have not.

Amazon said they were a “tech” company and asked how they could enhance the shopping experience – Borders did not.

NEST said they are a “tech” company and asked how they can enhance the ways homeowners manage cooling in their homes – and for a positive example, Honeywell said we are now a “tech” company too!

Technology focused companies have continued to disrupt multiple industries, and will continue to do so. And more and more companies are realizing, there is no difference between today’s “tech” company, and any other type of business.  I for one am excited and I look forward to seeing how this new views shapes the products and services of tomorrow.