Tech Enabled vs High Tech Businesses: Understanding the Distinctions

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, technology plays a pivotal role in driving growth and innovation. However, not all companies can be classified as high-tech or tech-enabled. In this article, we will explore the differences between these two categories and shed light on various aspects of their operations, including revenue growth, cost structures, and investment priorities. By understanding these distinctions, businesses can gain valuable insights into their own strategies and make informed decisions to stay ahead in the competitive market.

The Distinction: High Tech vs Tech Enabled

At a fundamental level, high-tech companies are those that rely on their underlying technology to exist and thrive. They are often at the forefront of innovation, inventing and creating new solutions that push the boundaries of what is possible. On the other hand, tech-enabled companies utilize existing technology to enhance and improve their core offerings in established markets. While both types of businesses solve problems and deliver value to shareholders, their approaches and priorities differ significantly.

Revenue Growth: High Tech Takes the Lead

When it comes to top-line growth, high-tech companies generally have the upper hand. On average, they demonstrate a 4% growth rate, with a 9% mid-point growth rate within the sample data set. This can be attributed to their ability to introduce groundbreaking products and services that capture market demand. In contrast, tech-enabled companies may experience slower growth due to their reliance on existing markets and incremental improvements.

Cost Structures: The Impact of Cost of Sale

One notable distinction between high-tech and tech-enabled companies lies in their cost structures. High-tech companies typically have a higher cost of sale, which includes both personnel costs and hosting expenses. Approximately 50% of their cost of sale is attributed to people, such as customer success and support teams, while the remaining 50% is associated with hosting costs from providers like AWS and Azure. On the other hand, tech-enabled companies often face higher cost of goods sold (COGS) due to their physical products that require raw material inputs.

Sales and Marketing: Exploring the Differences

Contrary to expectations, high-tech companies do not necessarily allocate more resources to sales and marketing compared to tech-enabled companies. In fact, tech-enabled companies, especially those in the business-to-consumer (B2C) space, tend to have higher sales and marketing costs. This can be attributed to their need for aggressive customer acquisition strategies and competition within their respective markets. On the other hand, high-tech companies often face higher enterprise costs associated with selling to other large organizations, necessitating substantial investments in field sales forces and marketing programs.

Research and Development: The Heart of High Tech

One would expect high-tech companies to allocate more funds towards research and development (R&D) since innovation is at the core of their business. However, it is surprising to learn that tech-enabled companies, despite relying on existing libraries and open-source software, still spend approximately half as much on R&D. This can be attributed to their focus on utilizing available technology to enhance their offerings rather than inventing new solutions from scratch. High-tech companies, on the other hand, invest heavily in R&D to create and refine their cutting-edge products and services.

Profitability: Challenges and Share-Based Compensation

While both high-tech and tech-enabled companies face profitability challenges, the sample data set reveals that high-tech companies have a higher number of firms generating earnings per share. However, many companies in both categories still operate at a loss, with significant share-based compensation charges impacting their bottom line. The need to attract and retain top talent often leads to substantial expenses in the form of stock options and equity compensation, which can further contribute to losses.

Talent Competition: A Common Challenge

Despite their differences, both high-tech and tech-enabled companies face fierce competition for talent. The success of these businesses heavily relies on the skills and expertise of their employees. In high-tech firms, people-related expenses account for approximately 75% of their overall expenses, while tech-enabled companies allocate around 60% to the same category. Therefore, the key differentiator lies in how each company organizes its people within the profit and loss statement, rather than in their growth rates, spending patterns, or bottom-line outcomes.


In conclusion, the distinction between high-tech and tech-enabled companies lies in their approaches to technology and innovation. High-tech companies focus on inventing new solutions and rely on their underlying technology to exist, while tech-enabled companies utilize existing technology to enhance their core offerings. Despite the differences in revenue growth, cost structures, and investment priorities, both types of businesses face profitability challenges and fierce competition for talent.

Understanding these distinctions can provide valuable insights to businesses as they navigate the ever-changing landscape of technology-driven markets. By aligning their strategies with their unique characteristics and priorities, companies can leverage their strengths and find success in their respective domains. Whether high tech or tech-enabled, embracing technology and innovation is crucial for sustained growth and staying ahead in the competitive business world.

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