When is a start-up no longer a start-up?

By   John Bond 2 min read

So when is a start-up no longer classified as a start-up? I remember hearing one entrepreneur pose such a question on a conference platform a few years back somewhere in London. And their answer? “I’ll finally say I don’t run a start-up when I stop getting asked to speak at events such as this.”

Trying to define when your company ceases to be a start-up has always been like holding mercury. You can play investment word bingo and make sure you tick off “scale” and “growth potential”. You can argue about the optimum size of revenues and numbers of employees that mean you are beyond your initial humble bootstrapping phase.

But, for many, being a start-up is a mission with no time limit and is as relevant to tech companies as it is to more analogue entities. Crucially, it is believing in lean, in being agile and not compromising when there is a temptation to start behaving more like the corporation you have quite possibly left behind. It is being true to the ethos you had when you first sketched out the beautiful, crazy dream on the back of the metaphorical napkin.

At whitefox, we are in our fifth year as an evolving start-up. We’ve raised some money, we’ve grown from the original two of us in our respective kitchens to being eight strong in our open plan office in East London. We’ve disobeyed many of what we were told were the hard and fast rules of succeeding in start-up land. And we’re still here. We always saw what we were doing as being a bridge between the inherent values of traditional writing and publishing and a new, more democratic 21st century vision. Providing access for anyone at any time to the specialist skills that make a real difference to books.

We’ve grown our revenues every year, experimented with new models, and are still constantly open to new collaborations. Because we can. Saying yes most of the time, but now brave enough to say no sometimes too if we don’t think something is right for us. So we know we don’t tick all the traditional boxes, but it certainly feels to us as if we continue to exhibit many of the characteristics of a start-up. Maybe, away from all the definitions and the data, being a start-up is just a state of mind.


John Bond
John Bond
John has been involved in publishing for more than thirty years. He held senior positions at Penguin and at HarperCollins, where he was on the main board for nine years, running sales, marketing and publishing divisions including the 4th Estate imprint and their stable of award-winning authors such as Hilary Mantel, Jonathan Franzen and Nigel Slater. He co-founded Whitefox in 2012 on the principle that the future of successful publishing would be based upon external managed services and agile, creative collaboration with the highest quality specialists. Nothing that has happened since has dissuaded him of this view.