When does a Start-up stop being a Start-up?

I’ve been pondering this question all week, since someone challenged my assertion that I work with ‘ambitious start-ups’ who are feeling stuck.  Knowing a little about my business, they believe that my clients have gone beyond start-up because they have been operating for more than 2 years, and in one particular case, for more than 10.

In asking around, it’s pretty clear that everyone has their own definition of when you cease to be a start-up…

For some it’s all about numbers…’if you’ve got a team of 30 people and you turn over more than £1m a year, there’s no way you’re still a start-up’

For others it’s about your attitude and culture…‘when you’ve got a small creative team, working round the clock to get stuff done, and there’s still that buzz and excitement, you’re still a start-up.’

For still more, it’s about a state of mind…‘when you stop thinking of yourself and referring to yourself as a start-up, and begin following the norms of your sector, you’ve moved on to being a regular business.’

All of these definitions have merit and logic…there is no right or wrong here, and you could argue the case of any one of them.

But for me, it’s all about sustainability.  If a business is still searching for a sustainable business model, and hasn’t worked out how to be efficient…they’re still a start-up.

During the start-up phase you’re working things out…which customers? what products? what features and benefits? How best to market and communicate? What works and what doesn’t?  What’s the most effective business model?  Over time, if you’re successful,  you’re working harder and harder as the business owner; you don’t have the time to think about how to grow your business because you’re too busy ‘doing the doing’ to look up and look forward.  Many businesses get stuck here forever.

It’s when you know what you’re doing and you start to think about how you can make what you’re doing more efficient that you take the first steps out of start-up… Efficiency through process and systems

When you recognise that to be consistent and reliable you’re going to need processes and systems in every area of your business; that you’re going to have to develop strong, trusted relationships with your customers and your people; and that you’re going to need to underpin your passion with efficiency.  You get that you need more control, more time and more profit, and you do what you have to do to achieve that.

Your business may have a team of 30 or 3000 people, it may have a turnover of £100,000 or £10,000,000, it may have been going for 2 years or 10…but for me if it doesn’t have consistent and reliable process and systems…if you are still running round like the proverbial blue-bottomed fly just to keep things working the way you want them too…you are stuck in start-up…and you may need a hand to get out.

That’s my view anyway…

But what’s yours?

 

Marianne

 

One Response to “When does a Start-up stop being a Start-up?”

  1. Karl Lane

    Great article Marianne,

    I have worked with many sizes of organisations over the years and one thing I can say for definite is that a lot of large scale businesses often dream of getting back to their start up days. Being nimble, flexible and able to bring ideas to reality quickly often become more difficult as an organisation grows. The thing is it doesn’t have to be like that with the right processes and management culture in place that inspirational period can once again be part of the underlying business ethos.

    Reply

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