Earlier this week I posted a poll asking for your opinion on for how long businesses can legitimately call themselves a start-up for. Interestingly 3 years in duration came out top of the result.

Lets be honest, it was too simple a poll. We all know that, but it got people thinking and talking which was my goal.

For me age isn’t the only criteria when defining the maturity of a company, however in coming to realise that, I have stumbled across more questions than answers. Let me explain.

There has never been an agreed standard on when a business stops being start-up. The creation of the ‘side hustle’ has added a whole other dimension to this conversation, but that’s one for another day!

When it comes to start-ups many people prefer to define where a business is on the journey through head count, revenue, turnover, funding status, product launches and or overall net worth. TechCrunch writer Alex Wilhelm has put his marker down by using the below as his definition:

  • $50 million revenue run rate (forward 12 months)
  • 100 or more employees
  • worth more than $500 million

For me though this definition and the things I have listed is still missing something; culture.

With many people now more than ever acknowledging the important of environment, culture and engagement within business, why is this not part of the start-up matrix? Or is it and I have missed that?

Think classic ‘identity’ features of a start up and you think of the below:

  • Acceptance of failure
  • Pivoting
  • Hands on founders
  • Disruptive
  • Innovative
  • Lean
  • Customer/user-oriented
  • Flexible and open-minded
  • In your idea. In your ability. In your team. In the possibilities.


Again, however I am seeing a lack of focus on culture in the above list. If a start-up retains its identity through growth and funding, then some would conceivably argue it should still be considered a start-up. This is where my questions started to mount up; does the label even matter at all?

As co-founder of a start-up I can certainly relate to some if not all the above identity traits, I would go further and say I like them. I would love to be sat here in a few years, after scaling the business safe in the knowledge we haven’t changed a business which had those identities, but with more people. More questions; Is that realistic? Is that even the right thing for the business? Am I holding us back with that mentality?

If I am thinking this and I know the businesses I partner with who are fast paced start-ups are thinking this, then that got me thinking; is everyone thinking this?

Are we too label focused? Does a start-up always need exit goals and targets? Can a business just look to provide fantastic service, solutions and or applications without looking any further?

I started by asking you one question in a poll. I now have more questions and would love to discuss them further with you.

Post written by Alex Hall, Co-Founder and JavaScript Partner at Digital 51.

Do you agree with Alex’s assumptions above? Can you answer any of his questions? Reach out and discuss further with Alex on