How long can a business credibly call itself a start-up?

How long does a fast-growing business really remain a start-up?

At Qubit we are five years old and yet last week, WIRED magazine included Qubit in its list of Europe’s hottest start-upsThis welcome news came just one week after Qubit was voted into a list of London’s 25 hottest start-ups by venture capital and angel investors, for business and innovation portal Informilo.

2000px-Wired_logo.svgScreen_Shot_2015-08-18_at_14.43.32

It got me thinking about what makes for a ‘hot start-up' and indeed, at what point - if at all - a business should stop thinking about itself as a start-up and accept its level of maturity.

General wisdom states that there is an inflection point when a business reaches 150 people; that it goes from being a small business to a medium-sized organisation with all sorts of new challenges and growing pains.

Qubit employs about 200 people to date. That number will have jumped by next week and again by next month. We are indeed experiencing growing pains. The sheer speed of our growth offers up huge daily challenges.  It’s hard to keep track of all the constant new faces buzzing around our London, Paris, New York and San Francisco offices. The job of internal communications gets harder. Processes require constant review. We’re simply not the small company we once were where everybody feels familiar with and connected to all of their colleagues.

But we’re great at keeping a careful eye on ensuring we retain the dynamic culture that makes the best talent want to join us ahead of other businesses.

Even as we graduate from ‘small’ to ‘medium’ we take care to keep sacrosanct some of the rituals in Qubit’s DNA which got us to this stage in the first place.

Every other Friday our teams down tools at 5pm and get together for TQIF: Thank Qubit It’s Friday, where we share some food and beers and have some fun.

Each year we pay for the entire UK business to attend the Royal Henley Regatta. We’ve been doing it since we launched. It was an early idea of one of the four co-founders – himself a former Henley-winning rower. Sure, we’ve got bigger and the trip has become more expensive every year but it’s a great day out for our teams and we believe in playing hard as well as working hard.

Everywhere you look there are retained cultural behaviours that are as old as the business itself.

The way we demand leadership in every one of our people is a good example. Like most businesses we have a hierarchy here because certain jobs need to get done. But we also have a culture built around people taking personal responsibility – the mantra here is Voice it, Own it, Do it.

It drives a certain accountability and means that you can find yourself shaping company direction on any given day if you have the best or biggest idea.

So yes, we’re now a medium-sized business and still growing. Our clients rely on the experience and know-how you would hope for in a mature business.

But if you asked me the question: ‘is Qubit still a start-up?’ I’d reply that we are.

We’re growing too fast not to be. Constant, rapid growth means constant evolution and change. It requires a business to remain fast, flexible and light on its feet. We’re used to it here because it’s been the culture since the business started.

Along with our experience and expertise it is this speed and agility that our clients rely upon us for since they themselves recognize their own need to move at the speed of their customers. We couldn’t help them do that if we didn’t have a start-up mentality.

In fact, if I think about it, I’d argue that Qubit didn’t ‘just’ graduate to another category of business-size. We’re constantly graduating and have been since the beginning.

The trick with remaining a start-up is to keep your eye on the ‘small details’; the elements you thought were important when you were a small business.

Take care of those aspects of your business and you’ll remain a start-up for as long as you want to.