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Scale-up vs Start-up: Understanding the Distinctions

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

When it comes to the world of entrepreneurship, two terms are frequently used to describe companies at different stages of growth: start-ups and scale-ups. While they might sound similar, there are fundamental differences between these two types of businesses. Understanding the distinctions is crucial for investors, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who wants to succeed in the world of business.

What is a Scale-up Company?

A scale-up company is a business that has already passed the initial start-up phase and is experiencing significant growth. While start-ups are focused on validating their business model and gaining their first customers, scale-ups have already achieved product-market fit and are looking to scale their operations rapidly.

Scale-ups are typically characterised by:
  1. High growth rates: Scale-ups aim to grow their business at a rate of 20% or more per year.

  2. Established business model: Unlike start-ups, scale-ups have a proven business model that generates revenue and profits.

  3. Increased staff numbers: Scale-ups usually have more than 10 employees and are often expanding their teams rapidly.

  4. Access to funding: Scale-ups require significant investment to fuel their growth, and they typically have access to venture capital, angel investors or other forms of funding.

  5. Expansion into new markets: Scale-ups often look to expand their operations into new markets, either domestically or internationally.

Scale-ups also face distinct challenges as they grow their business. One of the biggest challenges is maintaining the company culture and values as the team grows. Another challenge is managing cash flow and finances effectively to ensure the business can continue to grow sustainably. Finally, scale-ups need to be able to adapt to changing market conditions and customer demands quickly.

How Scale-ups are Different from Start-ups?

While start-ups and scale-ups share some similarities, they are fundamentally different. Start-ups are focused on finding product-market fit and establishing a viable business model. They are usually bootstrapped or funded by angel investors and have fewer than 10 employees. Start-ups are also characterised by a high level of uncertainty and risk, as they are still testing their business model and trying to attract their first customers.

Scale-ups, on the other hand, have already achieved product-market fit and are focused on scaling their operations rapidly. They have a proven business model and are typically funded by venture capital or other forms of institutional investment. Scale-ups are also characterised by a higher level of stability and predictability, as they have already established their market position and customer base.


In conclusion, understanding the differences between start-ups and scale-ups is crucial for anyone looking to succeed in the world of entrepreneurship. While start-ups are focused on establishing a viable business model, scale-ups are focused on rapid growth and expansion. Scale-ups require significant investment and face unique challenges as they grow their business, but they also offer the potential for significant rewards for those who are able to succeed.


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About the author

Sabbir Rahman is Managing Director of Langdon Capital. He has held prior roles with Morgan Stanley, Lazard and Barclays Investment Bank. He has executed over £60 billion in notional value of transactions across financing, M&A and derivatives with global corporates, private equity funds and financial sponsor groups.

About Langdon Capital

Langdon Capital assists innovative, high-growth companies, with >£1m in annual revenue and >20% in annual revenue growth, raise between £1m and £25m in debt or equity at Series A or beyond from a network of 700+ alternative investors spanning venture capital funds, venture debt funds, corporate VC arms, private credit funds, real estate funds and family offices.

This is not financial advice or any offer, invitation or inducement to sell or provide financial products or services or to engage in any form of investment activity.

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