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There’s a question which causes some startup founders to bristle.

‘When will you make any money?’ can lead to passionate defences of the Silicon Valley-style model where user base and market share is king, with profitability something to worry about down the road.

Justin Gilchrist, founder of Manchester startup WellBox, describes following this model as a “common fallacy”.

“The traditional VC-backed startup model of raising and delaying profitability – often for years – is a model that has been shown to work… but we have to remember that statistically, it’s unlikely to work,” he tells TechBlast. 

“Generating profit gives you a longer runway to iron out the kinks in your business model before needing to raise.

“I’d advise founders to question if they can grow and be profitable. For us, this means adopting a hybrid model incorporating eCommerce alongside SaaS.”


Managing director and head of growth Gilchrist founded WellBox in October 2020 when South, his corporate hospitality business, suffered a sharp downturn in revenue due to COVID-19. The idea was to sell healthy snacks to employers with remote employees.

It has since generated more than £5 million in revenue with ‘healthy net profit’ and boasts a client list which includes more than 65% of the FTSE 100 alongside US companies such as Google, Facebook, Salesforce, Tesla and Amazon.

The business has been self-funded and profitable to date, which Gilchrist says has been a critical part of its success. Next year will see the separation of the software platform from the gifting business, with a Series A round of funding planned to accelerate the move.

He says 2022 has been crucial in seeing which pandemic-born companies can survive and stay profitable once people returned to work and pandemic spending died down.

“Corporate gifting is an industry that boomed thanks to the pandemic but, in 2022, many of our competitors were unable to continue when volumes naturally declined,” he explains. 

“We believe our continued profitability is a testament to the strength of the business model as more companies hire remote first, or hybrid and need a way of engaging and connecting with those people now we’re no longer all in the same place.”

People & premises

Outside of external industry changes, WellBox has had two major internal challenges so far: people and premises.

“With the boom in eCommerce, dark kitchens, shopping startups and courier deliveries, the demand for warehouse and industrial have outstripped supply, especially in Trafford Park. Rental prices have quite literally doubled since 2019,” he says.

“Finding warehouse space with a good grade of office accommodation built-in has been problematic. This has been made worse by commercial agents shopping around for better offers, sometimes even during legals or stalling deals as a strategy to gain a better-negotiating position.

“People have been our other major challenge. Globalisation and a sharp increase in remote work mean we’re no longer competing with just other Manchester-based companies for desk-based talent. Now, our competition is well funded, enterprise companies from the US and Western Europe who offer inflated salaries to secure talent, are often in a hurry to reach investment milestones.”

‘Having a startup mentality is a good thing’

Upscale 8.0

WellBox is among 35 companies accepted onto the eighth edition of Tech Nation’s Upscale. The six-month government-backed programme is designed to support and scale the most promising mid-stage tech companies in the UK, at a critical stage of their growth.

The companies will receive over 60 hours of support at world-class coaching sessions – delivered by over 20 expert scale coaches – attend networking events with key stakeholders, peers, corporates and investors, and have access to a range of online resources, designed to tackle fundamental scaling challenges around culture, talent, international expansion and financing. 

“There are many ways to grow and scale a company, but we’re hoping Upscale will act as a ‘guide rail’, giving us a solid track to do so,” says Gilchrist. “Most importantly, we’re hoping the network of contacts and alumni will provide us with vital UK connections, often difficult to come by when you’re located outside of London.”

Asked for a nugget of advice for fellow startup founders, he replies: “There’s no single path to success, so keep an open mind to why something would work rather than blindly following advice, most likely written by someone that’s not in your unique situation. 

“This applies even more if you’re based in the UK, especially outside of London, where access to investor networks and talent can be challenging.”

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