"Even the biggest publishing houses had to start from the bottom of the pile."
Penny Peterssen, former Director of Marketing for Naughty Nights Press - Link
"EVERY publisher that is successful today started off with no experience and no titles."
Rebecca Hamilton, Immortal Ink Publishing - Link
This claim has been made by more than one startup press, usually when questioned about the experience (or lack thereof) of the press’s staff. If every publisher was founded with little to no resources, the reasoning goes, and yet some grew to Random-House-esque proportions, surely a lack of knowledge or funds should not be a red flag for the press in question.
The claim never fails to annoy me, though, mostly because three minutes of Googling proves it inaccurate.
Del Rey was created by Judy Lynn Del Rey, an experienced editor, and Lester Del Rey, an established author.
Tor was founded by Tom Doherty, who had a lot of background when it came to the industry. From the link: "He was a salesman for Pocket Books in 1959 when he met Ian Ballantine, who taught him about publishing. A variety of sales and publishing jobs later, Doherty became publisher of Ace in 1975, where he remained for five years until starting Tor Books in 1980."
Donald A. Wollheim was an editor at Avon and Ace before he founded DAW Books in 1972.
Bloomsbury was founded by Nigel Newton, who previously worked as a sales manager and deputy managing director for Sidgwick & Jackson, an imprint of Pan Macmillan.
Baen Books was founded by Jim Baen, who started as an assistant at Ace, edited for two magazines and was hired by Tom Doherty to run Ace's SF line.
These are not people who woke up one day, decided to be publishers, set up a website and started accepting manuscripts.
As for smaller presses, Samhain's Christina Brashear worked at Ellora’s Cave, and the editor-in-chief at BenBella Books was at Random House. In summary, not everyone started at the bottom. At best, such a claim suggests the people making it haven’t done their research. At worst, they’re hoping you haven’t done yours.