All businesses have life cycles. Even startups go through different stages of evolution as they grow and develop. Many factors may influence its progress, and in some cases, startups fail before they can go through the whole cycle.
Building your business from the ground up can feel like an overwhelming and confusing task. But by learning about the different stages of a startup, you can tell exactly where you are and how to chart a course towards your goals.
Keep in mind that because all businesses are different, the time you spend on one stage will be different from others.
What are the Different Stages of a Startup?
Small businesses vary widely in size and capacity for growth. And yet all startups experience common problems at similar stages in their development. These points of similarity can be used to determine which stage of development a small business is currently in.
Knowing where you are in your journey will help you manage your time and resources efficiently. For founders, understanding where your business is can aid in assessing which problems need to be prioritized. It can even help you anticipate future challenges so you can prepare accordingly.
Planning and Research: Turning an Idea into Reality
This is the stage where the startup conceptualizes their product or service and assesses whether there is a need for it. The main problem during this stage is that turning ideas into reality is difficult. Even more difficult is finding a great idea that can get off the ground and find its perfect audience.
You need to research your offering’s product-market fit, your competition, your budget, etc. This stage is all about developing a solid business plan. During this stage, it is often just the founders working together to make their dream come true.
Commitment and Branding: Finding Your Audience
This stage is where you move from a concept to a company. You put your research into practice and start following your business plan. You develop a prototype, or start selling to friends and family members to get that initial feedback.
The main problem during this stage is finding an audience for your startup: identifying ideal clients and reaching out to them using various marketing efforts. Startups use different avenues to promote their brand, often using word of mouth and social media marketing strategies.
Founders need to establish their brand. This ensures that they have a place in the market and a reputation to build upon. This is also the stage wherein you work towards perfecting your product.
Startups may have their first few employees during this stage, all of whom are managed directly by the founders.
Viability and Traction: Learning about What Works and What Doesn’t
The first few years are the most difficult for startups because your company isn’t well-established yet and you may run out of money before the business becomes profitable. The traction stage is where you begin to find out whether or not your company is truly viable.
Traction should not be mistaken for growth. Both come at different stages in the life cycle of the startup. Traction is only the beginning of your growth. Focus on growing your customer base and reaching the goals you set. The main problem for this stage is delivering the product and managing cash flow.
During this stage, the team may expand and add more people, or stick with the core members.
Refinement and Growth: Scaling Your Startup
The refinement stage is where you apply everything you’ve learned so far based on your research and your experience with running your startup. This is the part where you apply feedback and shift your business strategies based on customer experience.
Startups in this stage are already proven to be viable and are working towards scaling their company. If you are in this stage, then you are beginning to be profitable. Founders should focus on establishing credibility and building customer trust. It’s all about providing value consistently—and even improving in areas where you can.
Scaling means expanding your customer base, your offerings, and your company itself. This stage can start at year 2 to 3 and may last for years. Here is where you refine your systems in order to become more efficient. Founders may hire more people who specialize in different aspects of the business. The focus shifts towards building a team of reliable individuals with complementary skill sets.
When hiring more employees, founders should delegate non-essential tasks that are slowing them down or holding them back. You want to channel all your energy into one thing: growth.
In this stage, your company is no longer considered a start-up, but an established enterprise. Some companies get here sooner, while others don’t reach this stage at all. You may see considerable growth, but not at the same rate you did while scaling up, which is when the most dramatic growth occurs.
It is time to explore new ventures, expand your company where you can, hire more employees, and refine your marketing strategies. The main problem is dealing with the competition and further developing your strengths.
Remember that every company is unique and comparing your progress to other startups can be counterproductive. Learn from your mistakes and try to reach the goals you set. If you do find yourself comparing your company with other startups, make sure that it is inspiring you instead of dragging you down.