Understanding the Stages of Business Maturation

Match your business stage — Seed, Launch, or Growth — with your strategy

March 3, 2021
Working with any startup can be difficult, but matching the necessary approach to their given stage of business maturation is the most important

This fall, we had the opportunity to offer our expertise by supporting the 307 Start Up Competition, where we helped assist five Seed and Launch stage businesses — GrillGate, Iter Arnum, Wolf’s Lighted Crystal Necklaces, Papa Joe’s Produce, and SSI/Virtual Sandtable — with building their investor presentations and defining their market position. Working with any startup can be difficult, but matching the necessary approach to their given stage of business maturation is the most important part. 

Looking at any successful small to mid-sized startup business today, it's sometimes hard to imagine the trials and tribulations they faced while getting there. Still, each step along the way, from your first euphoric “aha moment” to growing your business machine, has its own perils and pitfalls — whether it’s validating your idea with market feedback, scraping to acquire your first customers, or bringing on new employees as you scale. 

A lot of people say the main goal through these early stages is to de-risk your business idea. It’s better, however, to consider right-risking: matching your risk tolerance with your desired business outcomes. 

Of course, that's hard to do when there is so much unknown: how can you reduce the uncertainty of success, while at the same time gaining valuable insights to avoid catastrophic pitfalls as you scale?

One quick solution to progress is to create and conduct rapid tests, which will start amassing evidence that will support — or, counterintuitively, but equally as valuable, invalidate — your idea.

Let’s dig into how this plays out in each of the business maturation stages, using the metaphor of actual plant growth.

Business Maturation Graphic


1. Seed Stage: A thought or idea that needs nutrients to take root. 

In this initial stage, you have an idea, and you need resources to create the plan for the months ahead to grow it into a business. Uncertainty is at an all-time high. Without proof of the business concept, seed phase founders must pursue an array of market research tests to prove or disprove their business hypotheses. 

You’ll need to develop concise and compelling presentations that explain your business’s value propositions and your plans for growth. Avoid bringing on investors who aren’t willing to get their hands dirty and help with the heavy lift of taking the business to market; the last thing you need is opinions of what will work before receiving actual customer feedback with buying behavior. 

You know you’re in the Seed Stage if you:

  • have a business idea, but you haven’t sold your product/service to customers
  • will take any opportunity to match your skills and experience
  • lack market proof of your ideas of what will and can scale the business 

2. Launch Stage: An emergent sprout that’s taken root; delicate and changing every day.

If a business is able to identify solutions that solve customers’ problems, at a price they’re willing to pay, then taking the business to market is the name of the game in this phase.

In the Launch stage, the company is focused on validating its financial and profitability hypotheses as it looks to scale. Acquisition of early customers provides real evidence around your business ideas, and you’re equipped to start implementing pivots and adjustments to hone the business for growth. 

If you don't have properly designed business experiments, your productivity in this phase is likely to fall short, and an exponential increase in resources will be necessary to get you back on track.

You know you’re in the Launch Stage if you are:

  • receiving sales and early indications of profitability
  • collecting evidence for your value proposition
  • providing sales and scale dynamics that will support growth 

3. Growth Stage: An established tree with strong, supportive roots.

In this final stage, your idea is now proven and can return predictable results. 

Scaling the business requires finesse, as you balance growth with your evolving risk management during the acquisition of customers, clients, and accounts. The role of the founder(s) shifts to high-level leadership as new team members are brought on and require alignment and direction. Remember: it’s the roots, not the branches, that give a tree its strength.

You know you’re in the Growth Stage if you are:

  • scaling your business, even if in limited amounts
  • acquiring strong evidence to acquire and retain customers
  • maintaining customer engagement as company scales

From Theory to Practice 

It’s important to note that through every stage, assistance and expertise remain invaluable. Developing solid and sound tests is hard to do, especially when it comes to analyzing and effectively pivoting in response to the resulting evidence.

At Only Co., we help aspirational entrepreneurs define focus and direction. Think of it, to continue the metaphor, as providing the water: a plan of what-to-do, why, and when. 

Wherever you find yourself in the growth process, we’re here to help. 

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