There’s an interesting thing about starting a business today. Starting a business has never been easier, but taking that business from a startup to scaleup or an exit is another thing altogether. We’re living in a golden age for entrepreneurs, especially in the world of tech startups, SaaS, or service based businesses. It may feel as straightforward as “idea today, business tomorrow,” however, growing a thriving business today requires a mix of old-school wisdom and new-age strategies.

Going From Startup to Success

Think about the lifecycle of a business as a series of phases, each with its own set of challenges and opportunities. Starting out feels exciting—you’re running on adrenaline, passion, and maybe a bit of coffee-fueled grind sessions. We’ve all been there. That might get you off the ground, but what about going from existence to success, and ultimately into scaling up? That’s where things get real.

We consider ourselves students of The Five Stages of Small Business Growth from Harvard Business Review. Go ahead and give it a read. It’s an instant classic and is an essay we revisit several times a year.

Authors Neil C. Churchill and Virginia L. Lewis outline in great detail the five stages every company may go through: Existence, Survival, Success, Take-off, and Resource Maturity. Take a look at the graphic below from the essay:

You’ll notice each phase has many different outcomes, ranging from failure (fold) to operate, sell, or otherwise exit. As you begin to reach the ceiling in each stage, you’ll be challenged with new issues to solve, new systems to create, and new outcomes to reach for. 

What’s that all to say?

There’s More Than One Way to Run a Successful Business

As you operate your business, you should be thinking about what you want to get out of it. Are you looking for a rapid blitzscale operation or more interested in managing a healthy business that provides your employees and you a great income and work-life balance. There’s no right or wrong answer here. As the founder, the path is yours to choose.

Today’s business philosophies vary widely. Some chase growth at all costs, fueled by heaps of venture capital. Others take a steadier path, focusing on building sustainable revenue streams and strong customer relationships through value-based pricing and authentic marketing.

As a leader, it’s about picking the path that aligns with your vision. Whether you’re aiming for the stars with rapid expansion or plotting a more measured, fulfilling journey, what matters is that it’s your choice, tailored to your goals.

Management is All About Systems, People, and Processes

Scaling a business is a lot like training for a marathon. It’s tough, requires discipline, and you’re bound to hit a few walls. But with the right preparation—like hiring top-notch talent who share your vision, delegating wisely, and not shying away from tough decisions like letting go of what doesn’t work—you set yourself up for the long run.

Entrepreneurship Today is Striking The Balance Between Leverage and Opportunity

With today’s technology, the barriers to entry are astonishingly low. This is great because it means more people can turn their ideas into businesses. However, it also means the competition is fierce. Standing out from the crowd requires not just a great product or service but also leveraging modern tools to enhance your operations and expand your reach effectively. To navigate this, you need to start with a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and craft a path that might include leveraging modern tools and platforms to streamline operations and enhance reach.

Proactivity vs. Reactivity

A lot of entrepreneurs start a business because they have a unique perspective or approach to solving problems. That’s great, especially when the market is looking for that solution and you find product market fit. However, these same entrepreneurs need to recognize when it’s time to step away from active problem-solving and move into management and operations. You can’t stay in problem-solving mode forever. That will force you to become too reactive when you really should be focusing on creating stable systems and processes to leverage.

We see this all the time. If there’s one thing that is common in early-stage companies struggling to really gain traction, it’s becoming too reactive to outside forces—constantly firefighting problems rather than anticipating and preparing for them. To really thrive, it’s crucial to stay one step ahead: anticipate changes, plan for growth, and always keep your end goals in sight.

Your Business, Your Journey

Building a business today is a process of discovering what works, adapting to new challenges, and staying true to your vision. Whether you’re aiming for a blitzscale or a bootstrap, what’s crucial is understanding the landscape, having the right tools, and laying a strong foundation for growth.

People, processes, and a clear vision and path to action are so important in your business. Looking for a partner to help you with all three? We’re here to help: contact us today to take your business to the next level.

About the Author: Joe Schipani

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Joe Schipani is a Managing Partner at Cross/Section. Prior to founding Cross/Section, he had a successful career in leadership roles in sales, marketing, business development and operations. He focuses on growth, product, GTM strategy, and continuous improvement in front office functions.