Understanding the stair step pattern of company growth

Company building is a unique experience. An entrepreneur can experience a huge gyrations of emotions in any given day: ‘Wow, we’re going to do this!’  ‘Oh, we’re going to crash and burn’.  ‘My employees hate me’.  ‘My customers love me’…

With experience, however, you come to expect these twists and turns. In fact, you kind of get some enjoyment out of it. Despite these varying emotions, certain principles are generally true. Growth, for example, is almost never represented by the infamous hockey stick graph.

Growth for a startup usually happens in stair steps. A startup moves along a horizontal line (with some variances) until hitting a wall. That wall represents the barrier to the next plateau for the company. It could be that a startup has launched and found some anchor clients. The principles of the business are so occupied by the demands of the anchor clients that they cannot focus on business management. Yet, the word of mouth effect from servicing those clients is putting some pressure to expand. Well, you’ve just hit that wall leading to the next plateau. The company can only take the next step in growth by addressing these pending issues. Once resolved and perched on the next plateau, the same pattern will most likely be repeated with a new set of challenges — the next level of company development.

Understanding the ‘stair step’  pattern of growth will help start-up companies understand why everyone seems to be running faster but the company is not still growing properly.

I’m always wary of business plans that have a linear growth projections. That sounds logical in a business school classroom or it looks good on a spreadsheet, but I haven’t really experienced such growth in my past. Things are difficult to start, then you get in a rhythm with your first customers. Eventually the business beat changes. There are new and unfamiliar pressures on the business. It takes leadership at that point to scale to the next level and return to a comfortable (but more sophisticated) rhythm.