What are the stages of a startup?

Fintech Harbor Consulting | What are the stages of a startup?
Reviewer: Bohdan Popovchenko
Reviewer: Illia Ivanko
Table of contents
Starting a successful startup is a daunting but rewarding experience. It requires a great deal of hard work, dedication, and knowledge of the essential stages to launch a successful venture. From coming up with a great idea to securing funding, understanding the stages of launching a startup is crucial in ensuring that your business has the best chance at success. Knowing the right steps to take, the right questions to ask, and the right strategies to use will help you to navigate the complex process of launching a successful startup. With the appropriate knowledge, you can increase your chances of success and create a prosperous business that stands the test of time. In addition, launching a new business requires high-level legal services through all stages of startup.

What is a Startup?

Startup is a company or a project that is usually in its early stages of development. It often involves entrepreneurs who are looking to bring a product or service to the market to gain traction and grow the business. Startups require considerable investment and effort to rise. They also need a great deal of creativity and innovation to succeed. The key aim of any startup is turning ideas into reality.

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Stages of a Startup

There are different approaches to startup lifecycle classification. However, the most common viewpoint for stages of a startup business contains the following:
  • Pre-Seed Stage
  • Seed Stage
  • Growth/Expansion Stage
  • IPO/Exit Stage

Pre-Seed Stage

The pre-seed stage is the earliest stage of a startup, before the actual seed stage. At this stage, the startup is usually in the idea and validation phase. The founders are working on developing their product or service and validating their idea.
Conducting market research, understanding the target audience, and identifying the problem that the startup is trying to solve are the key elements of the pre-seed stage. The founders may also be working on building a team, forming a business plan, and exploring potential revenue streams.
In terms of funding, startups at the pre-seed stage are typically self-funded. Founders use their personal savings or investments from friends and family to cover initial expenses. Some may also look for angel investors or participate in pre-seed accelerator programs.
The pre-seed stage can be challenging and uncertain. The startup is still in the process of developing its product or service and has yet to generate revenue. However, it’s also a critical stage for laying the foundation of the business and building a strong team that can help the startup move forward into the seed stage and beyond.
Startups at the pre-seed stage typically require legal services to help them navigate the complex legal and regulatory landscape they will face.
As an example, startups need to choose the right legal entity structure. It can be a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, or corporation. To become incorporated it is mandatory to file the necessary paperwork to the appropriate state authority.
Startups that already have innovative ideas and technology need to protect. Startups can do it through patents, trademarks, or copyrights. A lawyer can help startups navigate the process of securing IP protection.
In addition, it’s important for startups to have legal agreements in place between founders. It can be a founders’ agreement or an operating agreement. It should define the roles and responsibilities of each founder and ensure that they are aligned with the company’s vision and goals.
Fintech Harbor Consulting | What are the stages of a startup?

Seed Stage

The seed stage is the next stage of a startup lifecycle after the pre-seed stage. At this stage, the startup has moved beyond the idea and validation phase. It also has a minimum viable product (MVP) or prototype that has been tested in the market. The startup is now focused on refining the product and building out the team and maybe generating some initial revenue. Here are some characteristics of the seed stage:
  • Product development. The startup is focused on developing the product or service, based on feedback from early customers, and refining the MVP to make it more robust and scalable.
  • Team building. The startup is expanding the team beyond the founding members and hiring key employees.
  • Customer acquisition. The startup is actively acquiring customers and refining its sales and marketing strategy to generate revenue and grow the user base.
  • Funding. Startups at the seed stage often require additional funding to support product development and customer acquisition. This funding may come from seed-stage investors, angel investors, or crowdfunding platforms.
  • Partnership and collaboration. Startups may begin to form strategic partnerships and collaborations to expand their product offerings.
Startups need legal services to help them navigate the complex legal landscape that they face as they grow their business.
At the seed stage, startups may need to raise extra capital to fuel their growth. A lawyer can help the startup navigate the fundraising process, negotiate terms with investors, and ensure that the startup is in compliance with securities laws and regulations.
Also, startups should continue to protect their intellectual property as they grow. A lawyer can help them do this by filing additional patents or trademarks and defending against infringement claims.
As the startup grows, it will likely need to enter into more complex contracts and agreements with partners, vendors, and customers. A lawyer can help the startup negotiate and draft these agreements.
Startups will need to follow legal and regulatory requirements, such as data privacy laws, securities laws, and labour laws. A lawyer can help the startup navigate these requirements and ensure that it is in compliance.
As the startup continues to build its team, it may need legal advice on issues related to employment and HR. It may be hiring and firing practices, discrimination and harassment policies, etc. Lawyers can also protect the company’s rights to IP in the labour agreements with employees to avoid potential IP ownership issues in the future.
The seed stage is a critical stage for startups as they work to refine their product, acquire customers, and secure more funding. With the right strategy, team, and resources, startups can move from the seed stage to the next stage of growth and development.
Fintech Harbor Consulting | What are the stages of a startup?

Growth/Expansion Stage

The growth/expansion stage of a startup is a period of rapid growth. At this stage, the company has achieved product-market fit, and growth of its revenue and customer base. The key characteristics of an expansion stage are:
  1. Geographic expansion. Startups may expand to new geographic markets, seeking to reach a wider customer base. This may involve navigating complex regulatory issues related to doing business abroad.
  2. Product line expansion. The company may introduce new products or services to complement its existing offerings and meet the needs of its expanding customer base.
  3. Partnerships and collaborations. A startup may explore strategic partnerships and collaborations to help accelerate growth and expand its reach. These partnerships may involve joint ventures, licensing agreements, or other forms of collaboration.
  4. Fundraising. Startups in the expansion stage may require additional capital to fund their growth. It may explore various financing options, such as venture capital, private equity, or debt financing.
  5. Branding and marketing. As the company expands, it may invest in branding and marketing initiatives to attract new customers. This may involve developing a comprehensive marketing strategy, investing in advertising and public relations, and expanding the company’s online presence.
Summarizing, the expansion stage is a critical period for a startup, as it seeks to achieve sustainable growth.
At the growth/expansion stages of startups, a broad range of legal services is required as it supports their continued expansion. Here are some examples of legal services that may be important for growth stage startups:
  1. Corporate governance and compliance. As the company grows, it will need to develop a more formal governance structure and ensure compliance with a range of laws and regulations. This may involve developing a board of directors, adopting formal policies, and complying with regulations.
  2. Contract drafting and negotiation. As the company enters into more complex business relationships it may require legal support for contract drafting and negotiation. This may include licensing agreements, supply agreements, and other legal documents.
  3. Employment and labour law. As the company hires more employees, it will need to ensure compliance with employment and labour laws. This may involve developing employment policies, negotiating employment agreements, and addressing employee disputes.
  4. Intellectual property protection. As the growth stage startup continues to develop new products or services, protecting its IP becomes crucial. This may involve filing additional patent or trademark applications, developing trade secret protection strategies, and defending against infringement by competitors.
  5. Mergers and acquisitions. The company may explore mergers and acquisitions to help speed up growth, expand its reach, and gain access to new markets. This may involve engaging legal professionals for due diligence, drafting and reviewing transaction documents.
  6. Tax planning and compliance. As the company’s revenue grows, it may require legal support for tax planning and compliance. It includes sales tax, income tax, and other tax issues.
The startup navigates complex legal issues and builds a solid legal foundation for future growth in this phase. As a result, engaging with legal professionals can be critical to the success of the company.
Fintech Harbor Consulting | What are the stages of a startup?
The IPO/exit stage of a startup is the point where the company is ready to go public. There are two main options: by launching an initial public offering (IPO) or by being acquired by another company.
If the company decides to go public, it will need to engage legal professionals to help prepare for the IPO. This may involve filing registration statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), preparing disclosure documents, and complying with securities laws and regulations.
Alternatively, the company may explore the option of being acquired by another company. This may involve engaging legal professionals to help negotiate the terms of the acquisition, perform due diligence, and draft and review transaction documents.
At this stage, the company will need to establish a more formal corporate governance structure. It may include a board of directors and formal policies and procedures. Legal professionals can assist with the development of these policies and procedures.
If the company goes public, it will need to develop shareholder agreements. It must outline the rights and responsibilities of shareholders. Legal professionals can assist with drafting and negotiating these agreements.
As the company prepares for an IPO or acquisition, it will need to address complex tax and accounting issues. It includes tax implications of the transaction, revenue recognition policies, and compliance with financial reporting requirements.
If the company is acquired, it may need to transfer ownership of its intellectual property and other assets to the acquiring company. Legal professionals can assist with this process and ensure compliance with relevant regulations.
It should be noted that an IPO or exit through acquisition is not mandatory for a startup. Some startups may choose to remain privately owned. However, for many startups, an IPO or acquisition can be an important milestone. It allows the company to access new sources of capital, expand its customer base, and achieve liquidity for its shareholders.
Ultimately, the decision to pursue an IPO or exit through acquisition depends on a variety of factors. It includes the company’s growth prospects, market conditions, and the goals of the founders and investors. Legal professionals can provide guidance on the necessary legal and regulatory issues involved.

How do you know what stage your startup is at?

Knowing what stage your startup is at is important for:
  1. Understanding where your company is in its development;
  2. What its priorities should be;
  3. What resources the company may need to reach the next level?
The most common ways to determine what stage your startup is at:
  • Revenue. One common way to categorize startup stages is by revenue. For example, a pre-revenue or “idea” stage startup has not yet generated any revenue. On the contrary, a growth stage startup may have substantial revenue and be focused on scaling its business.
  • Funding. Another way to determine a startup’s stage is by looking at its funding history. Early stage startups may be funded solely by the founders or by their friends and family. Later-stage startups may have received significant investment from venture capital firms.
  • Product development. A startup’s stage can also be determined by its progress in developing and launching its product or service. A pre-seed or seed startup is still developing and testing its product. A growth-stage startup may have a well-established product with a large customer base.
  • Market traction. A startup’s market traction, such as the number of customers, revenue growth rate, or user engagement, can also help identify its stage. A startup with little to no market traction is likely in an earlier stage than one with significant market traction.
In general, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to how to determine a startup’s stage. Different investors, accelerators, and organizations may use different criteria to categorize startups. However, by looking at the above factors you can get a sense of where your startup fits into the broader ecosystem and what its priorities should be.
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