6 Types of Startup Journeys

Artem Loginov
Product & Quality
November 2, 2023
startup founder paths to create a new startup

Startup founders are those who accelerate the progress, disrupt the whole industries, solve real life issues, create new approaches to old problems and much more. But also startup founders are those who fail frequently, work intensively, who aren't afraid to experiment and reinvent themselves and their products constantly and those who are determined enough on the way to their dream and crazy enough to reach for unreachable.

There are many people who have great new business ideas, but never make a step to realise them. Also there are many people who do the first step, start investigating the market and maybe even buy a domain name, but never make any further steps... sounds familiar? Then, out of those who actually had the persistence to make the next steps, build a prototype and maybe even talk to the potential customers, who many will actually go further and build the actual product, an MVP? If we had to draw it in a form of a chart, it would be an inverted geometrical progression, something like this:

The number of startup founders from idea to launch - a graph that illustrated how few of them get to launch a product

So this makes me think how lucky we are to be the ones at the right part of the chart. So if you're one of those people who tend to come up with startup ideas, but never actually build one thinking that "uh, there are so many founders out there, someone is probably already building this" or "the competition is too tough, there are so many projects out there" or "nah, maybe it's not worth the effort" or something similar, think again - in reality those who actually come to materialise their idea are very few. So my message to you is - be brave, be determined, take the next step, create a business plan, talk to the potential customers and build things! Of course, there's a high chance of failure, but if you don't try - you've also got 0% chance of success.

So in this article I'd like to cover some of the most typical startup journeys that exist. And maybe it helps you find the right path for your project, who knows?

What Are the Typical Startup Journeys?

Let's talk about the kinds of paths you can take as a startup founder. Here are some of the most typical journeys I could recall:

1. The High-Growth, VC-Backed Rollercoaster

When we speak of a VC-backed startup, we're diving into the world of high stakes and high rewards, a landscape dominated by ambitious founders and equally ambitious investors. These startups are the ones that turn heads and captivate attention, making bold promises to shake the foundations of the markets they enter.

These founders often find themselves in a frenetic dance of product development, aggressive marketing, and continuous pitching to investors. They're always in the public eye, their stories told in eager articles and their faces becoming synonymous with innovation. The pace is relentless. Behind every triumphant product launch or skyrocketing user adoption rate, there are many days and nights of hard work and dozens of high-pressure board meetings.

A graph that shows the VC-backed startup journey over time

2. The Bootstrapped Brainchild

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the self-funded startups. No flashy VC bucks here; just sheer will, savings, maybe some loans, and a product that hopefully turns a profit from the get-go. It's the tortoise, compared to the VC-backed hare, slow and steady. And sometimes, that wins the race.

The risks here are personal. Without the safety net of external funding, the financial burden can be immense. Growth is often slower, yet each milestone is a testament to the founder's perseverance. Success isn't measured by the next funding round but by profitability and the steady building of a loyal customer base.

But from this stringent discipline comes a profound advantage: control. Bootstrapped founders retain their ownership. They grow at their own pace, their culture untouched by the pressures of investors seeking a quick return.

the bootstrapped startup journey timeline - organic growth

3. The Side Hustle Turned Startup

Ever start something as a weekend project or a little side hustle and then, BOOM, it's a business? Yeah, that's this journey. One day you're making soap in your garage; the next day, you're the CEO of a boutique organic skincare line.

The metamorphosis from hobby to company is organic. As the customer base expands, so does the realization that this "little project" has legs. With every sale, the validation of their product grows, and the wheels of commerce begin to turn faster. It’s exhilarating, yes, but also overwhelming. Transitioning to full-time entrepreneurship is a leap of faith, stepping into unknown territory with the hope that the parachute of their side hustle’s success will carry them safely down.

This path is dotted with learning curves, often requiring the founder to master skills on the fly — from understanding customer acquisition costs to optimizing supply chains. It’s about scaling a product or service without losing the essence of what made it special in the first place.

handmade soap bars, an example of  side hustle turned startup

4. The Lifestyle Venture

The "Lifestyle Venture" is all about balance. Founders who embark on this journey are not necessarily looking to be the next headline in TechCrunch. Instead, they're creating businesses that complement the life they want to lead. It's entrepreneurship with wellbeing at its core.

For example, take a surf enthusiast who starts an online shop selling custom-made surfboards. They're not aiming to become a global conglomerate. Their goal is to make enough to support their surfing passion, cover their bills, and have the freedom to catch the waves whenever they please.

These founders typically bootstrap their ventures, rely on organic growth, and may often turn to a loyal customer base rather than investors for funding. They're not opposed to profit; they just don't measure success in terms of exponential growth or market domination. Personal satisfaction, community impact, and flexibility are their metrics for success.

surf boards and organic kombucha shop - an example of a lifestyle venture

5. The Social Enterprise

Social enterprises emerge out of a desire to do good and create change. They operate with a double goal: seeking to be profitable while also focusing on social and/or environmental objectives.

Imagine a technology firm whose software helps businesses calculate and reduce their carbon footprint. While they operate on a for-profit model, their principal mission is to fight climate change by enabling other companies to become more sustainable.

Another illustration could be a fair-trade coffee shop that sources beans directly from small-scale farmers, paying them above-market rates to promote economic development in their communities. The shop’s profits are important to maintain operations, but the social impact on the farmers’ lives and livelihoods is the guiding star.

These businesses look to solve society or environment issues with entrepreneurial approaches. Founders of social enterprises are passionate about their cause, using their business acumen to drive societal change.

Social enterprises blend mission and margin, focusing on impact as much as income. Who says you can't do well by doing good?

hands planting a small plant, as an example of a social eterprise

6. The Family Business

Imagine a family-owned textile workshop, renowned for creating beautiful, high-quality fabrics using time-honoured techniques. Their business is a tapestry of deep-rooted cultural heritage and modern design techniques.

The workshop, managed by the mother and her two sons marries the old with the new. They preserve ancient methods of weaving and dyeing while embracing contemporary patterns and eco-friendly materials that appeal to a modern audience seeking sustainability and authenticity.

They isn’t looking to be the next global fashion brand; instead, they are content with their status as a beloved local institution that also attracts discerning customers from all over the world. Their storefront doubles as a workshop and a learning center, where they host workshops.

Their commitment extends beyond the family business to the community, as they collaborate with local designers and artisans to create a collective brand that stands for quality and cultural identity. They become a cultural hub, a place where the legacy of local craftsmanship is not only preserved, but invigorated with each carefully crafted piece.

As the family looks to the future, they plan not for a multinational expansion but for a robust, enduring business that supports the family, upholds the artisanal values of the region, and contributes to the vibrancy of the local economy.

So in this example many times it's not really a startup in our usual understanding, but in some families the younger generation needs to choose between continuing the family business, starting something completely new or doing something else.

an old lady at the doors of a family-run business

7. The Franchise Model

Franchising offers entrepreneurs a way to leverage an established brand's success by opening their own outlets under the same name. It's a strategic pathway for those who wish to start a business with a market-tested concept, backed by a proven operational model.

In franchising, the entrepreneur (franchisee) pays the owner of the brand (franchisor) a franchise fee and often an ongoing royalty in exchange for the right to operate a business under the brand's name and system. This also includes receiving a full package of support ranging from training, marketing, product supply, to sometimes financing assistance.

a franchise business model, interior of a starbucks

In conclusion, the landscape of startup journeys is as diverse as the entrepreneurs who embark on them. Each path, from the pursuit of high growth with VC funding to the replication of success through franchising represents a unique blend of vision, strategy, and execution. The journey you choose should resonate with your personal goals, strengths, and the impact you wish to make.

As I've seen, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to building a startup. The beauty of entrepreneurship lies in the multitude of paths available, each with its own set of challenges and rewards. I encourage you to consider the examples provided as a starting point for understanding the broader context in which your business could thrive.

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