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5 Stages of Entrepreneurship: Clear Guided Path

Updated: Feb 6, 2020

"Without clarity, we are confused. And when we are confused, we are timid. And when we are timid, we do what is safe, which is, we wait until someone else makes a decision for us..."

It is no secret that starting/running a business is hard! Statistically, you are more likely to fail. When we started the Black Coffee Company, we were aware of the statistics. Proud to say that we are two years old! Still, we are not out of the danger zone of being a statistic. The grind over the past two years has been crazy. We have felt lost at times and overwhelmed by the number of things that needs to be done. We have questioned why we even started in the first place. We lost the WHY in the day-to-day grind. We felt isolated. It was at those moments that we realized the strength in having a community. Not just any community, but a community of entrepreneurs, business owners, and like-minded people. It is tough. You cannot do it on your own. It takes a community. This is why we put this post together and built a community. Clarity is vital! Especially in starting and running a business.

The opening quote is from The EntreLeadership podcast, Episode 357: The Business Owner's Path to Success with Daniel Tardy and Sarah Sloyan. The episode breakdowns the 5 stages of entrepreneurship (owning/running a business) and the importance of having a clear guided path. We've summarized the 5 stages below as a teaser. Definitely recommend listening to the episode in its entirety when time permits.

Stage 1. Treadmill Operator

This is the start-up stage, you are excited about launching and meeting new customers. Over time you start to wear more and more hats (social media manager, putting labels on products, shipping products, managing books, establishing supplier relationships, customer support, etc.). You feel like you cannot delegate to anybody. Taking a vacation is off the table, otherwise the whole business shuts down. Sometimes you feel like there is no other way. You are a doer.

A few things you can do to get out of this stage is:

  • Commit time every week thinking and planning what you are going to do.

  • Be more strategic.

  • Start working on the business and not in the business.

  • Listen to a podcast and/or read a book, you will start generating ideas and add fuel to your fire.

Stage 2. Pathfinder

In this stage, you are committed to the daily discipline of evaluating every activity the team does. You ask yourself:

  • Is this the best use of my time?

  • Are we doing this on purpose?

  • Are we doing this proactively? Or are we only reacting?

  • Are we doing this because we sat down and said this is a priority?

  • Am I the kind of leader that the team wants to follow?

  • Am I becoming a leader or just working harder and harder at doing my job?

This stage is about this commitment to this journey to get away from the treadmill stage and transform yourself to be a great leader, who can build the team, build the systems, and scale the business.

Stage 3. Trailblazer

In this stage, you are now producing fruits from your labor. You have built a team. As a leader, you delegate a task out and things get done with little oversight and may even produce better results then when you was in charge of the task/project. You are now tapping into the power of leverage. Tapping into the power of a team. The team is starting to gel and there is great chemistry. As a leader, you feel like you can exhale. The leader is in the driver seat and steering. All of the horse power is under the hood. The driver/leader is not physically causing the car to move. You are steering the horse power.

“Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.” - Navy Seals.

You slow down enough to teach and train the team. In the short term, it may not be as good if you personally did it. You are sacrificing short term excellence (creating coachable moments) for long term team building. Essentially, building a team that can run fast.

Stage 4. Peak Performer

In this stage, the team wants to follow you (the leader). You have awesome alignment. The team trusts you. You are very clear on your purpose. You have great leaders who you can delegate to. There is unity, organization, and core values. You have a great product/service and you are iterating on it. The customer feedback loop is fantastic. You know what you are great at and how you impact the market place. Customers are paying you with dollars so you can hire more people and invest back. You are really good at strategic planning and breaking things down into goals. Your job as the owner is to continue to push vision clarity!! You evaluate the results and invest in the relationships with the influencers on the team who are going to continue to scale the company. You are doing three things: providing a clear vision, establishing relationships and monitoring results.

Stage 5. Legacy Builder

In this stage, you are working on how the business lives past you. How can the business live for multiple generations? You realize that life is about investing in people and bringing life into the world in a way that empowers and builds people!

"Where there is no vision, the people perish."


After two years of launching BCC, we would definitely say that we are still in the Treadmill Operator stage. We have come to the realization that in order for us to grow and scale, we must write things down. We must create operation manuals, seek inspiration from podcasts and books, establish relationships with mentors, spend time thinking and strategizing, and focus on growing and building the team and culture. It has not been easy to make that mindset shift to the next stage. The demand from the business pulls us back into the Treadmill Operator stage constantly (sometimes it is just easier to do it ourselves than to teach someone how to do it). We are excited for our future and trajectory and yours. What stage is your business in?

Lastly, it wasn’t until I listened to the podcast the second time that I realize that these stage also describes parenting. Stay tune for a blog post on the similarities of entrepreneurship and parenting.

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