The definitive to-do list for startups

You may not realize it, but your early stage company has a lot in common with many thriving, internationally recognized brands. Right now, you’re travelling along the same journey that virtually every leading company has travelled: a journey that begins with a simple idea, but now requires careful execution as you navigate your way to success.

The individual twists and turns you encounter may be different, but the fundamental challenges you’ll face are the same ones that the most accomplished businesses have faced. In fact, you’ve probably run into one of the biggest, most common challenges already: the unknown.

“It’s difficult for startup founders to see what’s coming because they’ve never been down that road before,” says David Stevens, a senior advisor with Deloitte Private Consulting. “So they end up running into unanticipated roadblocks and intimidating demands in the early stages of their evolution. It’s a frustrating situation that inhibits growth.”

Many founders, for example, don’t take advantage of government incentives—simply because they don’t know such incentives exist. That’s money left on the table that could be used to fuel growth. Similarly, early stage companies that don’t optimally structure their organizations now can miss out on favourable tax opportunities later. Even preparing for a successful raise can catch early stage companies by surprise. The sheer volume of information required for investor scrutiny is often overwhelming.

Not knowing what’s ahead can be a daunting challenge. After all, it’s hard to trust random websites or information sources when you don’t know what’s reliable or appropriate.

To support the early stage community, we’ve created a checklist of the key factors for you to think about at each stage of your journey as a business, from ideation through maturity and even to sale or IPO. You might be surprised at how many items there are. But each one is important. After all, says Stevens, “We’re shining a light down a road that has so many twists and turns it’s difficult to navigate. A little illumination can make it much easier to stay on course.”  

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Life Cycle

The key checklist for startups

There’s a lot to think about as you steer your way through the many challenges along your road to success.

Roll over the chart to explore where you should focus your energy.






Congratulations! Your idea is on the way to becoming reality. In this important early stage, you’ll want to think about foundational issues:

Set up your business

  • Formalize legal agreements between partners/founders/seed investors
  • Review your business model
  • Incorporate
  • Complete your business plan
  • Consider copyright, trademark, and intellectual property requirements

Prepare for success

  • Identify and prioritize talent
  • Determine overall build strategy
  • Source and confirm customer interest
  • Confirm total addressable market
  • Prepare projections and market estimates
  • Undertake a competitive assessment
  • Review available government incentives


You’ve achieved your first goals and received early interest. Now it’s time to fine tune your product or service and focus on sales. Among your priorities, you’ll want to:

Continue your product development

  • Develop your release strategy
  • Develop customer iterations and reviews
  • Develop customer segmentation strategies

Build your team

  • Attract and retain top talent

Procure and implement your technology solutions

  • Identify technology stack roadmap
  • Define procurement and implementation guidelines

Manage your risks

  • Develop a risk profile
  • Develop a risk management strategy

Prepare your marketing campaign

  • Develop marketing strategy
  • Explore alternative pricing structures
  • Revise projections
  • Refine business plans


Business is starting to take off. It’s time to focus on rapid market penetration. You’ll want to:

Refine your sales structure

  • Develop or source marketing support/infrastructure
  • Establish a formal sales process
  • Narrow sales channels to priority targets
  • Refine pricing models
  • Review order management process

Consider effective CRM tools

  • Develop customer feedback mechanisms
  • Review your order management process
  • Establish robust billing processes

Refine your processes

  • Formalize financial management functions
  • Monitor internal controls and compliance
  • Manage investor relations

Explore opportunities

  • Build talent retention strategies
  • Review existing partnerships/outsourcing models for expertise
  • Review legal, tax, and jurisdictional requirements
  • Consider partner strategies in new jurisdictions


It takes a lot to prepare for an IPO or sale of your company. Expect to devote a significant amount of time to these priorities:

Prepare data room

  • Document founder profiles
  • Prepare organizational chart, staff list, roles, duration
  • Revise projections and assumptions
  • Itemize all contracts
  • Inventory legal agreements and partnerships
  • Prepare preliminary valuation models
  • Confirm legal counsel and terms
  • Identify tax issues and exposures

Prepare for investors

  • Identify potential investors
  • Prepare business presentations

Maintain operational effectiveness

  • Formalize financial management practices
  • Formalize your business/operating model
  • Confirm roles and responsibilities through event
  • Agree and measure short-term targets through event
  • Monitor internal control processes and compliance


The need for capital will continue throughout every stage of the business. By preparing early, you’ll be better able to secure funding when you need it. You’ll want to:

Prepare for funding

  • Evaluate financing options
  • Prepare your investor profile model
  • Develop investor management strategies
  • Prepare your projections
  • Refine your business plans
  • Agree on resource allocation/responsibilities for capital raise
  • Agree on preliminary pricing and equity allocation priorities
  • Finalize data room materials and secure access for prospective investors
  • Relentlessly pursue raise across multiple sources
  • Prepare shareholder agreement(s)

Product development:

While you’re focused on continually refining your product or service, remember to protect it. You’ll want to:

  • Confirm intellectual property protection requirements
  • Confirm technology licensing requirements
  • Source resources and talent globally through partnerships
  • Scale to market launch through continued iteration/validation
  • Continually scan the market for competitive products and differentiation

Ready for the next step?
Let’s take it together.

Talk to Deloitte about how we can help your startup succeed.

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