Startup Roadmap: What Is It and Why Do You Need One?

Written by

Chris Benthien

You've decided to take the plunge and found a startup. You’ve clarified your mission and vision, completed your business model canvas, created a value proposition, created a fantastic business name, fleshed out the product MVP, and produced a business plan complete with financial projections.

Now what?

Many people jump straight into action and more often than not spend the bulk of their time working on their product, often neglecting other key aspects of their startup business.

Enter the strategy roadmap: a key planning tool that helps keep you focused on what matters most.

What is a startup strategy roadmap?

What to do and where to focus? Two big questions that a strategy roadmap helps you answer.

Your startup strategy roadmap will help you systematically determine:

  1. What capabilities you need to get your startup off the ground and growing.
  2. What actions and initiatives you should take (and in what priority) to build out those capabilities.

Strategy roadmaps are living, breathing organisms. Unlike your mission and vision, your roadmap is under constant iteration and is your key tool for helping you prioritize what to do next in your business.

It helps you look at the business holistically by encompassing processes (e.g. workflows and methods), physical/technical components (e.g. facilities and technology) and people (e.g. culture and skills).

Many startups make the mistake of focusing heavily on the physical aspects, such as the technology that underpins their product. But often the success of a business (or the major risks) lie in the people and process realms.

Why a strategy roadmap is critical to your investors

“VCs want you to be able to explain how you are going to use their money. It sounds self-evident, but it really needs to be spelled out…Will you invest in advertising? Will you hire new talent, either a top-flight executive or new sales staff? Will you use the funds to acquire a small firm that provides something you need so you don’t have to develop it in-house?”

Allan Wille, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Klipfolio

Having developed a great pitch deck, backed by a solid business plan showing financial projections for growth, you are now seeking funding to establish your startup or scale your operations.

The question always asked by investors is: “What do you plan to spend the invested capital on?”

The answer is nearly always product development and sales. But what beyond this broad statement will give investors confidence that you have a well thought-through plan for using their capital to maximize your business objectives?

The answer lies in a strategy roadmap, which demonstrates robust thinking about the startup business. This type of startup roadmap identifies what capabilities need to be invested in, provides the “science” behind the initiatives that you plan to undertake, and ultimately helps you avoid the common pitfall of poor prioritization.

The approach we outline below will help you to produce a strategy roadmap that demonstrates a well-articulated plan for your startup business. This approach includes outlining specific key objectives, business capabilities, and prioritized, costed and sequenced initiatives on an easily digestible roadmap.

This assures your investors that you have a simple but disciplined approach to spending their hard-earned capital, ensuring that it doesn’t get consumed by activities that are easy or non-urgent. They will have confidence that you have an ongoing approach to determining critical initiatives for funding.

Creating a startup strategy roadmap in six steps

Our method for creating strategy roadmaps consists of six simple steps.

  1. Challenges: Define the top challenges your startup is facing at this point in time.

    You’ll face a different set of challenges at each stage of your startup, from formation, to seed funding, all the way to Series A funding and beyond.

    In the early stages, these challenges often revolve around funding, establishing your first MVP of the product and finding the right founding team.

    In the later stages, you could be faced with challenges related to scaling. For example, establishing customer support processes, strengthening revenue collection systems and ramping up production volumes.

    The trick is to keep it simple and focused: only identify the current top 5-6 challenges.

  2. Objectives: Set key objectives for this planning horizon.

    Set your objectives based on your current challenges. Maybe it’s “raise $500k in seed funding” in response to your current funding challenge. Perhaps it’s “strengthen customer support to reduce complaints by 25%” if you’re experiencing high levels of customer problems.

    This step is about being clear what you want to achieve and what constitutes success.

  3. Capabilities: Identify what capabilities you need to establish or invest in to reach your objectives.

    This is the most critical step. It is the bridge between what you want to achieve (Challenges and Objectives) and what you are doing (Actions and Initiatives). Your business’s capabilities describe what your business does. A capability is typically made up of processes, people and physical things, such as technology or equipment.

    In this step, identify all the business capabilities that your startup business needs to operate – now and in the future – and build your capability map. Reflecting on your key challenges and objectives, determine which of these capabilities need to be established, enhanced or invested in. Then prioritize your investments.

  4. Actions: Define the actions needed to transform your most important capabilities.

    If you are stuck for what actions to take, then just think about what makes up a capability. Typically, actions revolve around people (hiring new talent, restructuring, training, embedding culture); processes (fixing broken processes, strengthening processes, creating processes); physical (acquiring new plant or equipment, implementing or upgrading systems, finding new premises, obtaining funding).

    At this stage it is good to identify ball park costs and benefits to help you with prioritization in the next step.

  5. Initiatives: Group your actions into logical initiatives that you can execute.

    Don’t make the initiatives too big. You want to keep your startup moving fast so that you can pivot as needed.

    I like to identify a set of actions that would constitute a Minimum Viable Increment to one or more business capabilities, i.e. the minimum amount of actions or things that I can do to take my startup to the next level.

    Rome wasn’t built in a day – nor will your startup be. It’s key at this stage to prioritize initiatives that move the dial on your objectives with the least effort.

    Download our examples of initiatives for a startup strategy roadmap (PDF).

  6. Your Startup Roadmap: Prioritize and sequence your initiatives, then plot them on the roadmap.

    With your initiatives established, it’s time to create your roadmap. Start with a simple grid. On the vertical, create your themes, e.g. sales and marketing, product development, funding. Across the top, map out your horizons, e.g. years, quarters, stages.

    Plot each of your initiatives on the grid in an executable sequence. Identify dependencies between initiatives.

    Be wary of front-loading your roadmap, i.e. trying to do everything in the first horizon. Most startups bite off more than they can chew. Keep focus by doing the high priority initiatives early rather than trying to do everything straight up.

Keeping Your Roadmap Fresh

And there you have it – six simple steps for creating a strategy roadmap for your startup.

But you don’t have to follow the steps sequentially. When I create strategy roadmaps, I often jump all over the place as ideas come to me. I set some challenges and objectives. Then go to my roadmap and establish some initiatives and actions. Then back validate those initiatives against my capability map to gauge priority.

I constantly work on my strategy roadmaps and keep them alive. New challenges arise, initiatives get completed, new capabilities are required; this is why picking an adaptable roadmap tool is very helpful. Startup businesses constantly move and evolve and so should your strategy roadmap.

Free strategic roadmap tool

Our free app, Jibility, takes you through the above 6 steps, but it also supports a 4-step approach that skips Capabilities and Actions for when you need an even faster result. Find about more about this approach with our nonprofit example.