This post is probably going to be irrelevant to most entrepreneurs. You're lucky to get to the point where this advice is even relevant and valuable – and when you get there many of you will probably be too drunk off your own success to want to hear about it.

After a series of early wins, you need to know when to recognize the sight of the inflection point in the distance for your business. This is difficult to see and sense on your own, which is why having outside independent advisors (or investors on your board, if you had to make that choice) vested in the success of the business can be a godsend. Even if these advisors didn't provide much value in the earlier phase of the business, if they can rain down the warning signals and follow it up with quality guidance and data to back it up, hopefully they'll have earned some well-deserved points of equity and redeemed their credibility as sages of the moment.

Scaling a startup is a different journey from finding initial traction, and requires an immense level of effort that won't happen on its own. Many startups go bankrupt or fade away into oblivion because they can't make this mental leap and re-organize their people and processes around the next phase.

Anchored in their humble beginnings, it’s interesting to observe how startups gain traction, celebrate their successes at the peak, and then frantically scramble to stay relevant as growth tapers off. From there, most companies either gradually fade away or rapidly spiral to their deaths.

I came across this case study of the startup lifecycle by /u/SuperConductiveRabbi, especially illuminating coming from a once-loyal user rather than an academic outsider.

== begin excerpt ==

Imgur has followed the lifecycle of every single online service:

  1. The early days: the website provides one service and provides it well
  2. Traction: people recognize that the website's service is excellent, and flock to it
  3. Maturity: the website's creators are elated at their newfound success, and, seeking to improve their service, begin to perform upgrades, updates, design changes, and create exploratory features
  4. Bloat: the website is either no longer growing at the rate it once was, leading the creators to start implementing predatory features that return greater revenue per visitor, OR it begins to morph into such a complicated and burdensome entity that it now offers n services instead of just one, where n is a number that increases until step five is reached
  5. The autumn years: people start to notice that the website no longer provides the one service they care about as well as it used to, and start looking for a competitor that will provide that one service and provide it well

Imgur hosted your images without requiring you to log in (unlike PhotoBucket, ImageShack, and whatever other services we used in the dark ages). Pages loaded super fast. You could click an image and get the raw image URL. That was it.

Now Imgur: is a social media platform; allows you to log in; has a proprietary (and fake) "gifv" file format that requires H.264 and doesn't work on some browsers (Firefox on Linux, or any system that doesn't have proprietary H.264 codecs--albums with GIFs in it are now useless on these systems); loads a million asynchronous Javascript files that all start doing shit as the page is loading; tracks you using an ever-increasing number of services; has (idiotic) comments that load and fill up the page; does some not-quite-original-image-size zooming when you click the image, rather than letting your browser deal with the the full size image; often has "oops! our servers are over capacity" when you view the non-direct URL; has lists of trending images; has a meme generator; has social media buttons that scroll as you scroll; has ads; etc., etc.

== end ==

Consider, though, that this redditor's perspective is true and representative of only his customer segment – the techie early adopter. Yes, imgur is different now and not the same simple, pure image hosting service it once was. However, it still remains wildly popular on reddit itself, and is now even more so a mainstream social media platform for the masses. Much more successful by business standards, earning potential, and staying power as a platform.

So whether imgur is in its "autumn years" is debatable, and arguably not true. It depends on the lens you view it through and how you define success. For this reddit user and others like him, they are probably boycotting the service now and moving onto something else. But that's also their game. These type of users want the newest and shiniest thing, and they served their purpose in delivering early customer feedback to help develop the product.

For the rest of the world, imgur has grown up to become a widely used popular brand, and has figured out how to scale.