Photo by Teigan Rodger on Unsplash

A spotlight for every stage

John Zeratsky
2 min readMay 13, 2021


The other day I wrote that startups are learning machines, and shared some of the most common techniques I see startups using to learn.

(Dave Ambrose reminded me of a great quote from Josh Kopelman, from his interview with Patrick OShaughnessy: “A startup’s job is to learn.” Yep!)

That post prompted a couple questions, about whether this always true, and where the types of learning change at all as a startup evolves.

Here’s the simplistic way I look at it:

  • Pre-seed, a startup is focused on discovery — What opportunities exist for us to solve big problems with the product or service we’re imagining?
  • At seed stage, a startup is focused on validation — Is our product/business working? Are the risks we are taking (on product, marketing, business model, technology) paying off?
  • At Series A, a startup is focused on growth — The playbook for the core business is set, and the learning is all about how to grow. Are we growing at the right rate? Is our growth engine running the way we thought it would? What’s working or not?
  • At Series B and beyond, a startup is focused on operations — Can we do this at scale? How can we optimize our margins and growth rates?

Of course, the previous focus doesn’t totally go away. The new focus just stacks on the old one. A startup never stops caring about growth. The questions never go away, so validation continues to be an essential function. Even startups can get complacent, so you have to reinvest in discovery of new opportunities.

But it’s sort of like a spotlight on stage: The focus may change as the company evolves, but the rest of the stage never goes completely dark. It’s just not front and center anymore. And that’s okay.

— JZ



John Zeratsky

Supporting startups with capital and sprints. Co-founder and general partner at Character. Author of Sprint and Make Time. Former partner at GV.