Six Innovative Ways to Grow Your Digital Start-up

You’ve got the idea. The website’s being built. Technology elements are being integrated. Social media channels have been set up. So what’s left to be done?

Here are six innovative approaches that you probably haven’t considered, which can help make a big difference to the growth your start-up achieves in the early stages – and which will support you over the longer-term too. In hindsight, they’ll all appear to be common-sense (like most ingenious ideas are) but they’re probably things that you’ve missed doing…

1: Define your branded experiences

People love things that make them feel positive about themselves. If the experience they have with your product or service makes them feel great, then they’ll probably use more of it – which is good for business. And when they share their experience of dealing with you, that’s even better – but what are they going to say?

Ideally, you want them to talk about how you are better than what they expected, and also how you are different to the rest. But to stimulate these perceptions, you need to formally define how your experiences will be different from those offered by your competition in a meaningful way that is beneficial to the customer. This “better and different” is how your experiences stand apart from those of the competition and is encapsulated in the definition and experiential branding of your customer interactions. These are called your branded experiences.

To create branded experiences for your start-up, you need to identify the customer experience sensations you want to trigger in users when they interact with you. These sensations are aligned to your brand values (if you have them) – but are distinctly different. Brand values are how you want to be as a business, but customer experience sensations are the feelings and emotions that you want customers to have after they have interacted with you.

Your customer experience sensations are the ways in which customers feel about all that you do. It’s the style of your service – or the personality of your business if you like. Two businesses can have identical products at the same price, but serve their customer in two very different ways. Your experience sensations are what make you different to, and preferably better than, your competition.

Typically, a business only needs to define four sensations, each of which is expressed as just one word, but with a descriptive sentence to express the interpretation of the sensation word. The type of experience you will deliver may be dictated to some degree by the nature of the customer you are targeting. A funeral services website would want to offer a completely different customer experience to a digital offer targeted at experienced IT directors of large companies for example. But even if you were one of these two types of business, you are still in competition with others offering similar services and your customer experiences can help you to differentiate your business so you stand out in the minds of your target customers.

Two examples of experience sensations for a funeral services website might be:

THOUGHTFUL: We consider all aspects of the situation our customer finds themselves in and respond appropriately no matter what the circumstances are.

UPLIFTING: We console, but view our service as a heartening and inspirational celebration of the cycle of life to assist all concerned to move on in as positive a manner as possible.

Examples of sensations for a digital offer targeted at experienced IT directors could be:

TIGHT: Every interaction with us is sharp and focused without the use of unnecessary words and images. We help them to achieve their intended goal rapidly.

STIMULATING: We are lively and vibrant both visually and in the use of language. We also offer interesting and intriguing links that help them learn more about cutting edge technology.

Don’t choose sensations that are similar in nature, for this will merely be replication of a single sensation. Instead aim to compile four sensations that create combinations to inspire you to be superior and to deliver better experiences for your customers. Ensure that the set of sensations that you decide on are different to those that you feel your competitors might have. Customers prefer to have a choice between two different things rather than between two things that are the same.

Also avoid words like sensible, honest, trustworthy and reliable, as these are things that customers expect a business to be – for if you aren’t displaying these characteristics then they will cease transacting with you.

Once you have your four sensations identified and defined, you should incorporate these as part of the design parameters when you build your website. You can also use them as a checklist for all intended interactions with customers to ensure that the desired outcomes will be achieved.

Remember that these customer experience sensations should also be demonstrated to the other people (and stakeholders) involved in your business activities and in your physical work environment too. This complete embracing of the sensations will help to embed the sensations in all you do in your business – so ideally, they become part of the DNA of your business – your branded experiences.

2: Create a Touchpoint Terrain Map

A Touchpoint Terrain Map consists of your customer lifecycle along the top with your customer touchpoints arranged in columns below each specific lifecycle stage.

Customer Lifecycle

All customers have a lifecycle with you which depends on the type of relationship they have with your business, and which comprises of a number of stages – and seven stages are a convenient number to target.

If you run a café in a small town, you may have your regular customers who come back to you frequently and regularly. However, if your café was based in a seaside town, your clientele may all be visitors who won’t come back after their holiday is finished – but they might come back repeatedly in a short space of time if they get to like what you offer on their first visit. This is an appropriate analogy to the digital real estate you are building too.

The first three of the seven lifecycle stages are the acquisition phase where you are in competition with others to win the customer. It’s likely that the first three stages of your lifecycle are AWARE, INTEREST and BUY – or words that are similar to these. A potential customer needs to become AWARE that you exist as a business and to be aware of the services that you offer before they will ever consider using you. If they are unaware of you then it is impossible for them to buy from you. Awareness is the first stage of any potential relationship with a customer and even though they are aware of your business, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will buy anything from you. How many businesses do you know that you’ve never used? This is precisely the same situation.

Once they are aware of you, they need to know that you can satisfy a need that they have – which is when they have an INTEREST in your business. They may not necessarily buy from you, but at least they are considering you as one of the potential suppliers of the product or service that they need. The third stage in their lifecycle journey with you is where their interest in you converts into a decision to use your service – this is when they actually BUY from you. The acquisition phase of the lifecycle is now complete as they are one of your customers and the battle to retain them starts.

The next phase of the lifecycle is likely to be where they USE your product or service in whatever manner they choose. This, and the subsequent stages of the lifecycle, will be entirely dependent on the nature of your business and how you interact with customers over the longer-term. Other lifecycle stages may be where they COMPLAIN as they have a concern with your product or service; it may be SERVICE where they return to you for some aspect of regular contact regarding maintenance of, or supplies for, your product. Another element may be when they RENEW or alternatively LEAVE. Another stage might be how you WIN-BACK a customer who has left you, and yet another element could be ADVOCACY in the way your customers recommend you and refer to you on social media.

A customer lifecycle isn’t a linear process. For example, you can only make a customer AWARE of you once – after that they are effectively a returning customer. Some parts of your lifecycle may be relevant for many times in a single day – such as USE – whereas other elements may be less frequent such as the annual RENEW process. Once you’ve identified your customer lifecycle you can then add the touchpoints to it.


Touchpoints are individual contact points of any type where your business interacts with a customer. In the physical world these may range from your shop signage, flyers and delivery van to your installation team, your free samples and your newspaper advertisements. In the digital environment you need to consider every part of your total digital real estate whether it be owned, bought or earned as your touchpoints. And don’t forget to include your non-digital touchpoints too!

Whereas in a non-digital business, the website may be considered as one touchpoint, with a digital business, each page (and sometimes parts of a page) can be considered as an individual touchpoint. Therefore, each page, or significant part of a page, needs to work hard to deliver on its purpose.

Every customer touchpoint you identify needs to be allocated under one of the lifecycle stages. You mustn’t duplicate any touchpoints, and you should also aim to allocate them to the most relevant lifecycle stage. This may be difficult, for is a website’s primary aim to make people AWARE of you or to develop an INTEREST in you? The ultimate decision is yours, but ensure you don’t duplicate any touchpoints. If you are primarily an online business, you may wish to put each of your website pages individually under the relevant lifecycle stage.

For each touchpoint state its name, a brief description and its primary purpose. An example is shown below:

Testimonials section.

The comments made about us by users.

To show the feelings we instil in people who buy our product.

Once you’ve captured all your touchpoints, this becomes your base upon which to develop your interactions with your customers. Some touchpoints deliver much more value to you than others. For example your individual product pages where customers buy from you deliver much more value than your ‘legals’ page. Similarly, some pages have a much higher usage than others. Be sure to focus on the touchpoints which are higher value and higher usage, as improving the customer’s experience at these touchpoints will invariably deliver greater returns than focusing on the less important touchpoints.

Using your Touchpoint Terrain Map

The aim of each touchpoint is to accelerate the customer onto the next touchpoint to help them achieve their task in the most appropriate manner and timeframe as possible.

PinballThe many customer touchpoints you have in the early stage of your customer lifecycle are similar to a pinball machine. Some touchpoints are like bumpers that accelerate the ball in a specific direction as soon as the ball makes contact with that bumper. Other touchpoints are like the pinball machine’s indented saucers that capture the ball and hold it for a period while your score rockets upward. After a time the ball is ejected to continue on its way.

And some touchpoints are like the flippers where the player can flip the ball in a desired direction to try to score more points by hitting specific targets. The only difference here is that you can try to guide the customer onto the next touchpoint that is preferred by the business – but still give the customer an option to do what they please.

An example of this is a Contact Us page on a website. The page may suggest that the quickest solution would be to look at the Frequently Asked Questions to direct the customer to another self-help solution which is better for the business – and also better for the customer to know in the future too. However, lower down on that same page, there should also be other options for them such as phone numbers to call, or a tool to help them locate their nearest store if they feel the need to visit.

In some parts of your digital process, there will be fixed customer journeys where the customer has little choice but to follow your (hopefully) well-designed registration or check-out process. These are customer journeys which are fixed by you and which need to be well designed. But in the earlier phase of customer acquisition, it’s a more chaotic journey which is difficult to plan, and which is best managed by individual touchpoints (web pages or key parts of web pages) being designed to advance the customer towards their objective as effectively as is possible.

3: Ask Killer Questions

To identify big and bold growth opportunities, a business needs to be asking big and bold questions, or Killer Questions. They’re the sort of questions that many business owners are fearful of asking because the immediate response to a How do we achieve (this) question are the three most feared words in the business lexicon: I Don’t Know.

In a start-up you want to know what to do, and so are focused on ideas and answers. But a powerful skill for any business leader (irrespective of business size) is to write down some great questions regardless of how they will be answered. But not just any questions. They should be Killer Questions that are profound in nature and which when answered well – will add significant value to your business.

When you write your Killer Questions out, don’t worry about how you will answer them – just focus on capturing a bold and powerful question. You have your entire future to answer this, but many people get too involved with the answer before they have developed their question. Create a back-list of Killer Questions that can be answered by you when you have time – or which can be answered (or partially answered) by others too.

For a small bakery a Killer Questions might be How can we create a signature item that we become famous for locally? For a garden maintenance service it could be What would ensure that 75% of my business comes from repeat customers to minimise my need for marketing? For a digital start-up, it may be How do we get links to our site from ten of the leading national media services?

Once you have your Killer Questions lined up, there are a wide array of creative thinking techniques that you can use to answer them either completely or partially. But it’s the tacit acknowledgment that you are only able to answer the question and find the high-value answer because you were willing to pose a suitable Killer Question in the first place.

4: Growth boosters & restrainers

Invariably there will be specific issues that arise in your growth that you don’t know how to address, and using a boosters and restrainers approach can help you to resolve this.

For any issue that you have, it’s as if there are two springs pulling on it – one to each of the left and right sides. The spring to the left is trying to pull you backwards and restrain your growth, while the spring to the right is trying to pull you forwards and boost your growth. So, if you want to move in a forward direction on this issue, you have to weaken the left spring or strengthen the right spring – or you can do both for greater effect. A growth boosters & restrainers tool helps you to do both.

Identify a specific growth issue that you have and write down the things that are holding you back on this issue on the left side of a piece of paper. Then do the same for the things that can increase your growth and move this issue forward – and write a list on the right side of the paper.

Once you’ve completed this, look at ways to reduce or eliminate the items on the left side, and then ways to boost the items on the right side. Whenever you identify a good idea that’s a way forward for you either out of the left or right sides of your paper, capture it – and make a plan to action it as soon as possible.

5: Create an opportunity hopper

Set up an opportunity hopper as a place where you can store all the ideas that you believe are worth executing and which will deliver the growth that you need. These ideas should be in a place where the other members of your team can see them so that they can improve them to either make them better, or to identify ways to make them easier or quicker to deliver the value. When you have time to action an idea, you can select one from the hopper, or you can allocate team member’s names to them so they know which ideas are their responsibility.

Coffee breakAn opportunity hopper is a good focal point for a creative, coffee-time thinking session. Take a break from your laptop, get a coffee, and find a place where you can put up your opportunity hopper sheet of paper on the wall. Use this 15-20 minute time to do some creative thinking around your growth ideas. Identify new opportunities or focus on one of the ideas that is already in your opportunity hopper and find ways to boost it in as many dimensions as possible.

Or take one of your Killer Questions and start to see where answers to it may lie. You don’t have to resolve it completely the first time – but even just breaking it down into some interesting component parts may start you heading in a direction towards a solution.

The conventional approach to business planning is the annual planning session; however, use these coffee breaks as your frequent daily growth planning sessions. It’s a radically different approach to planning, but when used well can deliver amazing results which ensure you are nimble and agile in your approaches to growth opportunities.

6: Set up Sprint Tracks to deliver growth ideas

When you identify an idea that you want to take forward and execute, have a guided approach called a Sprint Track to maximise the effectiveness of this.

What is it, who will do it & by when? Give the sprint a name to identify it and state who will be responsible for delivering this sprint – and when it will be delivered.

Why will the customer want this? It’s important to make sure that your customers will want this thing you are doing and that it’s not just something you think the customer wants. Your growth needs to be based on facts.

Sprint tracks

How can you get proof of this? There’s nothing better than getting some actual customer quotes to validate this. This is called the Voice of the Customer and is an extremely powerful tool in determining what you should do to grow your business – for it’s the customer telling you what they like, and don’t like, about your proposition.

What will success look like? You need to identify some kind of measure so you will know that this sprint has been a success. It could be a hard business metric such as number of units sold – or it could be something softer such as what will customers be saying in social media about this proposition?

How quickly can you test this? Is there a way to get a low-fidelity sample in front of customers that you can test with them to get their feedback, and how quickly can you do this?

Which customers should test it? Decide which of your customers you want to use to test and validate the demand for this? Determine the best way to set this up – and then make it happen.

What key problems need resolving? Nothing goes superbly easily, so identify the biggest issues you may face in bringing this sprint into reality, and make a plan for how you will overcome them.

What are the next few actions that you will do? Here’s where you identify the final few activities to make this sprint a reality in your business. Once these items are finalised, then the sprint is complete and can be signed off.

You can download a free guide to these six innovative ways to grow your start-up more rapidly here.

And there’s also a convenient seventh thing you can do too – you can use a blueprint template to help ensure you achieve success. The Sprint for Growth Blueprint is a growth template on one wall-mounted map to guide you through the identification and delivery of your rapid routes to growth. By keeping this Blueprint on your workspace wall, it helps to keep your growth opportunities at the front and centre of your mind. Here’s what it looks like:

SfG Blueprint for digital start-ups

If you’d like more information about the Sprint for Growth Blueprint, including the free downloadable guide, then it’s all available here.

A final important point about your business growth

There’s one thing that every business needs – and that’s growth, however you define the word. Although you need rapid growth as a start-up, later in your business life you will still need growth, so even if your thoughts stay as questions for several months while you implement other growth sprints, the mere fact that you’ve posed great questions or have had amazing ideas and stuck them on your growth blueprint, will mean that they won’t be forgotten. Your growth blueprint can be with you for as long as your business exists…

If you’ve found these six tips useful, then please share them with your network. Thanks!

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Chris Thomason is Managing Director of Ingenious Growth, a business growth and customer experience design company. He is also the author of The Delicate Force which explains what drives our ideas, inspiration and creativity. The Delicate Force is available from the Amazon online bookstore. Follow @Chris__Thomason

Chris Thomason




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