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一 in this construction has the meaning of ”once”. Once the business got started it was very successful, but later on we encountered difficulties. Another example: 一看他的样子就知道他是个骗子。


Here, 一 should not be parsed by itself, but instead put together with 开始 to form the phrase 一开始, which means "at the beginning" or "initially". So the correct translation would be: 事情一开始进展得很顺利,但后来我们遇到了困难 At the beginning, everything was going smoothly, but later we encountered difficulties. Here are some more examples: 一开始,我不喜欢她。后来,我爱上了她。 At the ...


Maybe there is a subtle difference between 一 in 一开始 and 'once'. I feel that 一 emphasizes more about what is happening at that moment.

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