Many of us are faced with bootstrapping our own startup.
But, let’s face it…
Without a roadmap or knowing which path to take to lead to our success, we often make decisions and learns things the hard way, through “trial and error”. While bootstrapping a startup is no science, there have been several people who have gone before us that have managed to find their own way to achieving success.
I recently reached out to some of my fellow entrepreneurs and bootstrapping success stories I had read about, as I was keen to get their thoughts on the lessons and experiences that helped make them successful.
So, I posed the following “fill in the blank” question…
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from bootstrapping a startup is __________
I was overwhelmed by the response and quite encouraged to hear similar lessons with my own startup experience. Read on further to see what each of these people had to share.
Then, I’d love to hear from you what you’ve learned in the comments below.
Here’s a list of shortcuts to each answer or you can scroll down to read through all the answers (trust me, you’ll want to read them all):
George Achilleos, Corbett Barr, Jeff Butterworth, Devesh Dwivedi, Brad Feld,
Pat Flynn, Brian Gardner, Jay Gibb, Chris Guillebeau, Colin Holowaychuk,
Guy Kawasaki, Andre Kroecher, Matt Mickiewicz, Justin Nowak, Neil Patel,
Nathan Seidle, Lori Stewart, Zachary Vex, Andrew Warner, Carla Young
Co-Founder at Out There Inc. and LiveOutThere.com
Be ready to “pivot” and take the time to prioritize your focus list.
I have found that the idea at the start is not necessarily the “success” idea in the end. LiveOutThere.com started with a “social” lead and made a dramatic pivot to e-commerce. What we thought would work was wrong and we needed to have the courage to change.
Second bootstrapping is about focus and prioritization. The startup phase can be exciting and entrepreneurs spend time on “non-important” activities – making business cards, spending time coming up with fancy taglines etc…, however, there are much more important things to focus on. What will drive revenue? What will build momentum that will get you past the inevitable point of discouragement? That is where focus should be.
Entrepreneur and Founder of Think Traffic
Building an audience first before developing a product is a more powerful and less risky way to build a business.
Queen Bee at Alien Skin Software
Founders should have the skills to make the product themselves. Most bootstrappers don’t have enough money to hire engineers. Even if they do, the product will be better if the founders’ vision is directly poured into it rather than translated by someone else.
Startup Mentor, Blogger at Breaking the 9 to 5 Jail
Spend very very wisely because there was no cash to cover up mistakes and every dollar was critical to survival so, as they say – measure twice, cut once.
Plus remember, Bootstrapping is not about Skype versus Landline; it’s about being open to untraditional, innovative, & cost effective ways of solving problems and getting things done.
Managing Director at Foundry Group, Blogger at Feld Thoughts
Never run out of money
Entrepreneuer and Blogger at Smart Passive Income
Just how many ups and downs there are. One day I’ll be incredibly happy with the way things are going, and the next, something will happen and it’ll seem like I’m at the bottom, often times wanting to just give up. When we’re down, it’s easy to forget that there are ups too – ups that we’ve experienced that are important to remember, and ups that will happen if we just keep going.
Creator of StudioPress, Partner at Copyblogger Media
Bootstrapping is the only way to go since you can retain full ownership in your company and you don’t have to answer to investors when making decisions.
Founder of CloudSponge, Managing Partner at Arizona Bay Technology Ventures
Saying “no” more often than I say “yes” is critically important. It’s difficult to say “no” to ideas and requests from customers, shareholders, advisors, teammates and myself, but it’s the only way to get momentum during the budget-sensitive bootstrapping period.
World Traveler, Entrepreneur, Best-Selling Author, Blogger at The Art of Non-Conformity
Starting a business on the cheap is a benefit, not a handicap. You’ll gain more by spending less money and using more of your brain.
Founder of Merchee
Focus on the end goal, it’s hard to filter out all the distractions.
— or as Gary V says “all the other bullshit is horse shit”
Best-Selling Author, Technology Evangelist and Founder of Alltop
Too much money can be deadlier than too little money
Inventor of Dairy Free Vegan Cheese
Well, to me, bootstrapping implies “no help” achieving an impossible task on one’s own, generally. I was fortunate to have selected a business partner to pull half the load, one who has smarts in areas I don’t. So I would probably say, self-reflect and recognize one’s own strengths and weaknesses, then surround oneself with people who excel where you don’t.
Serial Entrepreneur, Co-Founder of 99designs, SitePoint, and Flippa
Be aggressive with pricing & margins. Customers might be willing to pay a lot more than you think.
Startup Weekend Calgary Organizer and Blogger at Young Go Getter
Learning how to barter and negotiate to get what you need!
Co-founder of Crazy Egg and Kissmetrics, Blogger at Quick Sprout
Start making money from day 1
Founder of SparkFun Electronics
The fine art of the shell game. Business
types call it ‘cash flow projections’ but to me, it’s the idea that I’ve got to manage the cash of my business well enough to pay off the credit cards at the end of every month. For years if I added up all I owed against how much money I had in the bank, it was red. But I always had enough incoming money to pay off the credit cards when they came do. I’d then ask the credit card company for an increase in my limit then get back to growing my business. A line of credit certainly helps as a pressure release valve. And the eventual goal is to have more money in the bank than we owed. We’ve happily made it, but now we’ve grown to a size where I’ve had to learn the different between ‘cash accounting’ and ‘accrual’. Don’t worry if you’re just starting out – you’ll learn what accrual is when you need to.
This ‘fine art of the shell game’ teaches some good lessons in and of itself. When choosing whether or not we should purchase something (a new computer, a used desk, etc) we always looked to see if we had the cash. Some folks would call this ‘cash accounting’ but to me it was a good way to force ourselves to be scrappy. We were have remained very healthy because of it.
eCommerce Executive and Founder of Awesome Foundation Calgary
Focus completely and absolutely on solving a defined market need, rather than building a cool solution for a non-existent market problem.
Inventor of Z.VEX Guitar Effects and Amps
Don’t be afraid to be weird
Serial Entrepreneur, Host of Mixergy.com
Boostrapping forces me to make sure I know what my customers want before I create it.
We always see heavily-funded startups in the news because they have enough money to pay for PR people, but there are bootstrappers out there who are quietly building profitable companies that are changing the world. Glad Blair’s site will help them.
Writer and Founder of MOMeo Magazine
Spend money wisely. Look for no-cost ways to get the ball rolling before you invest in developing infrastructure that will likely need to change within the first year as your business evolves.
Now, it’s over to you…
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from bootstrapping a startup?
I’ve love to hear from you! Leave a comment below to share your experience.