The Bootstrap Ride
There are many paths to successfully bootstrapping a start-up. The trick is finding the way that works best for you. Now more than two years into my journey, I want to share a few lessons I wish I had learned earlier.
I would like to share a few tips from my experiences of bootstrapping an international startup. I want to speak the reality I experienced, my personal opinions, and I do not intend to contradict what others from the industry have said. I only mean to share what I have learnt from my B2B start-up experience within my business context.
Starting-up: Find a problem that exist in a considerably large scale and is solvable. Ideate solutions that could make lives easier. A problem could exist anywhere — in your current job or existing business models. People may or may not know about it. Develop a market need. Don’t build a start-up in view of a million dollar exit. Be obsessive about what you do, aim higher, execute mid-long term plans and take it higher.
Office: You don’t need a flashy office to start with. Work from home, Starbucks & co-working spaces. It’s alright to work from anywhere as long you have a seat, decent connectivity and fewer interruptions. When you set up the office, design it with bright colours and lots of natural light. Adopt a hybrid infrastructure of open workspace & cubicles. At some point in time, when you turn profitable with adequate cash balance and have a strong cash flow — consider owning an office instead of renting. It helps to save significant dollars in the long run and build company assets.
Team building: If you have an idea that you believe in and you have the skills, get started immediately. A few dont’s:
- Don’t wait on a perfect team and plan to get going; such a thing does not exist.
- Don’t be fascinated about rank holders, high percentile college degrees and flattery resumes.
- Don’t do meaningless interview rounds and tests.
A co-founder is not a must-have. Look for freelancers & part time workers to help you get on the road. What matters the most is if the candidate can do your job, whether has the right attitude that fits within your company culture and goals. Give part-time work; engage to get more comfortable before offering the job. Look for skilled human capital available at low cost economies and build your teams internationally. Communicate efficiently, be transparent and set the expectations clearly.
Product: Build products that could be desirable and likeable for large, yet targeted audience. There is nothing wrong with taking a legacy business model, apply modern science and improvise it to create a new business. Change is inevitable; there is always a market for disruptive solutions. Once started, run faster and not ever stop innovating it more.
Go-to-Market: Know your buyers. Short-list them, study their potential business needs corresponding to your products and prioritize accordingly. Approach them with tailored messaging. Focus on showcasing customer benefits, NOT product features. Buyers only care how you can solve their problems not your badges in the sales pitch deck. Plan to be global from day-1. Build your products and company culture for global scale. Gaining market traction should be top priority. Constantly engage with prospective buyers, form a customer council to validate your products and gather market feedbacks regularly to improve your product road map.
PR: Winning new customers is the biggest award and growing your business profitably is the best coverage for startups. Don’t waste your time on pitching into media and investing with PR agencies. Instead, use your website and social media channels to shamelessly self-promote your company, products, case studies and thought leadership. Your prospects won’t buy from you because media covers you and you are popular — they will invest in you if you have a good product with proven benefits and referencable customers. Your company will become popular if your products are useful. Grow your company with disruptive products, global customers and an innovative team. Create newer jobs and give back to the society — let journalists bump into you.
Fund raising: Think of external capital only if you need it. Be sure about why you need the money, investment plan and projected outcome. Do your homework on who you want to partner with. Convince yourself with realistic valuation of your company and practical terms you want to work with; stick to it. Be honest in your pitch deck and fund raising approach. Investors are expected to do their home work too, so don’t be afraid to correct them. If they say ‘Grand ma should understand your business’, and you don’t sell into such audience, tell them openly. Avoid investors looking for start-up lottery. Instead, find backers who promote innovation and entrepreneurship. You can’t do an enterprise startup investor pitch in 3 minutes. Stay away from 3 minutes pitching gimmicks, it’s a ticket selling tactics for startup media events. You can easily find the VC communities from Google search. Pick up the phone and call them or send them an email. Use LinkedIn & leverage reference contacts. It’s at the best, if you build your company with market traction and proven products to be in a position to choose from whom you wanted to take money, if and when you need it.
Networking: Start-up events are trendy and fashionable these days. There is a lot of noise and smoke out there. Be smart to rise above the noise. Don’t compare yours with other startups. Don’t be too excited about showy startup media. Be selective in networking events and look for agendas that can give you key take-away for your business. Remember, your ultimate goal is not to build a worldwide network of know-who, but to know those few who can complement to build your company. Invest your networking time wisely. Not all great companies are built out of startup accelerators. Many successful companies are bootstrapped, built from garages and bedrooms. Startup media publications make most of their money from their event tickets, hackathons etc. It’s severely hyped up. Be practical and selective.
Mentors: Surround yourself with like-minded people who can inspire you and give guidance; people who can introduce you to customers, partners and investors. Build an advisory board that could help you establish your network & connect with right people and open doors to money. Advisers should be fluid, review and make changes at different stages of your start-up journey.
Social: Associate yourself with entrepreneur community. Share your experience and learning with aspiring start-up entrepreneurs. Volunteer in community development projects in small ways you can. Creating new jobs through your start-up is the best contribution you can offer to the prosperity of humanity. Build a company culture to help others and give back.
Personal: Be prepared to sacrifice, compromise and tolerate. Improve your patience level as much as possible. Don’t bring emotional sentiments in customer situations. Make friends with clients. Engage in some sports. Fall in love with everything around you. Never shut down. Travel the world, it makes you richer. Stay humble.