8 Personal Finance tips for Bootstrapping Entrepreneurs

Starting up is hard, make no mistake about it, while media romanticizes startups and mostly talks about the glorious success stories, what goes behind is months and years of toil, frustration, fighting all kinds of odds. Cliched as it might sound but overnight success is the culmination of years of hard work.

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Bootstrapping a startup is even tougher, apart from challenges of building right product, right team, right marketing plans and dealing with daily operational chaos, you additionally need to worry about money and  cash flows and hence constantly innovate to compete, there are no easy paths, what you need is undivided focus and continued perseverance.

Now with all these challenges last thing a bootstrapping entrepreneur needs are fresh challenges on personal finance front. It can be distracting to least and can even have a debilitating impact on your business, when all your energy and time should be focused on getting your business to move to the next orbit, unforeseen issues on personal finance side can sap your precious energy.

While we cannot mitigate all risks in business, but with a better financial planner you can reduce distractions and also some legitimate business risks, here are few tips that can help you manage your personal finances better.

1. Keep your personal fixed expenses low

As you bootstrap, start with a review of your personal expenses see if you can lower your expenses especially the fixed ones, there are always expenses which can be cut, like a costly dish TV subscription with all the channels you never watch or suboptimal phone bill plans when you can get a better offer or the weekly outings where you splurge or non-healthy junk food, or the gym membership where you never go, maybe a jog in nearby park can be better. Cut expenses wherever you can and migrate to a leaner personal expense structure.

2. Track your expenses and do active budgeting

Last thing you want when you are running a startup is surprises every month on your expenses which can be due to faulty planning. Plan your expenses to the last tee, do active budgeting. If required, use budgeting software. If not, pick up a simple excel sheet. There are a lot of pre-formatted excel workbooks available which can help you plan your budget.

You can use the following sheet for expense planning.

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3. Before you bootstrap plan for the worst

Create multiple cash flow scenarios. A lot of assumptions go bad when you are starting up as there are too many unknowns in a startup environment. Slipping product timelines, fundraising plans going awry, growth not taking off as you expected there are simply too many moving parts. So for any plan you create do a thorough analysis. Hope for the best but always have a plan ready for the worst.

4. Get a good health Insurance for you and your family

One of the major unplanned expense that can hit you is unforeseen health. Cost of health in general has skyrocketed in India. So before you bootstrap, ensure that you have a good health insurance cover for you and your family, the cover should be adequate and should reflect your lifestyle.

5. Do not park money in savings account, Invest in liquid funds

Your day to day money requirements should be parked in instruments which give higher returns. Every additional rupee matters. Therefore, do not keep your money in savings account but invest in short-term liquid funds. They provide 2-3 % higher returns than saving accounts and are almost as liquid as savings account, so you can use your money anytime and also earn higher from your savings.

Let’s say you maintain 5 lakhs rupees balance in your liquid account, this is an account for your emergency funds. Below chart explains what will be your account balance at the end of 3 years, if you see liquid funds will give you 4.3 % and 8.3 % higher return vis-à-vis Fixed deposits and savings accounts respectively.

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6. Avoid speculative investments like daily stock trading

As an entrepreneur, you are already grappling with ambiguities and surprises. The last thing you would want is surprises on your personal finance front. So start avoiding any risky investment you are making and stay away from stuff like daily stock trading or other speculative investments in the stock market or otherwise.

The below infographic explains why day trading is not a good idea 🙂

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(Source: Zerohedge)

7. Create a personal financial plan

You must have created a proper business plan for your startup but what is also equally important is that you create a financial plan for yourself. Look at how your cash flows are going to be like what are your projected expense, both recurring and non-recurring, sources of income, how much savings you have, short term and long term liabilities. Finance planning helps you create a detailed view of what to expect on money front in next few years, here is a simple step by step guide to create a financial plan

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8. Ensure your loan liabilities are taken care off.

Having large loan (personal or home loan ) commitments is not a good idea if you are planning to bootstrap. If you have such commitments relook at them and figure out a way to manage risks arising out of these liabilities. Set up a viable payment plan for all of these liabilities.

Article Credit : Sarabdeep Singh, co-founder of Bodhik.

 

Scalability Vs Sustainability – What should come first for a startup?

In the highly competitive market today, it seems like a trick question on whether a startup should focus on scalability, which seemed to be a trend until last year, or sustainability. Though one might toss for scalability at the very outset, facts speak otherwise.

This year, a lot has been written on the high “cash burn rates” of the star online startups and predictions of doom in the areas of growth or funding. This is in stark contrast to last year which was dominated by high valuations, wide ranging expansions, hyper sales and big hiring packages. These high cash burn rates were partly due to investor pressure to scale up, gain market share from the rivals and clock high GMV’s (Is it the right metric anyway?). There was a furious race to achieve this among the top funded companies and a lot of “me too” startups hoping to cash in on the investor gold rush.

However, now this unbridled growth has reached a plateau due to coffers running dry and wavering customer loyalties. So, this frenzy for rapid scalability seems to have come at a cost. The way these companies have been spending cash has raised a big question mark over their long term sustainability. So the moot question is whether it is wise to scale up so fast if it puts your very survival at risk?

A leading Indian brokerage firm made a study of the 22 top Indian e-commerce startups during the financial year 2015 – 16. The prognosis by them was quite grim. In that period, the combined losses grew by 293% to Rs. 7,884 crores on a combined earning of Rs. 16,199 crores. Only one start up, Practo, in the healthcare tech sector, was making more revenues than expenses.

Inspite of the hectic pace of growth, the losses were brought about by ‘below cost’ discount sales to attract customers, big advertising spends across all media, and rapid expansion into smaller cities to achieve scalability. Also, there was a dearth of original ideas or products. Most of them were copycats of each other with similar product offerings. One can’t but be reminded of the egg selling scheme of Milo Minderbinder in Catch 22 of buying high and selling low!

In fact, the first five months of 2016 have witnessed over 18 startups wrapping up operations. Atleast 15 of these startups were funded and just one startup went beyond Series A stage. Not surprisingly, 4 startups were from the food tech space, 4 in the hyper local category and 2 in fashion. They were all crowded landscapes already. Going by a Goldman Sachs report, private equity investments in startups has declined by a whopping 25% as compared to last year. So obviously, focusing on scalability over sustainability may have been a flawed strategy.

High cash burn for scalability and a dependence on investors is not the right survival strategy anymore for Indian startups. Investors too have shifted their focus to startups that have the potential to sustain in the long run rather than those with just high valuations and no ‘real’ returns.

In a way, this year will be the best learning for startups as they are slowly realising the pitfalls of only focusing on scalability. Pepper Tap, the grocery delivery app, had to shut shop in six cities, including the major metros, and still couldn’t survive as it had scaled too fast and were not really prepared with the correct logistics framework to service its customers. It did not spend enough time to gain a stronghold in an already existing market and diversified too fast. Even Grofers, Housing.com, Food Panda and Zomato have scaled down their operations significantly and have shut down or scaled back operations in non- performing cities.

There are quite a few startups like Urban Ladder and Carat Lane that are building world class products and are competing with the top brands in the world. They have managed to organise fragmented markets to create “online” brands with positive unit economics. Oyo rooms and BookMyShow, are examples of such startups which can effectively fill a need in the market and have managed to innovate and grow their market share.

Since 2005, MU Sigma a leading Indian business application software company has been making waves in its respective domain too. It has quietly made a mark in the world without any high valuations or spending sprees because their business has value.

Conclusion

Many lessons have been learnt from startups that have gone bust in the past. Clearly, it is high time that startups start focusing on sustainability first because once a sustainable business model is in place, scalability will automatically follow.

Going forward, only sustainable businesses which are value-driven, with a respect for the bottom line, will draw the attention of the now cautious investors and yield better returns on their investments in the long run as compared to valuation-driven startups. Moreover, only the sustainable business models will be able to scale successfully and prove their real mettle rather than becoming just ‘one-time wonders’. In fact, brick and mortar or e-commerce, the fundamentals don’t change!

 

MN

 

 

An article by Mahesh Nair

Founder at Picsdream