Nothing beats the feeling of looking back and realizing you’ve built something from the ground up.
It’s not easy.
But you’ll keep going. Because no matter what, you’re on a mission. You want to have a successful business. You want to change the world.
We’ve been there and we understand.
We’re here to tell you it’s possible to build a company with limited capital. It’s possible to grow without having VCs involved. We know it because we’ve done it ourselves!
Here are a few bootstrapping strategies to successfully launch your business. They've inspired our own business. We know you’ll find them useful!
It's no secret you need money to make things happen but you need to be really smart about it with your limited resources.
First, think about where the money will come from. Are you using your personal savings? Will you sell a property to launch your business? Will you bootstrap while still holding on to your day job? How much do you have and for how long can it sustain you? How will you make money with your new business? How fast?
You should have an answer to these questions… or at least a plan.
Jon Oringer had launched a few startups and had always encountered the same problem: good images were difficult to find and, the ones that were good, were very expensive.
He knew he wasn’t the only one with this problem.
Oringer decided to invest money in an $800 camera and went out to take photos of everything he could find for six months straight. He uploaded 30,000 photos to a website he was self-hosting and started to sell. He kept taking more photos until he could buy photos from other photographers as well. He was doing all of this himself. He ran his servers at home, handled customer service, and did all marketing.
Until it wasn’t sustainable.
He couldn’t keep taking photos, buying from other photographers, and uploading them by himself. It was too much to do and he still had to work to make the business grow! So he came up with an idea. He opened the platform to any photographer that wanted to sell their photos.
He created a unique marketplace where photographers could get money from their photos right away and buyers could get photos from a wide variety of photographers at a cheap price. If this sounds familiar it's because I'm talking about Shutterstock, one of the biggest stock photo markets in the world!
Having a limited budget can be a blessing because it can push you to think about how to solve things in a creative and innovative way (and not just throwing money at them!).
It’s not uncommon for someone to be looking for a solution to a problem, and find that it solves an entirely different one.
I’m not sure if you know, but YouTube started as a dating site where people could upload videos to introduce themselves but the idea was later ditched to open the platform for everyone.
You need to remain open to pivot if you see a better use for your solution.
Let’s use it as another example. We’ve all heard of craigslist, right?
craigslist started as a personal hobby for Craig Newark. It started as an email distribution list to friends that had events in San Francisco. First, it was Newark who submitted most of the events himself, but soon enough, people caught on and started adding their own.
Eventually, people even started using the platform for tons of different purposes, like listing jobs, and other classified announcements.
The website became so famous that in 1997, 1 million people visited the website per month! This is a lot if you consider that back then just 19% of households in the US had access to the internet.
The point is: listen to your customers and adapt.
We’re not here to clip your wings but, if you have a limited budget, you better stick to a business you know something of. Or at least stick to a domain you know.
Here’s another wonderful example.
Mailchimp is a well known email service provider (that now does much more than that!). It was bootstrapped, they’ve never gotten funding!
Mailchimp started around the year 2000 after their two co-founders were let go from their jobs doing web design. Instead of looking for new jobs, they decided to start a new company that provided web design services — a business they knew well.
As time passed by, many customers asked for help because they wanted to send emails to their clients. Coincidentally, they had previously worked on an online greeting card service! They repurposed the code and offered it as a side-service, while their web design business kept growing.
Eventually, they realized they weren’t excited about their web design services anymore and were more into helping smaller businesses grow. They changed their focus and kept growing!
Their secret, as one of their founders said, was that they really understood what small businesses wanted since they were themselves one.
Mailchimp’s strategy is great.
They started a new business without having to learn new skills. It was a side business that was serving their own customers. And, they could use their own resources to fund their new venture.
Quoting one of the founders, “the whole point of [Mailchimp] is to prove to small businesses that you can do this, because we did it.”
We did too.
You can do it too.
If you think you have to reinvent the wheel to bootstrap a business, think twice. Most of the time, you just need a really innovative twist!
Have you ever used Shopify?
Shopify was a bootstrapped business (they later got funding and then IPOed). The business started in 2004 because Tobias Lütke and some of his friends wanted to open an online store for people who snowboarded. After trying different products for their online store, they couldn’t find just what they needed or wanted. Tobias, who was also a programmer, decided to build their own.
Two months later, they launched their online store. Two years after that, they launched Shopify.
Back in 2004, there were already some solutions available for people who wanted to sell online but none of them were friendly or allowed personalization, at least not the way Lütke expected it.
The market was already there, the demand was already there, people just needed a better solution.
There are many things in the world that can and should be better.
How can your business idea help improve the solutions that already exist?
Success takes time. Development takes time.
A very famous bootstrapping story is the one from GoPro. Their CEO, Nick Goodman, once said:
People think that GoPro is an overnight success, but really it’s been a ten year slog to get to this point and while at the time maybe I wished that I’d had more money than I did, I see it as really advantageous now because we took a long time to learn our markets and learn our customers. We took a very slow, but steady approach that has benefited us. If we had received money to do what we wanted to do early on, I think we would have burned through it trying to figure out what this business could really be. I don’t think we would have necessarily been given the time to slowly and thoughtfully build GoPro into what it is today.
GoPro had been a healthy, profitable business when it became known everywhere, partly thanks to YouTube, which made it easy for anyone to upload videos and share them with the world.
They spent years working on a product they believed in, without compromising to get fast results.
Being patient is key for bootstrappers.
You need to show up every day.
You need to work every day.
But trust us, the result is well worth it.
One of the advantages of bootstrapping is that you don’t have investors (or anyone else!) pressuring you to launch your service or product. You only have to respond to yourself. Bringing new ideas to the market is difficult enough, adding external pressure to it can be detrimental to your final product!
Bootstrapping gives you this unique opportunity to grow your business however you want.
You know your idea better than anyone else. You know its potential and you know you can make it work.
Now go ahead and do it.
We know you can!