While venture-backed tech startups seem to get all the press, there are many, many ways to start your company. Some entrepreneurs do it while hanging onto their day job full-time. Some use the money they’ve saved to give themselves a defined runway (i.e., I get six months to accomplish these three things, otherwise, I move on). Others seem to rely exclusively on hustle and luck. Here’s what I’ve learned about one of the less glamorous forms of funding: bootstrapping.
Having press access can get you far. Knowing the right people or having access to conferences and parties can sometimes be all that it takes to make a life-changing connection. Try to get as many speaking or writing events as possible. How is that possible early on? Start small, think about something you know about, and work from there. Only know about exotic turtles? Blog about turtles. Find a blog about turtles and guest post. Try to get a free pass to a turtle conference. There's nothing the world loves more than experts. You have to start somewhere.
In the beginning, you will think that there is a competitor secretly working in the middle of the night ready to steal your idea. But the startup game is not necessarily about being fastest or first to market. It’s about being smarter.
- Time will be your most limited resource.
- Block off chunks of time for certain things so you are not wasting energy moving from place to place.
- Leave mornings open for operational chores. Preserve afternoons for face-to-face meetings.
3) Travel cheaply
Traveling cheaply is an art and starts with a great network and a smart approach.
- Keep your travel dates flexible, bite the bullet on layovers, and build loyalty miles in as many ways as possible.
- Couches are your friend. They are cheap and give you time to catch-up with friends and colleagues in ways you normally wouldn’t. Upon first arriving in New York, I stayed on a very influential entrepreneur’s couch. Not only did I have a comfy place to sleep, but I learned a lot about the community and launching a startup just from midnight chats.
Advisors can be a source of “free” or equity-only expert advice. Without a retainer or hourly billing rate, you can get top notch ideas and support without feeling the burden of a big bill. Many times startups search for advisors that “look good” on paper, but early on, that may not be what you need. Look for people that are available part-time, but are still accessible for those company-changing decisions.
As an entrepreneur, giving back--at all times and in whatever way you can--should be your number one job. Funding and money are glamorized by the media, but many to reach your milestones you will need support from your community. Need more users or testers? Community. Need to find that co-founder or advisor? Community. Are you a hardcore coder? Build a friend a widget. Are you a master marketer? Help another startup with a campaign.
Above all, the key to bootstrapping is being creative. Get the most done with the least and keep a smile on your face. Bootstrapping is about never counting on funding. Funding is a mysterious and weird animal that is difficult to predict. Odd as it sounds, many entrepreneurs will tell you that some of their favorite memories are from back in the day when times were lean. Enjoy it, because one day you might get that big funding or bring in senior executives. Before you know it, those nights on friends’ couches will seem too far away.