Malcolm Gladwell once wrote that it takes ten years and 10,000 hours to become an expert on a topic. While I’ve only been programming for a year and a half, I’ve been bootstrapping startups for over ten years and 10,000 hours I want to share a little bit about what I’ve learned to help others interested in starting their own startup.
I have a lot of developer friends and think of myself as a part-time developer as well. A lot of these developer friends of mine have a lot of great ideas, but they think that they either need a lot of money to get started or don’t have the time. They get discouraged thinking that they’ll either never be able to raise the money necessary or be able to put the hours in that they need to get their idea off the ground. The truth is that you don’t need much money at all and the hours come from working with other people you know. The hardest part is getting started, but you do need to keep in mind a couple of key things in mind when you do.
A lot goes into starting a successful bootstrapped startup, but today I’d like to share with you a few of the most important aspects leading up to releasing your product. The three aspects I want to cover is building a team, coming up with an idea that makes money from day one, and why you should build for a big market. Like the lotto says: “You can’t win if you don’t play.”
Building a Team
Most of us cannot quit our day job to start in full-time on our new startup. Thankfully, with modern web development techniques, development and design take a lot less time than they once did. It shouldn’t take you more than two to three months to get your product out the door if you use your nights and weekends to work on your startup, but do it in that time without getting discourage requires to work with other people.
Working alone is almost impossible when launching a bootstrapped startup. So many of my developer friends are so use to working along at their jobs that they think they can do it and be successful when they try and build their startup. This is absolutely false. That your only able to put in work on it during your off hours should be reason enough to find people to work with.
Bootstrapping by definition means that you’re building your startup with little money. Money buys you time and time isn’t something you have a lot of when you’re working at a full-time job. Because you don’t have money to buy time (i.e. pay for employees or consultants), you need to find people to partner with you. These people should complement your skills. If you’re a backend developer, you should find yourself a designer and businessperson to work alongside you.
The more people you can get to work with you the better. Everyone will be compensated with a fair amount of equity, typically equally divided, to incentivize people to work hard. When finding people to work with, you need to find those folks that understand that they need to put in time outside of work for no immediate compensation. These people are often difficult to find, but if you can convince them that you’re stronger working together than working apart you’ll be able to get them onboard.
Coming Up With an Idea
People trying to solve their own problem think up the best ideas. When you’ve identified something that pains you, you’ll know how to properly address problem to solve it. If you flail around trying to solve someone else’s problem then you’ll either convince yourself that there’s a problem that doesn’t actually exist or you won’t be able to solve it in the first place. Stick to what you know.
This holds true for all ideas whether they’re bootstrapped or backed by loads of money. The key differentiator between the two is that bootstrapped startup ideas need to make money much sooner than venture backed businesses. Bootstrapped startups are best suited to be Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses. You cannot wait around to build the next Twitter, Instagram or Facebook if you’re bootstrapping because advertising money takes a long time to make. You need to make revenue as quickly as possible and only SaaS businesses allow you to make revenue from day one in a sustainable and steady way.
Building for a Big Market
Not only do SaaS businesses make the best bootstrapped companies such as Uncover, WooThemes, Harvest, Carbonmade, and others, but you should also look to build for a large market. As a bootstrapped company, you want to make sure there is an audience for what you’re selling. Your goal is to sell as much as your service as you can in the shortest amount of time. That way you can convert to working on it full-time as quickly as possible. If you try to get in on a market too early, there might not be enough customers for you to sell to just yet.
While it’s true that the larger the market, the more competitors there are, I’d rather be in a large market with a lot of customers and a lot of competitors than a market with only a few customers and no competitors. In small markets, it’s harder to reach these customers as more often than not they don’t know to look for you and you don’t have money to advertise to let them know who you are. If you’re in a big market then customers are looking for your product and you can win them over with time, a great product, and awesome customer service.
Want to learn more?
I’ve actually been working on a book that will cover all aspects of bootstrapping in much greater depth that I hope to release in a few months. I’ve recently passed the 15,000 word milestone and I’m moving closer and closer to its completion every day If you’re interested in starting your own startup and you’d like to get notified about when it’s ready, please sign up to my mailing list. A sign up is like a thumbs up to keep on cranking away. Thanks!