Bootstrapping: if we’re going to die, let’s do it with our boots on

Have we forgotten what the natural (and most rewarding) way of growing a project is?

April 1, 2020

Grandma used to say it as she held her spoon up: ‘The more you have, the less you value.’

Far away in space and time, VC investors agree: each project submitted for funding usually asks for more than it needs (mostly out of fear). The problem is that frequently, we ignore that starting from scratch and reaching success — whether it’s a startup, a new job, or a new couple — intrinsically carries a dose of uncertainty and unsatisfied needs.

But, what else is the raison d’être of a startup? It’s none other than identifying a problem or need and finding a solution. Creativity borns from the lack of something: Whenever we find a problem that we would like to solve, our ingenuity tests one possible solution after another until it finds the best one — or at least, the most suitable for that moment. Lack drives creativity, while ‘over-sufficiency’ (if you allow us this word) makes it stagnant.

Careful! If you’re thinking like this, stop. This is where the trouble starts.

Forgetting how and where they come from, most founders get into a desperate race to earn funds to carry out that project. No matter what stage, we all suffer from this anxiety of wanting to foresee all the possible scenarios and not being found with empty pockets.

‘Will 2 developers be enough? Better be 3.’
‘What if I have to make variants of my app?’
‘This is not enough, we are going to need thousands more.’
‘Will we have to pivot?’
I’ll probably need to ask for a little more capital.’

That’s how the budget goes up, and creativity stagnates. Having an excess of resources limits us and extinguishes the flame that brought us here ina first place. We’re not saying that you should not take advantage of opportunities to receive some of the many subsidies that are out there. What we want is for all of us to get that crazy idea — that you can not get ahead without VC money — out of our heads once and for all.

Money isn’t everything

More than just one successful company was born without the need to ask for money. ‘But how?’ you’re probably asking yourself. We’ll tell you: with a good idea, low initial costs, and the talent to adapt to what may come.

If you choose the path of bootstrapping, soon you’ll see that it wasn’t so bad to immerse yourself in the vertigo of self-financing and self-made — even if you have to learn to listen to your breathing just to control the anxiety. To sum up, you’ll probably come out of this experience with your soft skills strengthened more than ever — and believe us, these skills are not learned in any course; don’t let them lie to you.

Don’t be afraid to get mud on your boots

Bootstrapping will make you:

  • Creative 
    As we said (and you saw it in dozens of films), exceptional ideas often arise from the suffering of lack. The imagination ignites, and solutions begin to be visualized, some not so brilliant, and others simply outstanding. When we capture an idea like that, it’s well worth going out and fighting for it.
  • Self-sustainable
    You will learn to use, reuse… and not waste. Thousands of ideas born in countries with few resources, with little and no funding, end up becoming real companies. All you have to do is participate in any event such as TechCrunch or Web Summit or do a search in 500 Startups to find out about them. How do they do it? Without the need to romanticize poverty, we can say that they make extreme use of the human capacity to be ingenious with what is at hand, reusing it if necessary and, above all, without wasting anything.
  • Resilient 
    Relying on one’s own capabilities is the basis for a rapid recovery. Dependence on an external agent makes us more vulnerable and limits our ability to make decisions. If you are doing this based on your own effort, as time goes by, you will become sharper, more determined, and more precise about your goal. And when bad times come —of course, they will come—, you will have the flexibility and speed to recover quickly and get back on your feet like a reed, which bends but does not break.

Is that the way your company has to go? We can’t tell you that. That’s something that only you can decide. But what we can tell you, based on our experience — and a lot of suffering — is that it is possible to make a living out of your project without receiving a single dollar from outside. Not even from Grandma, who didn’t believe in banks and kept her savings in neat rolls between her nylon stockings.

Tips for bootstrapping

  • Bring together different talents. Bootstrapping is literally lifting yourself up. Naturally, this will lead you to meet with people who, interested in your idea, can bring different knowledge and skills. If there are three of them and they all do the same thing, it’s not going to work. Identify what you are good at and then seek to compensate for your lesser strengths. At the very least, your warriors should include these three profiles:
    🔭 The visionary: always thinks about the future, is creative (even delirious), and gets bored fast.
    🎈 The optimistic: is extroverted, has highly developed social skills, and always sees the positive.
    📐The analytical: is orderly, schematic, and good with numbers. He limits the energy of the previous two. 
    Whatever skills your team lacks, look for them outside (with only one condition: it has to be different from what you already have
    ).
  • Experience collaboration. As we write this, Coronavirus quarantines are in place, and the world seems only just to discover the value of cooperation between people and/or small businesses. Look around you. Who else is starting a business? Giving that talented, minimalist design company you follow on Instagram can be the difference between getting out there with a quality website and providing your leads some Wix crap you did by following a tutorial. And since that company is as small as your business, you might be able to get them an affordable price or offer them something you do to trade. Remember that they want to grow, too.
  • Start with low costs. This is true even when you have a comfortable initial investment of your own: it is not necessary to start with a dream team or with the best and most expensive services. Why two subscriptions to different services — of recognized brands and likely expensive — when you can look for a little more and get a service that gives you everything you need and at a lower cost? Why four people if two is enough? The critical question is: what do you need today? Starting small can be a sacrifice, but in the long run, cutting costs and resources will feel threatening and will be much more painful.

Going back to Grandma and her spoon: most previous generations did their business or enterprise from scratch on a shoestring. We all have some of those stories in the family. There was no VC or crowdfunding, yet they were able to support themselves and get ahead, face crisis, and grow back. But, above all, they made do with what they had at hand.

Without a doubt, bootstrapping is more sacrificial than solving your project with a huge non-refundable budget. Still, nobody will take away the taste and experience of knowing that you fought (and won) with your own boots on.