Three Things I Keep In Mind While Bootstrapping My First Startup
For anyone out there who has just started or is thinking about starting their first company let me be one of the first of many to tell you that it is a daunting task. You can read all the books out there from all the best entrepreneurs, but there is no clear handbook to doing it right. I have read all of the highly recommended reads and I can confidently say, I have learned more by doing than by reading. That being said, there are three things I have learned in my first year building my company that, if nothing else, you should keep in the back of your mind.
Who am I to be sitting here writing this article for you to read? I am a 25 year old Project Manager working two jobs; one of which is at a FinTech company and the other as CEO and Founder of my first company, on the side — I have been bootstrapping it for the past year [we are about 6 weeks from launch(!!)]. I am also a Ramblin Wreck from Georgia Tech and a helluva engineer, sorta. While in school at Georgia Tech I studied Aerospace Engineering and really couldn’t imagine anything in the real world being harder than that. I was wrong — building this company has been one of the most difficult tasks I have encountered in my lifetime.
So here are the three things I try and keep in mind when things get tough and I want to just scream my head off.
- Be Patient and Flexible
- Be Vocal
- Stay Positive
Be Patient and Flexible
Disclaimer: This is being written by someone that has been bootstrapping for almost a year.
Having a full time job has been great in providing my company with an unlimited runway and no ‘Sell By Date’ before the money runs out. This has allowed me to really sift through candidates before finding the right ones to build my founding team with. This goes for anyone, bootstrapping or not. Lots of people will express interest in your project over time. Very few people are actually willing to put in the hustle and dedication it takes to build something from the ground up. I spoke with over 115 candidates before making my first hire. AngelList can attest to this! It’s a lot easier to jump on the first person that expresses interest just because you want someone to bounce ideas off of in the early stages, but making the wrong mistake and having to fire people right out of the gate can be very detrimental.
Also, as time goes on your product will evolve to fit perfectly in the market. Don’t be too headstrong on your initial idea. You know why no startups go into pitches with fully fleshed out business plans? Because thats how you fail. If you are unable to adapt and mold to the ever changing world around, you and your product will be left behind.
Be patient. Don’t rush into things. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be flexible. Your customer is always right and that is never more true than when trying to find that perfect product-market fit.
There are two things that you should never refrain from being vocal about. One is your product and two is everything else.
Your Product. First things first, don’t not tell people about your product due to fear of them stealing it. Ideas are cheap; execution is everything. No one is going to steal your baby. Talking about your product with people will only help build your customer feedback loop. Getting early insights from people in the industry, people outside the industry, random drunk people in the bar, and whoever else will listen will be some of the most useful feedback you will get.
Everything Else. Some people say doing dishes is therapeutic. For others it’s folding laundry. Whatever it is you do to release pent up emotions, add talking to the list. There are so many mediums out there (see what I did there? I am being vocal on Medium ;) ) for you to get your thoughts out to bounce off of someone. Whether it be Twitter, Facebook, Persicope, Blab. You name it, you can sign on and share your thoughts and get user feedback. Even if it’s one dude in your periscope who may be sitting in his underwear eating stale chips — it’s still feedback and its still getting all of those thoughts and questions that may be causing you serious anxiety, out of your head. Also, reach out to friends. One thing I have learned throughout this is that people are really willing to help when you put yourself out there. Every millennial (Ugh I hate that word) is so into startups and their network in this day and age that they’ll more than likely offer to help connect you to someone that can be extremely beneficial to your business.
Be Vocal. Don’t keep your questions and thoughts stuck in your head. Find a way to get them out and bounce them off of someone, even if they’re complete strangers. Don’t be afraid to ask. Ask old friends, parents’ friends, the dude at your local bodega, whoever you want just make sure they’re a real human.
This is probably one of the most important, both for yourself and for your company. You’re going to get a lot of no’s. A lot. You’re also going to get a lot of ‘Wait, doesn’t something like this already exist?’ The overwhelming majority of people will not understand your large-scale product vision when it is in its infancy. Granted getting from infancy to the large-scale vision you may already have thought up takes a lot of time and effort and will probably change a few times, but you do in fact have to start somewhere. When Twitter first launched, their description was, and I quote: ‘Use twttr to stay in touch with your friends all the time. If you have a cell and can txt, you’ll never be bored again…E V E R!’ What does that even mean and how did that description morph into the Twitter we know now? Who knows but now Twitter is a publicly traded company, used by millions of people all over the world. I’m sure Jack got lots of no’s and head shakes when he first started out.
Stay positive. Haters are going to hate just like potatoes are going to potate. If your first company fails, you’re in the same boat as 99.9% of all entrepreneurs. Learn from it. Pinpoint all your mistakes. Do it better the next time. Entrepreneurship is not a job, it is a calling. If your first, second, third time didn’t work then keep trying! Or get a job in a safe corporate environment. You do you.