Embrace the bootstrap…and start pulling!
Founder Friday is a weekly guest post written by a founder who is based in or hails from the Silicon Prairie. Each month, a topic relevant to startups is presented and founders share lessons learned or best practices utilized on that topic. July's topic is bootstrapping.
We've all heard of the bootstrap startup, but is bootstrapping exclusive to the startup? What becomes of the bootstrap startup when it "grows up"?
One of the key characteristics of a bootstrap business is it's inclination to build vs. buy. Out of sheer necessity, this characteristic is engrained into most bootstraps from day one. Without funding, resourcefulness must become the primary weapon and a trusted friend.
The well-funded startup can spend capital on office space, furniture, commercial software, advertising, and employees. In contrast, the bootstrap startup simply doesn't have that luxury. They must make do with the dark corner in the back bedroom as their first office. They might resort to using a slab of plywood over a couple concrete blocks for a desk. They get by with an outdated computer and open source software. They employ guerilla marketing tactics and rely on family and friends to get the word out. They must find inventive ways to accomplish everything that needs to be done in the business.
What's the fun in that you might ask? Plenty!
1. The lessons learned are indispensable and eternal. The reality is that there is NEVER enough capital - even for the well-funded startup. Like any other skill that is practiced and perfected, resourcefulness is an entrepreneur's most valuable asset regardless of the size or age of their company. When things get tough, as they inevitably will, that bootstrap foundation will allow you to weather the storm.
2. To build is to understand. Who has more understanding of a fine craft beer? The brewer who spent countless hours refining his recipe - or the patron who hurriedly downs the brew in hopes of a quick buzz? As a business owner, you can hire out virtually all functions of your enterprise, but true understanding of the drivers in your business come only from building it up with your own two hands.
3. Create a one-of-a-kind. When you're building your business from scratch, you have total flexibility to build solutions that are 100% tailored to your business. If you want to innovate in your vertical, you must be willing to take the road less travelled by. Where off-the-shelf solutions often lead you to sameness, a bootstrapped, customized solution will lead you to innovation and originality.
4. Slow down and enjoy the ride. It's human nature to seek instant gratification, but all too often that "get rich quick" mentality fogs our mind and leads us to make poor decisions. While the funded startup may garner the headlines, often it's the scrappy startup who wins the race.
So what does happen to a bootstrap startup when it grows up? For Fat Brain Toys, we have yet to outgrow our bootstrap origins. Don't get me wrong - I'm glad we graduated from the basement of our home. But nearly 10 years since our founding, we still employ resourcefulness as the first tool from the toolbox. The creative, problem-solving skills we honed as a startup have allowed us to grow and morph and compete in a business world that takes no prisoners.
So if you've got an entrepreneurial itch that needs scratching, don't let money get in the way of your dreams. The solution you're looking for may be at your fingertips and between your ears.
Credits: Image and photo courtesy of Mark Carson.
About the author: Mark Carson is the president and co-founder of Fat Brain Toys, an Elkhorn, Nebraska-based, multi-channel toy company. A self-taught developer, inventor and marketer, Mark, with his wife Karen, has built Fat Brain Toys into one of the nation's largest independent toy retailers. In addition to its website, Fat Brain Toys has a retail storefront in Village Pointe South and wholesale their original line of specialty toys and games to over 750 stores worldwide.
Founder Friday is brought to you by the Heartland Technology Alliance
Thanks to our Founder Friday series sponsor, Heartland Technology Alliance, a nonprofit working as an advocate for innovation and competition in technology and communications across much of the Silicon Prairie and throughout the Upper Midwest.