The first annual Bootstrap Film Fest is an innovate take on the Film Festival. The featured bootstrap films, Q&A with bootstrap filmmakers Nils Juul-Hansen, Brandy Rainey Amstel, and Jason Howell, and bootstrap workshop that includes Bootstrap founder, author, and speaker, Bijoy Goswami, will give the audience a deep understanding of bootstrapping techniques that they can use on their film projects, start-ups, and existing companies.
"Bootstrapping" has become a buzz word that is thrown around loosely to sound cool. But, what does it mean? Some use 'bootstrapping' to describe self funding or micro-budgeting. At best, that is the least interesting way to define 'bootstrapping'. Bootstrapping is so much more. It is not about sizing our project by the size of your wallet. It is about using constraints to create something entirely new and unique to you.
Bootstrap Film Fest will wake entrepreneurs up to a whole new world of possibilities. Tickets, trailers and more available at BSide, a Bootstrap member company.
Our speakers' experiences spanned the gamut in why, how, and the lessons learned in getting investors to pony-up for the growth of their venture. Three wise principles stand out:
Proceed with the end in mind
Go for the money before you need it
Choose your investors wisely
Before you go for the money, know where you eventually want to be with respect to the venture. What becomes of the founder in the future? Of course, whatever you want is ok. It's your business – for now. Remember that once you bring in investors you will be accountable to them, and depending on the terms of your funding and how much you raise, you may eventually lose control of your company, and if you don't perform you may lose your job!
It takes a very long time to get investment money. The tasks involve: getting the connections; establishing relationships; negotiating the terms; and, working full focused to move things through. Not only do these steps occur over time, during this time you still have your duties in your business and could be looking at some very long days. Start this process way before you're ready for the money. The day you wake up and decide you need funding, you will be thankful that you started conversations in the right circles - long before.
Your investors become your left-hand, your shadow, and your conscience. You want to know well about their motives, their expectations, and their interests in your company because when you take their money, you become accountable to them.
When considering investment funding for your business, keep in mind right action right time. The implications of this funding will vary markedly, depending on the stage of your business. For example, if your venture is in Ideation, your investors are likely to become your bosses and you become an employee who can then be fired. When your venture is beyond the VoD and in Growth, you are likely to have more influence in creating the terms of that funding and control in the business afterward. Nancy Schill, founder, Executive Intelligent Coaching and co-lead, Growth Subgroup
With only 8 pages of text, it was a quick read. While the article doesn't talk about bootstrapping specifically, it immediately resonates with any true bootstrapper and has a lot in common with Demo, Sell, Build.
Saras explains the "common sense" model of causal reasoning, where you first select a goal, come up with a strategy to achieve the plan, acquire the necessary resources, and finally execute on the plan. This sounds perfectly logical and is the way that many people go about planning a new business.
But then she defines effectual reasoning, where you start by evaluating the resources you have and figuring out what you can do with them. What are you excited about? What skills do you have? What relationships can you leverage to your advantage? Once you have a place to start, get to market quickly and learn from your customers. Then start the process over now that you have more information.
In comparison, causal reasoning seems rigid and inflexible. Effectual reasoning is fast to start, low risk to experiment with and has faster iterations. By getting to market quickly and incorporating user feedback, effectual reasoning is more likely to produce the best product and better able to respond to a rapidly changing marketplace. Too often with causal reasoning, it takes so long to get to market that the market changes before you get there.
When I started SKYLIST at Carnegie Mellon, I didn't have some grand plan - I mostly just did things that people offered to pay me to do. I got into email hosting because I was rejected for the WebSTAR beta program but was accepted for the ListSTAR beta program. My first customers were all relationships that I developed while working with ListSTAR at StarNine. I used the PowerMac 7100 that my parents bought me for college to host them and I stuck it on the school network in my dorm room.
Starting UnsubCentral was a similar story. I wasn't planning on starting a new company. The CAN-SPAM law was passed in December 2003 and the opportunity presented itself. I didn't spend a lot of time researching the market - I just dove in and started building it and we launched the product in January. I thought all our customers would be other email service providers like SKYLIST - because that was what I knew the best. But it turns out that our primary customer base was advertisers because that's who is directly responsible under the law. Fortunately we built the right product and just had to refocus our sales efforts on the right customer.
And my current startup, OtherInbox, is no exception. I looked around at the problems with my own email that I want to solve. I leveraged more than a decade of experience working with email marketing in designing the initial solution. I taught myself Ruby On Rails and built a demo myself. Then I started using it.
After convincing myself that I was on the right track, I partnered with a friend from Carnegie Mellon to start building a version that could support multiple users. I recruited some of my close friends as beta testers. Right now we're learning more every day about how people use it and we're iterating until we have it right.
I'm not saying we won't ever take an investment. In fact its very likely that we'll need to raise money at some point in order to ramp up customer acquisition or to expand internationally. But the longer we can put it off, the more we'll understand exactly what to do with the money we raise. The more we understand our customers and our model, the less equity we'll have to give up.
In the early summer of 2003 a little girl named Avi started a lemonade stand in Florida. It was a good business idea. Ice-cold lemonade is an easy sell on a hot summer day in Florida. So Avi's small business grew in popularity, but the CNN Headline on June 22, 2003 read like this, "6-Year-Old's Lemonade Stand Shut Down Due to Lack of Permit." Maybe she was lucky she didn't get penalized for not remitting sales tax?
At the core of every business are the functions that make up the back-office. The back-office typically consists of accounting, finance, tax, human resources, and legal functions of almost any business. It should be noted that many businesses choose to outsource their back-office functionalities, but it is necessary to have all of these functions covered nonetheless because you will be the person responsible for these functions during the early stages of your business. This information usually isn't covered in a business plan and even in B-school this topic is not covered in great detail. I will elaborate on each of these topics in a series of future articles.
The bootstrap principle of Right Action Right Time applies to your back-office in the same way as other significant components of your business, such as marketing, product development, and the use of capital. This approach is illustrated by the Bootstrap Map.
The following is a list of back-office functions that could be in place at the various stages of your venture:
While performing self reflection evaluate your effectiveness at budgeting and managing your personal finances. This often transcends into how the entrepreneur operates the business in the beginning stages.
Build an understanding of running a business from the ground up while gathering information about the industry your venture will operate in. Read books and periodicals and absorb everything you possibly can.
It is a good idea to gain real-world business experience pertaining to your venture
Obtain the necessary licenses and permits to operate your business
File a DBA for your business name
Set up business bank accounts separate from you personal finances
Consider applying for a line of credit
Obtain your first customer and gather and retain as much information regarding the sales transaction as possible.
Consider filing your first Schedule C as a sole proprietor when you file your income tax return
Consider organizational structures based on liability and tax assessments
Consider hiring a bookkeeper if tracking information becomes a time suck and is not a valuable use of your time, but even more importantly if in the ideation stage you discovered that you don't like doing the data entry for your business
Hold consultations with attorneys and accountants
Track all financial data pertaining to the venture either manually or with the aid of an accounting system
Retain all receipts and business documents in an organized manner
Sales tax remittance and business licensing
Track the financial performance of your venture in great detail never losing sight of your cash position
Determine the best means of compensating yourself from your business venture
Fine tune the information systems behind the infrastructure of your organization
Continued financial discipline while continuing to fund new creative endeavors
Control G&A costs and align management interests with strategic goals of the organization
Some businesses are more complex than others. All too many good business ideas fail before they start much like Avi's lemonade stand. The back-office is essential to doing business and using these concepts will save you time, money, and headaches along your entrepreneurial journey.
Note that this list is not "all inclusive." There are an endless number of back-office attributes that can arise in organizations. Some of these actions might come at an earlier stage of your venture, but they will be there throughout the process. There is a basic business framework that all organizations have to comply with, whether you're a publicly traded company or a not-for-profit organization. Don't neglect your finances and don't be afraid of the legal and accounting complexities facing businesses today. Avi later obtained a temporary business permit from the City of Naples and her lemonade stand was back in business.
Specializing and Accounting & Finance solutions for small, medium, large, private, public companies and not-for-profit organizations, Rey has been running his own consulting practice for almost three years while also running his Fine Arts Photography for the past five years. He is a full-time entrepreneur. He is currently involved with his fourth entrepreneurial venture and leads the Bootstrap Back Office Initiative.
Everyone has a different idea about what Entrepreneurship is and everyone has different motivations for their desire to be an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur I get a lot of people who approach me to talk about their ideas and the business they want to start. Each one of them, from what I can tell, seems to have different reasons driving them. Some people just seem to be looking for more fulfillment. Unfortunately, I don't think everyone can find the answers they're looking for in starting a business.
What do people seek in entrepreneurship? Why do they want to do their own thing? Many will tell you it's because people want to be their own boss, be in control. But what does that mean? What if you have a great boss? How many people that are being managed well in a position suited to their strengths want to start their own thing? Will they find ways to believe they could do it better? Are some people just never satisfied. Or because they've never experienced a satisfying job with a good team do they think that entrepreneurship must be the way to make them happy? On many levels, wanting to be your own boss and be in control is a really bad reason to start a company.
Starting your own company, especially bootstrapping one, is on a fundamental level creating your own future. Manifesting your own destiny. And yet it's not always the best way to create the future you actually want. It's just a different future and can be just as dissatisfying as a corporate job. If you're not happy where you are there are a thousand ways to change where you are without starting your own company. So how do you know starting your own thing is the way to go?
You first need to take a deep look at what would make you happy. For me, it's about doing something that you love in a company that is aligned with your core values. Money should not matter. The desire for material things in me seems to be more a result of our inundation with marketing messages convincing us we want more stuff than a desire for happiness. The desire for money is a hard one to overcome and is a constant battle. I believe it necessary to remove this from the picture, though, if you are to truly evaluate this objectively and find the most fulfilling path.
I believe the best reason to start your own company is because of all the opportunities in front of you it is the best available option to combine your core values, strengths, and resources into an activity that helps you manifest the first two. This is very ambiguous, intentionally, because it's such fundamental topic. I believe one should put a lot of thought into what makes them happy before considering starting a business. I would highly recommend figuring out your core values and strengths and taking roll of your resources. With these critical tools, all you need to do is look for intersections of your values and strengths with your resources and you've got your best option for a happy, fulfilling career. This may or may not involve starting a company and it may require some creativity. Let's look at an example...me:
Many of my core values are now very evident in what I'm doing. My company, Greenling, is trying to help people and the environment. There is a list of our core values plastered on just about every wall in our facility and many of those are my personal values as well. My strengths are in spurring people and things to action, in developing ideas, in pondering the future and what it may hold for me and my company, in working hard to achieve goals, and in helping people focus on what's important (I discovered these through a tool listed below). I think these are fairly well-suited to entrepreneurship.
Many of my core values are rooted in helping the planet. I care very much about Sustainability and improving our environment. My other core values include hard work and dedication, integrity, loyalty, building and respecting lasting relationships. I developed my core values several years ago and when I got married, my wife and I developed our core values as a team and Greenling developed its core values a couple of years ago. It seems cliché or something that is so simple you don't need to pay it attention, but I believe it's incredibly important to vocalize and write these things down. They can make every other decision in your life a little easier by check your options against your values.
My resources were slim when we started, but I had some good friends with additional resources, connections and experience in the local Sustainability scene. You don't need a lot of resources to start a company. You just need to know how to leverage them. If you need resources you don't have, partner with people who do have them. And I think it's just plain easier to start a company in an area where you DO have some resources than to strike out on your own into the blue. And with how hard it is to start a successful business anyway, every advantage helps.
There are many tools for helping you develop your core values. One great one for developing them within a team is Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish.
For finding your strengths there are a couple of really good tools. Strengths Finder & the MRE framework.
Finding your resources just requires, well, resourcefulness. Who do you know? Who do they know? Make a list of family and friends and what they do for work (or personally). Talk to them. Do they like what they do? Are they well-connected in their industry? What do they have influence over? Are they the purchaser for things in their industry? Who do they use to help them do what they do?
With all of these things, you have some great tools for evaluating a new venture. Whether you're starting from scratch or you have this great idea and just need to evaluate if you really want to do it or not, these are the building blocks.
It's no coincidence that when you think about this process, it leads much more easily to a bootstrap model of business than the other two (cookie-cutter business and VC-funded business). If you're starting with something that makes you happy it is most likely not going to be just copying someone else exactly. We all have our own ideas of how to run a business. If you're just reading a manual and following instructions, how likely are you to be following your happiest path? The VC path can seem glamorous and sexy, but remember my point about being motivated by money. As has been demonstrated by Dell, Microsoft, Southwest, there is not a business on the planet that absolutely cannot be bootstrapped. So why would you take VC money? Because it seems to make everything easier. But all money does is put a magnifying glass on everything. If you don't start out of the gates with every detail of your business figured out, you could end up with some huge problems.
Innovation comes from constraints, they say. And not the constraint of someone telling you what to do. So many things were really important, but I couldn't do them all. So I had to pick the most important ones to do first. How do you discern which are most important? Constraints help, however painful they are.
I believe the only way for you to freely manifest your values and strengths in a start-up is through a bootstrap model. Figure out what you love and demo, sell, build. Bootstrapping forced me to look deeper at my business and make sure I was doing the right thing at the right time.
Greenling is an Organic food delivery business with about 1500 customers that get weekly baskets of Local and Organic food delivered to their doorstep. I started Greenling 3 years ago with Jonathan McCoy and Jonathan Duffy, who have both since moved on to other ventures. Greenling is my 4th official start-up (I consider it official when I start depositing revenue), though I have investigated dozens of business models and truly enjoy the entrepreneurship process.
At the Rice Alliance Startup Workshop this weekend I listened to Corey Blahuta talk about financial issues for startups. When talking about a company's initial projections, he pointed out that the first draft is surely "precisely wrong."
These projections usually take the form of a big Excel spreadsheet, although I've taken to doing them in Google Docs so that everyone can work off of the same version of the spreadsheet and I can feed in live data from my website.
For a B2C Internet business, the model starts with marketing and customer acquisition and then flows through website conversion, user adoption, user activity, advertising inventory, advertising sell-through, collections, fixed and variable costs, and finally revenue and profit.
For a B2B business, the model usually starts with salespeople, who make a certain number of phone calls, to get a certain number of meetings, that results in contracts being sent out, that results in closed deals, that results in collected revenue, that results in expenses, that results in profit.
The goal is to show how you put in money on one end (by hiring salespeople or spending it on marketing) and then more money comes out the other end (after expenses).
The initial projections are based on many assumptions that have not been validated, so of course they won't be exactly right. Often, the initial projections are orders of magnitude off of the actual performance.
That doesn't mean its not worth making projections. One of the audience members asked why you would even make the projections if you know they are not right, suggesting that it was a waste of time.
The point of your initial projections is not to try and estimate exactly how the company will perform over the next 3 years and what the costs will be. The point of the projections is to develop a mental model for thinking about the business and tools for discussing different scenarios and tradeoffs. By creating a model for the business you have something to poke at and talk about with your team and advisors.
Any good model is based on a list of assumptions, and at the start of your business most of those assumptions will feel like throwing darts with a blindfold on - not very accurate. But by listing them out, you can see the relative impact of one versus another. And as you learn more, you can update the assumptions to be more accurate.
Another use of the model is to compare your business to others that are similar. Say you are trying to figure out your customer acquisition cost. You should estimate what you think it will cost based on advertising rates and conversion rates. But then you should compare your customer acquisition cost to what you can find out about the customer acquisition cost of companies that are similar to yours. Chances are you will have a similar cost structure to them. If your number is way less than theirs, you might want to check if there is anything you have overlooked.
Investors and advisors who have seen other business know what its supposed to look like. They can help you identify hidden costs that you have missed or other revenue opportunities you are not considering.
Creating a model isn't just something that should be done when your planning a company or fundraising. You should be constantly updating your assumptions as you go. Within your model, you should identify a few key metrics that you can focus on to optimize your business.
In addition to mentoring, Bijoy asked me to give the Bootstrap presentation to the group. I've probably seen Bijoy give it 20 times, so I feel like I could already repeat it by heart - but I'm looking forward to adding my own twist to it!
You can view or download the slides from my presentation here.
Who's on your web team? If you're a bootstrapper, the team probably consists of one person - you - and, if you have budget, a relatively low-cost web developer or designer, probably someone you know, just met, or was referred. Because your funds are limited, your web presence is inherently constrained by your need to limit expenses. You know you have to address the web somehow - it's the prevailing media ecology, and it's relatively frictionless to create some sort of presence, so whatever dollars you spend to get attention will probably be spent there.
But it can be complicated and confusing - what should you really be doing online? What sort of web site should you develop, and what's involved in building a site that will be effective? Is an online brochure enough? What other content should your site have? Should you have a blog? And should you spend money for search engine optimization or pay per click online advertising? What about design and brand development - how important are visuals? And what time and effort should you commit beyond the development of your web site? Should you spend time creating a presence on a social network platform like LinkedIn or Facebook or Myspace?
Consider best practices for high-end web design. Jesse James Garrett of Adaptive Path created a chart and book called "The Elements of User Experience" - an effective web site produces an optimal user experience, which in turn results in real conversions - i.e. users taking actions on the site that are relevant to your business. Your site could have a bazillion visits, but the visitor count is meaningless if they're "bouncing" rather than converting - taking the next step, which may be as little as completing a contact form requesting more information. [pdf of Elements of User Experience chart]
Let me restate for emphasis: people convert - take relevant action - because there's something compelling to them about the site they're visiting. This is part of the user experience of the site, and Garrett's "elements" chart breaks down the construction of that experience as a platform that moves from abstract to concrete, from conception to completion. The foundation of the project to develop a compelling user experience is strategic: determining user needs and site objectives. Based on these, the functional specifications and content requirements for the site can be articulated, and this supports interaction design and information architecture, then information design (interface and navigation), then visual design for the site.
High-end, high-dollar web sites are built by teams of specialists who are paid well to focus on various elements of site development, and who work well together to integrate efforts and produce a coherent final site that can be very effective. As a bootstrapper, you don't have a team of specialists, but you should be aware of the elements Garrett has described. The most critical is the need for site structure to emerge from strategic thinking about your business. Successful web presence depends, not so much on technology or design, but on clear strategic thinking that drives site structure and development.
So when you're ready to develop (or thinking to redevelop) the web site for your business, make sure your overall mission and goals are clear (you've presumably already done that in developing the business). Understand your business model: what's your source of revenue? Identify what would be a relevant conversion for a user visiting your web site (i.e. contact, purchase, subscribe, etc.) Then integrate all this thinking into the development of a powerful, coherent web presence.
We always hear about people starting with a thought, a concept and then growing it, going through ideation, surviving VoD and then "scaling" it. Well what if your idea began with visions of the "scaled" concept of your business and had to find the FOCUS and what is that other loosely thrown around word that everyone likes to advise you with...oh yeah..PATIENCE to scale it BACK so that you can find a starting point and then see it through.
My humbling journey starts here: Being at Acton and talking to Bijoy for 9 months about turning BIG AUDACIOUS DREAMS or B.A.D (coined by my partner, Hamid) in a scaled down reality so that I can wrap my tiny brains around it for now. While, having the audacity and courage to dream THAT big has its "sexiness" factor and is very inspirational to the point that it often gives goose bumps to mortal souls including yours truly; it takes that much extra energy to lug it around, open the B.A.D bag and fish for an offering of wisdom that the Universe may or may not choose to share with you for the day, based on which- you will take action.
Our B.A.D: Brand Bangladesh as a global business player, increase socially conscious business development, have the most beautiful resorts, be part of showcasing the beauty the country has to offer.
Our Reality: Design research projects for Universities, manage customized logistics A-Z, build and nurture business relationships for the customers with the right people on the ground, consult on business development projects that come out of the exposure trips and help in execution.
Our VoD challenge of the year: Loooooong sales cycles, wiggling through red tape, complexities of off shore operations (both partners are overseas).
So, I would like to share strategy on focusing for the "short attention spanned mind" and how to walk while we wait to grow them "wings" that will take us out of VoD:
1) Reality of F-O-C-U-S ing: Flavors of the Week (Internal Process): We have divided the week into Marketing, Web development, Account Generation Strategy, Internal Process and Catch up day. (I got this idea from a boostrap post I read by Chen). All these pretty words are great in theory and works 60% of the time. I have had to simulate the effects of a "chill pill" the rest of the 40% of the time.
Customers: The hardest thing to do is to pick ONE type of customer esp. when we are new and some revenue have come in. Each type of customer demands a different marketing, account generation and execution strategy.
Lesson Learned: As long as our productivity level is above 50%, we will survive. If its not above 50%, we will survive if we are still focusing on B.A.D. a.k.a having passion. Even as I add to the tablets of "endeavors" on this blog, trust me, I know how hard it is to be "sunny" every day. I am hoping that as you read this, you understand that you are not alone.
We retained our sanity by accepting to serve one type of customer. We realized it would strengthen our brand to that type of customer if we stayed in that market.
2) Reality of the Power of Two: Team & Deal Structure: I have the "right people". We hit the ground running. We served our first prestigious customer. Our team members are dreamy, well accomplished and ALL driven by long term successes. What does an internal deal structure look like to protect the company, keep all players happy and create the right incentives for each: a spouse, a best friend and a relative? And by the way, what am I worth?
I am ploughing through legal language trying to figure out how much "fine print" I really need to define our relationships. What magic clauses will save my friendship and family ties? What do the exit clauses look like?
Lessons Learned: Taking breathers throughout the process of deal structuring. We learn a little more about ourselves and about the other team players everyday. Doing business as is, and still making some incremental progress every month. Holding on to the "Right People" because they are really hard to come by. Btw, the right people = people who are trustworthy, people with similar ethical standards and work ethics, people who are passionate about the same cause.
3) Art of PATIENCE: What does a high energy, over ambitious dreamer do to pass time on the path of entrepreneurship in the VoD? What does Patience look like? a) It means working out a few times a week no matter what! I had given up exercising so many times and paid the price. Physical exercise helps maintain the endorphins (happy chemicals) in your brain that is imperative for clarity of thought, remaining motivated day to day and increasing productivity. b) It means taking an afternoon off to meet a friend for lunch so you don't fry your brains. c) Taking time out every day to play with the kids (if you have any) and/or picking up on a hobby. d) To know when to talk about your company and when to be quiet about it. e) To let the Universe just do its "thing" when you have run out experiments to try out.
And when all efforts of retaining sanity fail, call the hotline: BE-JOY. For some one who does not believe in the existence of God, he sure knows how to surrender to the Universe. His energy and words provide a framework to find reason in the unforeseen path of entrepreneurship.