Welcome to Bootstrap Austin from Bijoy Goswami, the founder
Welcome to the Bootstrap Network!
Glad to have you on board! From our start in July 2003 with 20 bootstrappers meeting at the Gingerman Pub in Austin, we have evolved into more of a movement. The movement seeks to remind entrepreneurs of the low-capital path available to them, articulate and understand the unique rules of the bootstrap game, and most importantly, provide a supportive community where we share ideas, solve problems and collaborate.
This document will help you get acquainted with the organization. Please take the time to read it carefully and thoroughly.
- 1 History and Context
- 2 Realities of Bootstrapping
- 3 Bootstrap Organization Aspirations
- 4 Online Resources
- 5 Structure/Fees
History and Context
I started the group to save myself some time - I was meeting with my fellow-entrepreneurs for coffee and lunch and thought it would be easier if we all just met up together! I also faced a distinct lack of support for bootstrappers and the bootstrap approach to building companies. In the bubble-era there was so much noise about the Venture Capital (VC)/Rocket model, that it consumed all the available oxygen. This approach broadly involves: writing a business plan, raising millions of dollars, spending the funds quickly and going public/selling out in a short period of time. There was simply no space for a dialogue about Bootstrap/Camel - and why would there be - the Rocket approach is so glamorous and exciting! Indeed, it was somewhat disdained - if you hadn't raised $5MM, you weren't a bona fide entrepreneur!
Bootstrapping, in its many forms, is an approach taken by some of the largest and most successful companies out there. To name a few - Microsoft, Oracle, Dell, Virgin, The Body Shop. And indeed, there is evidence that a company's longevity correlates to whether it takes a bootstrap approach. (See "The Living Company" by Arie De Geuss.) And it's not that Bootstrap ventures don't take venture funding! It's that if they elect to do so, they do it at the right time, when they're successfully crossed the Valley of Death. Indeed, all indications are that VCs are moving back to engaging with companies in this stage of their development. This is a good thing - for the VCs, the companies and the entrepreneurs!
Realities of Bootstrapping
1. The rules of Bootstrap ventures are totally different from those of Rockets - and they can be learned! At the highest level it's about seeing and exploiting the incredible non-capital resources out there. The very lack of significant funding causes the Boostrapper to INNOVATE. And as we go through the Valley of Death, we find the hidden pots of gold and competitive advantage. (Dell's model of going direct to the customer came out of the fact that Michael Dell started selling computers out of his UT dorm room.) And all the activities of building product, finding customers, team building, marketing, etc., are vastly different for a Bootstrap Venture.
2. The nature of bootstrapping means that you start the (ad)venture and then figure out what you need as you go along. This is in sharp contrast to a classic "business school" model where you take two years off to gain all the necessary skills and then start. It's much like an epic story, where the hero sets off on her journey, only to discover she needs all kinds of help along the way to achieve the goal. There's only so much preparation one can do and bootstrappers know this.
3. Support and resources for bootstrappers are virtually non-existent. Why? Well, there's no money in supporting us - certainly not while we're in the Ideation and Valley of Death stages! Business schools are funded either by large corporations or VCs and this inevitably steers the focus towards studying large firms or VC-funded ones. If we bootstrappers don't band together and mobilize ourselves as we have, it simply will not happen.
Bootstrap Organization Aspirations
A Community of Trust and Support
We have all experienced the incredible power that comes from being able to reach out to each other. At the most basic level, it's simply the ability to share our experiences and struggles – we know that we're not alone and there are others like us facing similar challenges. At a more practical level, we offer advice and direct help. Bootstrap Austin facilitates our community through regular monthly gatherings and various online tools. Our trusted community is the most vital part of what makes Bootstrap valuable and it is the foundation of everything else we do.
Just-in-time Resources, Expertise (& Customers)
As we build our companies and go through each stage, we discover many needs for resources and expertise. Bootstrap is the place to go to fill these needs by helping each other through our knowledge and experience. Yahoo groups, Bootstrap Breakouts and Aviri are all mechanisms to ask for and provide this. Breakouts occur between regular meetings and cover topics such as sales, marketing, time management, etc. Through Aviri and the yahoo groups, we leverage our collective experiences to quickly find the resources and expertise we need.
Knowledge: Key Models
We are guided by our mental models of ourselves and the world around us. This is particularly important in the entrepreneurial journey, both from an individual and a venture point of view. If we have a better understanding of the rules of the bootstrap game, we significantly increase our chances of success. To foster this, the Bootstrap Network forwards two complementary models. First, the Bio-venture model developed by Darius Mahdjoubi. This model helps us understand the different stages (Ideation, VoD, Growth) and provides the overall context for the bootstrap venture. It helps us understand the priorities and unique challenges of each stage so we can focus our efforts accordingly. It also helps us think non-linearly, a most vital skill for a bootstrapper! Bootstrap is also organized into sub-groups by stage and members from around the world can join these groups.
Second, we will use the MRE/5D model (from my book The Human Fabric) to help us understand ourselves, find co-founders, hire the right people, craft sales teams, etc. Recognizing our core talents and capabilities (and corresponding weaknesses!) is vital and enables us to bring complementary people into our ventures.
Not understanding the different stages and the founder's changing role is perhaps the #1 reason why most entrepreneurs don't grow with their ventures. We aim to change that and will offer ongoing opportunities to learn and apply the models.
An Open-Source Community
Bootstrap is evolving into a mechanism for many of our members to implement their products/services in service of the community. Through the Structure/Fees Services Option for full membership in Bootstrap Austin, we now have 80+ bootstrappers (of our 500+ members) providing some kind of negotiated product or service to the group. Often, this is the bootstrapper's actual product or service or related to it. The bootstrapper benefits by gaining reputation in the community, experience and improvement of their product or offering. Bootstrap become a customer and Evangelist for the bootstrapper and gains in the richness of offerings for our community. If the bootstrapper has learned something through serving Bootstrap, s/he can take that learning and monetize it outside the community. Listen to a recent talk I gave on the Boot Rap 
We have a number of online resources available for members.
IMPORTANT: Please use these resources with care and respect. Bootstrap yahoo groups are NOT the appropriate place to send out unsolicited promotional messages about you or your business and you will be removed if you do so. It IS appropriate to respond to a question by another member and mention your services/products. It IS appropriate to ask for help and it IS appropriate to send out messages about resource you think would be valuable for the group. Go through the Bootstrap archives to get a sense for the kinds of discussions we have. If you ask a question, offer to take the answers off-group and re-post a collated list of the responses. Remember, you are managing your reputation within this community by the way you conduct yourself.
Main Online Resources
Bootstrap Austin Blog Bootstrap Austin Website Bootstrap Network Blog 4. Boot Rap – Podcast on Hearthis.com (bootstrap member) and iTunes 5. Austin Yahoo Group (by city – every city has its own group; join in your city) a. Bootstrap Calendar – all Bootstrap events and events around town of interest to bootstrappers b. Archives – please check here before asking questions on the group. Invariably, someone has asked the same question as you. c. Files – docs of interest to bootstrappers, posted by members d. Services List – list of Services provided by Bootstrap Members in lieu of fees – see Section V for how this works. 5. Bootstrap Wiki
NOTE: the list below might not be fully updated. Go here for the most up-to-date list.
Sub-Groups by Stage of Venture
(pick one only, across bootstrap chapters) Ideation Subgroup (founder not fully committed to new venture, may not join the main group) Valley of Death Subgroup (full-time, not sustainable cash-flow positive; focus: customers!) Growth Subgroup (growing, focus on building org, new product/services, marketing)
(across bootstrap chapters)
(if you would like to setup other industry-focused groups, please send me an email.)
Bootstrap Book Club (powered by Stuffopolis a bootstrap member, use “bootstrap” promo code to join) Women Subgroup (women only) Bootstrap Student (students only) Bootstrap Services Management (by invitation – negotiated services to Bootstrap) Enterprise Teaming
Bootstrap is a service provided by Aviri. The network operates as a "for-profit with a non-profit/open-source mindset." Having investigated the non-profit world and consulted a number of people, it has become clear that a non-profit entity will kill what we've created and shackle the group with unnecessary structure and bureaucracy. Furthermore, we aim to keep the service as close to free as possible for members. Bootstrap offers 2 ways to become a “Full Member” of the group.
Option 1 – Partial Membership
Online forums are free to every qualified bootstrapper. Additionally, pay $15 per Bootstrap meeting you attend on an ad hoc basis. This includes monthly meetings and breakouts.
Option 2 – Full Membership through a Negotiated Services
Bootstrap Members who contribute their leadership, skills or services to the group will not pay any dues and will be Full Members upon agreement of these skills/services. I encourage you to think about your unique ideas and areas of contribution. If you find something missing in the group, it is a likely area of contribution! Please contact me to discuss and negotiate your contribution. See the Bootstrap Services 2006 List. This is the preferred method of returning value to the community. We are beginning to articulate this as our "Open Source" model which helps bootstrappers develop their product/service. Listen to the Boot Rap podcast to learn more about how this works, including examples.
I will continue to manage leadership initiatives with Kevin and other leaders and strongly encourage you to continue the bootstrap tradition of our members contributing to and guiding our direction.
Option 3 – Pro-rated Yearly Fees
Calculate fees at $10/month including the current month through the end of the year. Please send your payment via PayPal to: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to send a check, please make it out to "Bootstrap Austin" and mail it to: PO Box 91283, Austin, TX 78709. When you send a check, please also send a confirmation email to email@example.com