Drown or swim. How to bootstrap into a cool entrepreneur

Original author: Aytekin Tank
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Once, in 2005, my life flowed monotonously.

He got up early in the morning, left the apartment on Brooklyn Heights, dragged himself with a laptop to the nearest Starbucks.

After working there for several hours, he crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, went to the West Village and landed there in another coffee shop.

By about three in the afternoon I was so crouched that I could barely type on the keyboard. As a detox, I went to a lecture in the evening at New York University, where I took a marketing course.

That's when I was just starting to create my JotForm company . I was extremely interested in the idea that visited me - to create drag-and-drop web forms. However, this idea was a real challenge - at times it seemed generally unbearable.

Translated to Alconost

Oftenwe recall the past in a nostalgic, relaxed way. For example, we recall the first months at the university. The forgotten thrill of first love. Difficult but inspiring months spent setting up a first business or chasing a dream. All roughness is erased, usually only happy memories are stored for a long time.

Thirteen years later, I recall these long New York days with great positive. I am confused and grateful that a prosperous product grew out of my simple idea: now we have 3.2 million users  and more than 100 employees .

But, when your business is just beginning, and you are busy with black work - having neither venture capital, nor investors - you are not alone. I know firsthand what it is like to survive.

It is not easy to grow a business without external financing.

Need to flounder, or immediately drown.

It is also necessary to efficiently allocate resources and plan work. If you are in a deep pool and without a life jacket - it's time to improvise.

That's why I think bootstrapping can pump you up as an entrepreneur; and this is how I propose to cope with the challenges that he poses before you.

1. Wear all the hats that have turned up - until you collapse under their weight

Maybe you are a developer, designer, production engineer or artist. If you are an independent founder, then it is you who will have to be responsible both for working with clients, and for reception / delivery, to be a marketer and PR specialist, and, of course, a personnel officer. You will do all this.

When you try to create a wonderful product, and you have to bother with all this “side-effect”, it can be exhausting. It seems that you are wasting your time, breaking away from your favorite business, which, most likely, you know how to do best.

I attended a continuing education marketing course at New York University because I needed to learn how to promote my product. I could not afford an employee for this purpose.

I can’t say that this was the best use of my time, but I was really inspired by the opportunities. I also read all the marketing blogs I came across, all the books and free resources that I could find - to think bigger.

The same thing happened with customer service. During the first six years, no one in my company was engaged in customer support .

Even after I hired a developer and designer for the full time, I worked from morning till night, answering letters and calls about technical support. In the end, I realized that it was time to invest in customer support.

How did I know when to spend money?

Firstly, we had a rule: we hire a person if we have enough money in the bank to pay his salary for a year. We checked this box.

If you have the resources, then carefully monitor the time. The founder must act strategically. You must calculate the next steps and predict bold and original business development directions.

You have to solve large problems .

If you buy computer equipment for employees all day, install software, and you cannot delegate this work to anyone, get help. Take off a few hats.

2. Honestly prioritize

A three-year-old child can be changeable, because he is just learning to distinguish between “want” and “need”. The kid wants all the toys, but is forced to share with his brother. He wants some cookies, and he is forced to eat both fruits and vegetables.

In addition, the founders can constantly twitch . You can create an amazing product without leaving your home, and not rent an expensive office.

Do not sign any leases until the extension becomes an absolute necessity. Use free software if it suits your business. You always have time to improve.

Upgrade skills that will help promote your product, and use them in practice. Do PR and bookkeeping until it starts to bother you.

Most of us do not like to think about the sacrifices that an entrepreneur needs to make. Yes, in startup culture, refining and a seven-day work week are often extolled , but the most successful founders usually manage to find compromises that are not often talked about.

In 2006, I moved from New York back home to Turkey. I liked the USA, and there was no urgent need to leave; it’s just time to move to a normal office and hire the first employees for an acceptable budget.

Returning to Ankara, I was able to get by with minimal expenses. Moving forward without risking my fledgling business. I made such a sacrifice for the sake of the product.

Many years later, we opened our head office in San Francisco. The circle closed - and I was especially proud of this event, because I felt that the choice I had made a long time ago was justified.

3. Remember that improvement takes (too much) time

Ağaç yaş iken eğilir.

This Turkish proverb can be roughly translated as follows: "rot the branches until they are numb." Such a rule will be useful to the gardener, parent - and businessman.

If you start on your own, then you probably don’t have enough money . To stay afloat, you have to rely on savings or first income. In addition, you need to develop rapidly. Procrastination is not permissible (of course, if your last name is not Rockefeller).

The positive point is that at the dawn of a startup, it is very easy to reorient it. You can make a product release, wait for feedback and adapt to the needs of the market . As the saying goes, your business is still plastic.

However, a tall, unbending tree with long branches and deep roots is not so malleable. If a product is overgrown with long-established capabilities and solutions, then its reorientation can be technically difficult.

Psychologically, you may also not want to change the course of development of a fully established product. Founders who rely on venture capital and spend whole years preparing the “final” first release are usually more confident in what has been done and not in what their clients recommend.

It is common for a person to feel involvement in a project that has spent a lot of energy and strength. That's why a flexible and speedy development model that is typical for startups is preferred.

When I advise young founders, I recommend themmake the first release as fast as possible . Do not finish to perfection. Come out, listen to users and strive for excellence. Your tree at this stage will still be flexible, and you will not miss the chic opportunities.

Why? As technology advances, many come to mind the same ideas, which is natural. So it was with me. Until 2006, no one tried to create web forms (it was in that year that I made the first release of JotForm), but already in that same year I had three competitors.

They saw the same unoccupied niche in the market and created their products while I wandered between New York coffee shops.

So, seize the moment. Share your work as early as possible. This is the most effective way to compete against well-funded startups (and rare entrepreneurs with trust funds).

4. Keep fighting, but on your terms

Bootstrapping is not an easy way. It requires dedication , ingenuity and confidence.

But, despite all the challenges, I still think that this is the best way to grow your business.

If you survive and dream of a bank account that is bursting with venture capital, consider the following list my parting words. Let me remind you all the reasons why you should adhere to the chosen course:
  • A small team (or solo business) is easier to manage at an early stage. You can focus on your product or service, and not exchange for staff recruitment, staffing, office planning or reports to annoyed investors.
  • You can change or adapt the product, focusing on the reaction of the user. Your tree still remains flexible. Use this time to the maximum and do not stop improving.
  • If you wear all the hats, you will become an expert, and this is invaluable while the business is growing. You will feel what it is like to do PR, provide customer support, be responsible for marketing - so you can find a successor when the time comes. In the long run, understanding all the nuances of the business will help you grow as an entrepreneur and become a strong leader.
  • You can slowly build a distinctive corporate culture . You will have a field for learning from mistakes and stable development.
  • Goal for invention is cunning. I know how easy it is to say - nevertheless, it is true. You will become more rational if you constantly focus on the essence. Look for innovative solutions. Look for workarounds that give priority to your main offer and your customers.
  • You are the main one. This is the most important advantage. You do not belong to anyone, and no one will stop you from spending a week collecting olives if you want to do just that. You can manage your company as you want, when you want, deal with those people for the sake of whom you want to get up and go to work every morning.

So, let's raise a glass for all the independent founders in this world. If you get caught up in something, or if you feel defeated today, it doesn’t matter. Keep floundering.

Rejoice at the trials, train strength and endurance on them. No matter what happens, I am raising a toast for you.

About the translator

Translation of the article was done in Alconost.

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