Hail to the Bootstrappers

Published at The Startup Couch, 10/27/15

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I’ve been an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley for a year and a half.

And, I’m bootstrapping. That means, no funding except from what we generate for ourselves via sales and other activities.

Choosing to be a founder, is deciding to generate resources from nothing but your word – and be held accountable to it. Thus you – not your team, advisors, partners, funders – are completely responsible for your success.

It’s a test of your integrity.

Yes, there’s luck and timing, but this game challenges your character like few other things will. Especially as a bootstrapper.

The Beginning

I began as we all did, as a…

“Wantrapreneur” (n) someone who is considering becoming an entrepreneur, but has not yet stepped boldly into the ring

It requires that you stop thinking, “I want to be an entrepreneur” and start taking action to actually become that entrepreneur. And as you do this, you will feel like throwing up a little. That’s OK. It just means you’re probably on the right track. Also, it’s important to check yourself along the way to make sure the steps you’re taking are actually the most valuable ones.

For instance, is attending yet another meetup, applying to an accelerator, or pitching more investors really a best next step for your company? What about truly making something and actually seeing if you can sell it? Do you really need to raise money right now? Or would your time be better spent confronting yourself, your ideas, and your team about what needs to get done before you attempt to bring in outside capital? These are tough questions to ask yourself, but they’re necessary in order to…

Keep you focused on what’s most important: understanding your market deeply, then building, testing, and selling product.

Raising Capital Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

I personally know companies who received millions and still failed with all the support in the world. And what happened?

Lack of focus. That means, lack of getting “money-making shit” done.

The media writes about startup gossip and the Hollywood-esque chronicles of Silicon Valley, but not the larger fundamentals. Don’t be fooled. The “reality” these armchair spectators (i.e. reporters, conference organizers) portray – that only successful founders find money by getting investors – is bull. These people and their companies profit from you thinking, “Money is all I need.”

They make money off of your “wantrepreneur” fears by selling more adspace, event fees, services, and taking equity to presumably help your startup get off the ground.

Some Accelerators Are Worth It

But let me be honest. Some accelerator programs can actually help you.

What really works depends on your individual situation.

For instance, after spinning my wheels in NYC for six months, I paid money to join a women’s accelerator, and it ended up being totally worth it. Especially on day one, when Fran Maier (founder of Match.com) bluntly questioned my business plan and asked, “Why are you doing hardware?!” I went home. Cried. Then faced the music.

That direct and honest feedback was the trigger I needed to rethink my business strategy.

It was the impetus for transitioning my startup into a software play.

The environment and advisors at Women’s Startup Lab quickly provided me with a solid ecosystem of relationships. My company and I were now vetted, and Silicon Valley now feels like home, which is a great thing. But also dangerous, too, as it’s tempting to get comfortable. I try to keep in mind that education and knowledge cannot teach you courage.

In the end, it’s all up to you to go out there and do it.

Be a Badass

All in all, you should feel like throwing up a little.

Your choice to be a founder requires daily exercises in overcoming yourself, your upbringing, and your assumptions

…all while you drain resources, take action, research your ideas, and honor your word. Artificial deadlines come with funding, making it tough to take time and be patient when it’s most appropriate and necessary.

Beware of getting distracted. Continue to confront yourself.

It’s imperative that you address anything that blocks you from being completely responsible for your own success. I’ve seen people blame their team, advisors, or accelerators for their lack of success, instead of looking at their own character, integrity, and ingenuity. And one thing I know to be true:

The universe aligns when you do something for the right reasons (e.g. love!). People pick up on your energy.

So, the question is…

Will you be a badass, who’s responsible for your success?

Or, will you continue to blame others, your market, your location, or your poor luck? Personally, I’m glad to be bootstrapping. We are forced to put it all out there and operate far beyond our comfort zone.

I’ve spent countless nights freaking out about my negative checking balance, hustling to make money, and working an erratic schedule to fit everything in. I’ve met VCs, customers, partners, investors, and fans in my car driving Lyft. We have a major mobile carrier and national customer ready to enter the game with us – and a mention in Time magazine – because of our sheer focus.

Are you ready to do business the old-fashioned way – by actually selling something?

You might be (if you’re OK with throwing up a little 😉 )

Hail to the Bootstrappers!

About Minda Aguhob, M.Ed.

Minda Aguhob has always been passionate about the effective use of technology, advocacy, and rigorous research to develop innovative processes that improve performance. Based in San Francisco, California, Minda is leading Peakfoqus (http://peakfoqus.com) a company that's designing digital health solutions rooted in research and advocacy.
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