A bootstrapper needs four attributes to succeed: purpose, patience, politeness, and prudent risk taking. These are markers for strength not weakness.
Four Strengths: Purpose, Patience, Politeness, and Prudent Risk Taking
- Purpose should spring from a desire to solve a problem or meet a need for a target set of customers. It’s been my experience that purposeful founders do not fail, they adjust their plans to reflect the current environment they find themselves in.
- Patience is always a requirement for success. Many entrepreneurs are unhappy with one or more aspects of the status quo, but to convince people to change and adopt a new solution always requires patience.
- Politeness costs you nothing and allows you to foster goodwill in situations where a way forward might not otherwise be available.
- Prudent Risk Taking entails mastering the calculation of affordable losses. Commit resources (time, money, social capital) to learn more about the market or to improve your business operations–but only when you can recover from their complete loss.
“Logical consequences are the scarecrows of fools and the beacons of wise men.”
Thomas H. Huxley
Two Key Risks: Pride and Perfectionism
- Pride: you need confidence but if you are too proud to acknowledge your mistakes to co-founders, customers, and partners you won’t learn as fast as your competition.
- Perfectionism: high standards are important, especially in the personal value and ethics of the founders. But an unwillingness to deviate from your view of the ideal product or ideal customer can blind you to real opportunities. Early customers don’t expect perfect products from a startup, but they do expect them to continually improve. Perfectionism can also trap you in the BatCave, continually improving your product in response to imaginary conversations (typically imaginary criticism) with prospects instead of testing your vision by asking for real feedback on your understanding of the problem and the product concept.
“A windmill is eternally at work to accomplish one end, although it shifts with every variation of the weather cock, and assumes 10 different positions in a day.”
Charles Caleb Colton
Postcript: What I left out
I left out
- Passion: I think this is overrated compared to a sense of purpose and patience (or perseverance).
- Priorities: what to focus on, again subsumed by “purpose.”
- Posteriorities: a word Peter Drucker coined to indicate what needs to be abandoned to make room for new opportunities
- Planning: in the early days I think it’s more important to continually take prudent risks, managing your affordable losses. Later planning becomes much more important when you know more about the market and your customers’ needs.
I was playing off of the “4 P’s of marketing” — “Product,Price,Place (distribution),Promotion” — and a variation on the 7P British Army Adage “Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance” (that I used in Rehearsal ) I thought I would try and identify some key personal attributes that were important markers for success or might put you at risk as a bootstrapper.
Related Blog Posts
- Adeo Ressi: Don’t Lose Your Purpose In A Pivot
- Connect With Your Purpose
- Drucker on Profit and Business Purpose
- Constructive Pessimism
- Joseph Mancuso’s Insights on Entrepreneurship
- Tom Tugendhat on the Value of Patience
- Entrepreneurs Blend Passion and Prudent Risk Taking
- Impatience For Success Works Against Learning
- Risk Mitigation: If You Predict A Flood Build an Ark
- Treat Prospects With Politeness So You Can Have Another Conversation
- Julian Fellowes on Persistence, Getting Started, and Logical Consequences
I used the Huxley quote in “Julian Fellowes on Persistence, Getting Started, and Logical Consequences“which also touches on these same issues.
This was written as a rebuttal to Marc Cenedella’s repellent blog post (also at Polite, Purposeful People Create Startups That Fail).