If you want to be a succeed as a bootstrapper, start with what you’ve got: you have an insight into an opportunity, a marketing edge, a particular problem where you’re going to bring distinctive value.
A Bootstrapper Doesn’t Wait For Investor Approval
Don’t wait to get started until an investor tells you there is a market and they will invest. An investor cannot validate whether there’s a market or not. Worse, the process of seeking investment rarely teaches you more about customer needs.
The converse is even more important: don’t be dissuaded if an investor does not believe that there is a market.
Or Their Friends’ Approval
It’s OK to ask your friends if it’s a good idea. But sometimes they will tell you they like the idea just so that you will stop talking about it and get out of their living room or office.
And again, if they don’t think it’s a good idea you should weight their perspective by whether they are a prospect or not.
You Have To Start Selling
Which ultimately means that you have to build a minimum viable product and start selling.
When a prospect tells you that they have problem that you want to solve for them, that’s good. When they write a check or give you their credit card, that’s validation. Now you are a bootstrapper.
But just because they have quantified their love for your idea it doesn’t mean that you are done. You need to follow through and see that you delivered the benefits that you promised to them.
More bootstrappers go wrong by not conserving trust than not conserving cash. Cash is important, but if you don’t keep your promises you cannot bootstrap successfully.
It’s primarily about selling and customer satisfaction. There may be challenges in building the product or getting it to work reliably when it leaves your hands. But the primary challenge is building something that people will pay for and order again (or extend their subscription) because it delivered the value that you promised.
Many of the people who are attracted to startups are drawn to a technology or a craft or the idea of being their own boss. Those are great reasons to become a bootstrapper. But success requires developing an empathy and rapport for your customers and delivering value.
The key differentiators are your ability to sell and ensure customer satisfaction.
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Conor Neil has a great quote in “If You Can’t Explain what You do in a Paragraph, You’ve Got a Problem” (great title but he admits he cribbed it from Brad Feld)
“I believe the major risk of early stage startups is getting customers to buy, and showing that you can sell.”