A Bootstrappers Breakfast is “counter-cultural” to the VC ecosystem focus at many events for entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Here are seven ways that we take a very different approach to facilitating events for entrepreneurs compared to most others in Silicon Valley.
We sit in a circle, not in a classroom or lecture format. In contrast to most meetings where there is a speaker or a panel that sits facing the audience, Bootstrappers Breakfast® meetings are conducted in a roundtable discussion format where everyone is part of the roundtable. Anyone can ask for assistance, contribute insights, and take part.
The “networking” at a Bootstrappers Breakfast normally takes place after the formal part of the meeting, after folks have had a chance to get acquainted and understand each other. We open with introductions and a request for discussion items. Then the roundtable discussions begin. and go around the table. This is actually very time efficient because each participant will everyone only needs to introduce themselves once, compared to a “sage on the stage” event where you need to introduce yourself over again to each person you strike up a conversation with.
The small group discussion format at a Bootstrappers Breakfast is very friendly to introverts. The facilitator to gives everyone a chance to contribute and be heard, allowing them to take part if and when they want. Our meetings are kept small, normally between 8 and 16 people, to encourage serious business conversations and allow entrepreneurs to offer valuable perspectives informed by personal experience. We’ve learned some people find it daunting to speak at larger events.
We don’t focus on fundraising, on how to approach an investor, or what you will do once you have secured funding. Although we do compare notes on the practical challenges of growing a business organically. We do talk about investment, but encourage entrepreneurs to consider it when they have a business that not only requires it but merits it. We’ve found the real decision is not whether to accept investment, but if it is more prudent to invest effort in growing the business organically – compared to spending time seeking investment. We always remind entrepreneurs that they will learn considerably more talking to prospects, even if they are turned down, than they will talking to investors.
We welcome the entrepreneurially curious, first time entrepreneurs, and serial entrepreneurs. We just ask that they are thoughtful in their approach and are interested in taking part in serious conversations. So we get a pretty diverse audience: folks in their 20’s through their 60’s, men and women, entrepreneurs visiting Silicon Valley from all over the world, and an interesting mix of entrepreneurs based here.
We encourage entrepreneurs to “go ugly early” when they are developing their sales pitch or marketing content. While we would all prefer to “get it right the first time” but this can lead to a couple of challenges. We have seen teams continue to polish a sales pitch, or an article, or blog post, or data sheet without actually gathering more information. This can rapidly reach a point of diminishing returns. The alternative is not to do a broadcast or big launch but to do a slow controlled release–working in small batches at the lean folks like to say–sharing it or presenting it to a few potential customers and listening very carefully to their feedback. You can then make adjustments, sometimes minor, but in the beginning, it’s not uncommon to have overlooked one or more serious gaps. The challenge with starting out with a “polishing mentality” is not about that what you have is incorrect, but rather it is most likely incomplete.
We encourage teams to start small. Many teams are tempted to go to their most promising prospects–their largest opportunities–first. But they often have a range of defects in their product idea or how they present it that will be spotted by almost any prospect. We believe that you are better served to approach smaller firms that fit your target customer criteria. Even though they represent a much smaller opportunity, these prospects can still give useful feedback on at least 80% of what may be missing (or less useful) about the product, or at least how it’s presented. In your initial conversations, your understanding of the feature requirements and how to present them can be really off the mark: starting small means you don’t lose a major opportunity. It’s better to explore the smaller opportunities first–there is an added benefit that they are more likely to make a decision more quickly–yes or no–which means that you are learning faster than living in the “land of maybe” going through multiple meetings with larger firms.
Join Us at a Bootstrappers Breakfast
We have been meeting in Silicon Valley since 2006, and now meet in a number of other cities thanks to volunteer moderators: see Bootstrappers Breakfast website for a list of locations. We continue to experiment with format changes–keeping it a roundtable conversation that is friendly to introverts–and this year have introduced short 15 minute 3×5 card workshops embedded in the meeting as well as afternoon coffee break meetings for those who told us, “you meet too damn early in the morning.” You are welcome to attend when you want to compare notes and brainstorm with other bootstrapping entrepreneurs.