26 thumb rules for bootstrapping from a toughened entrepreneur

"Bootstrapping is a way to do something about the problems that you have without letting someone else give you permission to do them."
- Tom Preston-Werner, Co-founder, GitHub 

A year-and-a-half ago, when I was looking to buy a solution at affordable budget for a startup as their Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), I was taken aback when I realized that there was nothing available sub-$10,000. This led me to start FixNix with a vision to democratize GRC solutions and provide them at affordable rates.

I started the company with INR 10 lacs of savings that I had accrued working for over 10 years with Microsoft and IBM. But the very first ‘aspirational investment’ I ended up making was buying an iMac worth INR 1.2 lacs. I later learnt that all investments in bootstrapping mode need to be thought through seriously. The 27" iMac was useful for reading for long hours, research, and making cool videos about the mission. But did that investment achieve its full potential? I’m not sure. But what I am sure of now, after 18 months of bootstrapping, is what I’m listing here for all of you entrepreneurs.

A. Bootstrap till you are bankrupt. Be a miser, nobody is going to come to your rescue when you're bankrupt. Spend every penny like it's the last one.

B. Use open source to solve your problems. Skin open source as much as possible. Build a solution from scratch and establish a brand for yourself by bringing many solutions together. (Of course, give due credits and adhere to appropriate licenses.)

C. Don’t follow the herd. For God’s sake, start thinking beyond e-commerce.

D. There are tons of problems enterprises are facing. Find out if you can democratize any of those.

E. Never hesitate to sneak inside startup conferences. If you can somehow skip paying their expensive entry fees, you will have saved a lot. The formula is that if you are caught, just leave. Better still befriend someone who is a part of the organizing team. You’ll see similar faces in that team most of the times.

F. Stop chasing VCs and investors. Go chase customers instead.

G. Sell whatever you have. If nothing, sell your vision.

H. Be very clear about who your competition is.

I. Attract premium school talent by getting into a partnership model with the placement/research departments.

J. Do not clutter your organization with hierarchy.

K. Pay your employees for performance; not for loyalty.

L. Don’t hesitate to ask reputed industry seniors to consider an advisory or formal role. You’ll be amazed by their will to make a dent in the startup ecosystem.

M. Always look for partnerships, even with competitors. It’s the age of ‘co-opetition’.

N. Become a member of industry associations and try to attend their meetings. You’ll be able to acquire several leads.

O. Network, Network, Network. Ignore the people who say that networking is a waste of time. It is about who you know more than what you know.

P. Develop a very thick skin to bear the pain which will be inflicted upon you by several stakeholders, often.

Q. Always have your heart in the right place. Be empathetic towards the people who work for you, and partner with you.

R. Always remember that you are the master of the game. People will cheer only if you're able to succeed. But you need to own the defeats all alone.

S. Be always on the move if there's a scope for getting leads.

T. Travel cheap. Stay low cost.

U. Sell the product and the vision to your family first, and then come the other stakeholders.

V. Talk only with people who appreciate the risk that you are taking in terms of your time and career.

W. Avoid gossip like the plague it is.

X. Always work in black and white. Don’t traverse the ‘grey’ territory.

Y. Be upfront. Straight talk always clears the air. Never be hesitant in being honest.

Z. Lastly, remember that innovation is not only about the product. It’s applicable to everything we do.

Are you a bootstrapping entrepreneur? Tell us your learnings in the comments section.

About the author:

Shanmugavel Sankaran is the Chief Nixer at FixNix. After completing his post graduation (M.Tech-CSE) from IIT-Hyderabad, he worked for Microsoft & IBM. A stint with a startup after this was where he got the idea to start his own company.


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