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How NOT to bootstrap

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We’ve published several posts here about why bootstrapping is often the best way to fund your startup, and how to do it well. Plenty of other sites are producing great content on the topic, too. I read another such post on Read/WriteWeb this morning. It’s billed as a Top 10 Bootstrapping Tips, but the real value is found in author Bernard Lunn’s few tips on what NOT to do when you’re bootstrapping. Here they are.

1. Bootstrapping is NOT self-funding. “Real bootstrappers put in peanuts of their own money [and] fund with customer revenues.”

2. Bootstrapping is NOT for the “build traffic and worry about monetization later” idea. If you can’t see how to generate customer revenues right away, then get external capital (VC). This why bootstrapping is usually for selling to businesses, not to consumers.

3. Do NOT bootstrap and then raise VC. “Revenues won’t impact the [VC] valuation nearly as much as you think…[so] bootstrap and then sell.”

4. Do NOT trade equity for services. “The better vendors won’t do it (they don’t need to), so you get weak vendors who drop you when they get a cash deal.”

5. Do NOT bootstrap to build a prototype and get funding. “That is viable [but] do it by moonlighting, or with friends & family money. But [this] is a “self funding bridge to VC.” It is not customer-funding or bootstrapping.

Obviously Bernard has specific ideas about what bootstrapping is, and is not. By his accounting, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and eBay all bootstrapped. I’m not sure I agree: eBay took VC money. (Bernard says eBay didn’t need to; therefore, still a bootstapper.) But one important thing to consider, as Bernard notes: some businesses are ideal for bootstrapping (software) others are not (media). We’ll write more about which businesses/industries are suited to bootstrapping, which aren’t, and why, in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned.

4 Responses to “How NOT to bootstrap”

  1. #3 and #5 are completely wrong. Bernard Lunn is stuck in the 80s with that kind of thinking. Dear Bernard, you need to realize that it costs very little to start a web company these days and it costs next to nothing to run it. When you launch your product, you can start collecting your users and whether your app is useful or not will determine everything.

    Just ignore #3 & #5 and you should be OK.


    PS: the rest of the points could be debated as well.

  2. I completely disagree with # 3-5. Easy enough for someone like Bernard Lunn to say or for anyone to say that when they have a track record…but this shouldn’t be a newsflash: VCs are looking for a valid and functional product, therefore you have to do WHATEVER it takes to get yourself to that point. That means you will have to do #3-5.

    I think it’s been too long since he’s had to actually bootstrap anything to actually hand out advice about it. Time for me to go comment on his post…

  3. These posts are interesting for for the thought processes they provoke than the specific conclusions, IMO. is a good example of a consumer e-tail business that bootstrapped the founders’ cash, then revenue. Then they took a VC round from Benchmark and now they own their category. There are exceptions to every rule.