In this article, I wanted to share all my learnings regarding growing a bootstrapped company.
For those who don't know what bootstrapping is, it's the art of growing a company with 0 or very little money - and of course with no outside investors 😈
As a french cheap bastard myself, I guess that I was born to become a bootstrapping entrepreneur 😂
I often see a lot of BS all over the web about how to grow a company, so my goal here is to be real. If you don't like it, please comment, and if you do, please share it or show some love ❤️
So here is the list you've all been waiting for!
1- Bootstrapping is a marathon not a sprint. If you expect to be successful and get a good salary after a few months then stop. Even though most articles will tell you the opposite, the chance that you'll reach $10k MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) in your first year are very (very) little
2- Think about how much money you need to live for 2 years without any salary and make sure that's the amount you have in your bank account before you actually start
3- Always think about profit first. If you don't have any profit you're not a real business.
4- Pay yourself and your co-founders first - Remember point 1 & 2, your goal is to be able to last in the long run 😎
5- Get ready to do all the things that don't scale - (1-to-1 demos, customer interviews, success stories, sales etc...)
Recommended read: Building great social media customer service
6- If you have multiple co-founders, make sure that they are aware of point 1,2,3 and that you're all aligned on that part
7- Make sure you have competitors. If you don't, there is probably a good reason (with 7 billions humans on earth your idea is probably not unique... Sorry - I know, it hurts 😢)
8- If your idea is unique... Well change your business. Educating an entire market is either super expensive or it will take way too much time (unless you have a viral product #HolyGrail 🙏😇 or a very expensive one)
9- Make sure that you can find a clear competitive advantage in your target market and focus on it
10- Focus on one specific segment of your market.
Let's take a quick example. Let's say that you're an entrepreneur and have to choose between two banks A or B. A is "The Normal Bank", and B "The Bank for Entrepreneurs" - I guess that you'll go for B. Well it's the same for your product
11- Set up clear metrics to track from day 1 - Track those metrics weekly (Number of visitors, Number of sign ups, Number of activated users, Number of paying customers, MRR, Churn)
12- Do something you love or you won't be successful. Would you run a marathon if you don't like running? Probably not... So remember point 1 and make sure to find something you enjoy doing
13- Make sure to outsource every single thing related to accounting and company structure. It's a huge pain when you're doing everything on your own (depending on the country obviously)
14- If you have multiple co-founders make sure that they also love what they do! If they don't then it's just a matter of time before your project blows-up
15- Stick to who you really are and stand for what you believe matter the most - trying to please everyone in business will not make you successful
16- Make sure to learn quickly how to say "NO". Some customers can be a real pain in the a** - being too nice sometimes can really drag you down. Focus on working with customers you get on well with and avoid doing "custom" work
17- If you do custom development, make sure that it will actually benefit all your existing and futur customers. If not... Refer to point 16 🙄
18- Build a brand as soon as possible. In the long run, having a clear brand identity will help you get more word of mouth as people will remember you more easily (think of MailChimp)
19- Have a clear vision of where you want to bring your company in 5 years from day 1.... Just kidding! I think this is the part where you can find the most BS online! A so-called "vision" doesn't really exist... Start by solving a problem, then listen to your market and to your users. You'll see that your vision will evolve with time and that's perfectly fine! As Steve Jobs said "You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards."
20- Make sure that your product has a clear and measurable ROI - it's either link to time or money
20- Surround yourself with people who have succeeded in building their bootstrapped business and make sure to get in touch with them at least every quarter to gather insights and feedback about how you're running your business
21- Try to join a "mastermind" of people working in the same space. Organize monthly meeting where everyone can share his problems and try to help each other out as much as you can. Ideally, try to find smarter people than yourself
22- Set clear quarterly revenue goals based on a monthly growth projection. Tell your goals to people so you feel more accountable
Before the Launch
23- Build a landing page and start collecting emails. That's the cheapest way to reactivate users in the future
24- Start doing marketing and content before you actually start coding. That's the best way to see if you can attract people to leave their contact details
25- Start building your personal brand as soon as possible. You need to be positioned as a leader in your own industry. You'll see that dumbing down all the things you've learned will benefit a lot to your audience
26- Make sure to talk and interview as many people as you can so you're sure to understand their needs (you'll probably fail in doing so at first, but at least you'll get some good insights)
27- Reach out to all the relevant people you know so they register as part of the early adopters
28- Get listed on all the platforms that allows you to get beta testers and a cool backlink (Beta-list, Getworm, Betabound etc...)
29- Make a list of 30 mandatory features for your product and then remove 25 of it (It hurts right? 😢)
30- Don't focus on latest frameworks and fancy technologies - use what you're good at!
31- Launch as soon as possible - having an horrible product is already better that not having a product at all because at least you can only make it better 😊
32- As Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn Founder) said "If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late" - Launch as soon as possible in order to get as much feedback as possible
33- Interview each user who signs-up. Make sure to put them in a sequence of emails (at least 5 follow-ups spaced out by a week) so you're sure they don't forget about you and your product
34- Create a community with all your existing users so they can post feedback publicly. Facebook is a great place for that and it's also super easy for you to post polls, new features, big announcements etc...
35- Make sure that you have a kick ass onboarding. If your activation rate is low focus on testing new things to increase it
36- Make sure that your churn (number of people who cancel their subscription) is as low as possible. If it's high, try to understand why
37- Write as much as you can about how your startup is evolving with time. Do it for you first as it will help you to see how things are changing quickly and it will also keep you motivated (it's way too easy to feel depressed because we think that we're not growing fast enough)
38- Launch on Product Hunt. It will help you get a lot of visibility, a lot of new users and also a lot of feedback on how to improve your product! Learn how to become #1 product of the day on this article
39- Focus on cheap acquisition strategy at first —> Personalized cold emails, LinkedIn messages and posts, partnership with other companies, cross marketing, affiliate marketing etc...
40- Find what's working for you to acquire customers (Cold email, LinkedIn, Events, Cold calls, Ads, PR, Partnerships etc...) - If you're excellent at one particular thing, then crush it! If you're like me, try to do a bit of everything and you'll see what's working best!
41- Make sure to retarget your visitors and the one who have signed up for a free trial
42- Increase your price regularly as your product grow. That's the easiest way to make more money
43- Stop developing new features people don't know about - make sure to remove all the features that no one is using. Product-led growth is a science!
43- Stop developing new features people don't know about - make sure to remove all the features that no one is using. Product-lead growth is a science!
44- Make sure to align your product roadmap and your marketing
45- Make sure to segment your list between active paying users and old churned users so you can push relevant information to each
46- Make discounts to reactive users but use scarcity (e.g. this deal will end in 24 hours)
47- Give special discounts for Black Friday and Christmas Holiday, it's a great way to make more sales before the end of the year
48- Test - Learn - Repeat. There is always a better version of what you're doing and implementing a test & learn mindset is key for growth
49- You've read every single point? Really? Well if you did, what's point 27? If you can answer to that question in the comment I have a surprise for you ;-)