10 tips for bootstrapping a software start-up company

By | June 24, 2015

small business bootstrap

Are you tired of coding all night for someone else’s business? Do you have a software idea that you want to take to market? In an fact checker article on small business success by the Washington Post, 50% of businesses are closed after 4 years of starting. Does that mean you have a 50/50 chance of getting your software start-up business off the ground and having it still be alive after 4 years? Well, not necessarily. Bootstrapping a software business may be one of the best ways to build a long lasting business. There really isn’t much overhead besides your computer depending on the focus of the software you will be developing and you can begin part time while you are still employed. Below are 10 tips for bootstrapping a software start-up company that will help you get started and stay in business.

1) Get business training – There really isn’t a set path to business success. You hear stories of super smart business founders going to Ivy league schools to get MBAs while others drop out of high school to pursue a dream. One thing that is the same no matter what story you read is that you need to get business training and education to succeed. Personally I have an MBA from the University of Buffalo and I feel it has been essential to my success. Not only did the degree help me learn about business, it opened doors and gave me strong business connections to get started in my small business.  Both what you know and who you know are necessary to get your business off the ground. To help with the what you know part, here are some suggested reading for business education:

* 15 laws of success by Napoleon Hill
* 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries
* Selling 101: What Every Successful Sales Professional Needs to Know by Zig Ziglar
* Good to Great by Jim Collins
* The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
* Oglivy on Advertising by David Ogilvy
* Who stole my cheese by Spencer Johnson

2) Find a mentor – When you wanted to learn how to walk as a child, your parents didn’t leave you on the ground and say hop to it. In most cases they instructed and directed you on what to do. They probably held your hand and comforted you when you fell. This decreased your learning curve dramatically and gave you confidence so you could take that next step. Finding the right mentor is equivalent to learning how to walk in business. They will shorten your learning curve and hopefully give you tough love advice when you are blinded by your circumstances.

3) Find creative funding – It’s easy to go off on your own to start a business. It’s a lot harder to find money when times get tough or you are looking to expand. I use Freshbooks for my accounting software and they started offering Fundbox as a way to get money earlier with a fee. Investigating the viability of short term small business loan from lenders like Kabbage may make sense as well. Kabbage is an online provider of business loans ranging from $2,000 to $100,000. You want to be prepared for rapid growth by pre-qualifying for money before you need it even if you are bootstrapping for now. Make sure to look for help through business grants programs and competitions like Missions Main Street Grant by Chase as well.

4) Master guerrilla marketing – One of the speakers at a business seminar I attened to had a great quote ..“marketing is the penalty for not serving your customers well”. Most people bootstrapping their business just don’t have the marketing capital needed to get full exposure of their product or service to their target market. Fortunately their are now a ton of cost effective ways to use social media and the variety of ad platforms available to help with marketing on a budget. Taking time to investigate the key players in your market and analyzing their marketing strategy is important as well. In addition, focus on getting referrals and informing your list of contacts about your business success. This could lead to opportunities down the road since trust in you is usually already established with the people you know.

5) Get free people help – Taking on paid employees is a big challenge for many small businesses. Not only are their challenges with learning to manage people but HR and payroll management is could be a beast. Before going the employee route, look for friends and family in college or high school who can act as interns. They can use the experience of your company on their resume for future employment and you can get some inexpensive help getting your business off the ground. If you don’t have any friends and family to help, take a look at underserved programs in your area that provide interns. For example in Atlanta you can check out Atlanta Workforce Development Agency. They offer to pay for the interns to work with you during the summer if you help them give the students guidance and exposure to the business world.

6) Form strategic partnerships – Look for ways to get free or joint promotion through strategic partnerships. Whenever I come up with an idea for a software product or mobile app for my business, the first thing I do is search for challenges or contests I can submit to. There are a ton of start-ups looking for collaboration and big businesses looking for ways to expand into the start-up space. For example my app Sports Squares won the AT&T U-verse Hack-a-thon so it was promoted nationally by them. I’ve also worked out partnerships with companies like Samsung, Ziosk, Extreme Reality, etc just by looking for ways to build win win relationships. The world is a smaller place now so take advantage.

7) Seek visibility – Find creative ways to let people know what you are doing and be consistent on your communications. I don’t mention branding in this post but having a consist image and message is important before seeking visibility. You should look for ways to demonstrate and display your company’s expertise to your target audience. Some effective opportunities of doing this is through social media, video (i.e. YouTube), Podcasts, and blogging. If no one knows your business is out there, you won’t last for long.

FreshBooks
8) Start building a team – Honestly, this starts from day one and with the people who founded the business with you. Your team doesn’t necessarily need to work for you but they should all be working with you to help your business grow. At a bare minimum you will need an accountant, lawyer, business advisors, and mentors. Having great friends and a supportive spouse would be very helpful as well. I’m still putting together my team but I definitely have strong support from my wife, family and friends.

9) Identify your niche – You should always be refining your business to meet the needs of your customers and your business goals. Finding the niche based on what value your business provides to the customer will be key to your long term success. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Focus on being the best in a specific area that you are good at and there is a need in the industry. If you are a service based company this may take some time but you should be moving in that direction.

10) Find time to read – As I mentioned before, one of the struggles we entrepreneurs face is trying to do things on our own. Don’t reinvent the wheel by not researching and reading what tech and business leaders have gone through in their journey or the advice they have to offer. Constant reading and learning sounds like a no brainer but sometimes the busyness of running the business can get in the way. Staying on top of the latest trends in technology is essential as well.

Hopefully these tips will help you get software company off the ground in bootstrap mode. Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions you have.