- As you’re developing your business, if your technological capabilities aren’t fully developed yet,
Focus on great customer service (“Get them a pizza”). Be attentive, spend face-to-face time with them.
Do the technical stuff yourself (you or someone in your company). Good customer service and “faking it” operations-wise go a log way while you’re waiting to build up the funds to hire developers for software, websites, etc.
- If you have employees in whom you see potential to do more creative work and experiment with ideas that might really grow the business and/or make them more invested in it, one attendee suggested giving them a “week off” per quarter to try their own thing and develop and test ideas.
- If there is data/IT/software-related legwork that needs to be done, if you know how to do it but need to focus on other things, then — if you’re able to TRAIN someone — get an intern, rather than hiring a professional developer. It’s cheaper, which is useful if you’re a startup and need to be economical.
- One attendee had the problem of hiring developers who ended up taking longer and billing more than they had planned, and developing code that had LOTS of bugs. Many at the table agreed that it was important to have developers — whether offshore or local — that are committed to having something for you to look at and discussing things with you (or some kind of point person in your company) regularly– several times a week, if not every day. If they’re not willing to do that, you shouldn’t hire them, because you have no recourse later on if they take longer, bill more, or develop crappy software.
- If you’re updating your website or changing platforms, test the prototype on a small segment of your customers first. Just pick a few customers and tell them you have a new website and give them the URL. See how they like it and tweak it, before rolling it out as the official site.
Notes from our April San Francisco Bootstrappers Breakfast
How to manage advisers:
Spell out exactly what you are looking for in an Advisory Board
Have a meeting with them monthly or quarterly to have constant communication with them
Have them all together face to face or phone to hear a difference of option and understand different way to look at your issues
If they are investors as well as advisers have them do something.
Don’t give away equity unless there is a return for that equity.
Ask potential advisers if they have advised for 3 other companies and ask to talk to those companies
Fire them if they don’t achieve goals If you have an adviser because they have network connections with a potential customer, consider going to the corporate website of that customer and pitching to their marketing team.
Its their job to get clients on board. They get commission for adding products. For example Walgreens.
There are 2 ways to fund an initial company so that the company has power over its development.
Generate your own revenue add major customers crowd investing customers are more valuable than investors
Have investors compete over you. This way, they do what you want instead of the other way around.
Finding Foreign Investors
Print free education
Go to consultants to get $$ to fund trips abroad
Go through the chamber of commerce in specific cities in the USA (i.e. LA, San Jose)
Every country has a ministry of Foreign Affairs. These Organizations are meant to make you succeed as a foreign company in their land. Become a US Company.
Bundle your software with a US Company
Embassies have regular tech fairs.
Recruit people to join your team
Make backwards plans to a date.
Start with goal and work back to present with individual markers of accomplishment
Mercenaries vs. Missionaries – Appeal to them either with how you will make money together or how you will bring impact to an issue
Its hard to get a deal done when you need a double sided deal. i.e. when you have to have a customer and and buyer like ebay
How to use the true believers?
Testimonial video trees where you click on a link that is your issue and it takes you to subtopic pages. Each page in this topic tree has a one or more videos
Make a TED Talk When are they most excited about your product.
“The Bootstrappers Breakfast is a relaxed environment where I can share and listen to insights from other attendees. I have also made some good contacts.” – Linc Jepson, co-founder 74ze
“The attendees are resourceful and offer diverse perspectives. It’s also somewhat surprising but re-assuring to hear other firms wrestling with same problems we have.” – Miles Kehoe, CEO New Idea Engineering
Several conversations this month brought home to me the value of bringing bootstrappers together for a single conversation around a set of real issues or opportunities that at least one person at the table is asking for advice on:
You get to “shake hands” with a eight to sixteen people: even though the average breakfast has fewer attendees than a regular “speaker on stage” event you get to give you introduction to everyone who attends and hear another dozen people give theirs. This is very time efficient (compared to having to repeat you basic intro a dozen times in the course of the same hour to 90 minutes) and it allows you to network with the folks who have common issues or who offered additional useful insights after the regular conversation. In contrast, most entrepreneurs only get to talk for three to five people at a larger event.
It’s useful to hear someone else describe your problem. First, it’s good to have company on the entrepreneurial roller coaster, and second you get to hear good advice that can be easier to consider than if it’s offered to you directly. Sometimes you can find yourself offering another entrepreneur with the same issue some good advice that you should also follow.
The act of describing a challenge or asking for feedback allows you to gather and review your thinking. It’s easier when there are only a dozen people around the table than stepping up to a microphone in a larger room. The diversity of suggestions also helps: there is rarely one “right answer” and different viewpoints may help you to unlock a new perspective.
It’s not just the experience of the people around the table. Everyone can also share stories and lessons learned they have heard from other entrepreneurs that they know or observed. One person brought up a business idea last week and another person shared some very useful details from a similar situation that a friend of theirs had faced several years ago. I was talking with another participant afterwards and he said “what do you think the odds are that two people at the same breakfast had experience in a niche business?” I thought about it and said, “Pretty high actually, there are not that many different business models and anyone who is a serious entrepreneur doesn’t just know their own story, they have compared notes with dozens of other folks that they can share a summary of.”
Limiting product features: If you’re creating a program/app/service, pick 2 or 3 features. Focus on making those 2-3 features awesome, and market that, rather than saying, “We have a million features”, all of which are pretty mediocre– which users would hate.
For bootstrappers w/ a limited budget for advertising, what are (some of the) best ways to expand and build your client base?
Members recommend books in “guerrilla marketing”, specifically from author J. Conrad Levinson.
For selling to big companies, a member recommended the book “Bagging the Elephant” (Steven Kaplan). She said that he understands– better than anyone else she’s read — how big companies think, buy, what they’re looking for.
Make sure that you’re not spending more getting the customer than the customer will pay out over their patronship lifetime. Average customer acquisition cost v. lifetime revenue from a customer.
When approaching companies, TALK TO THE PERSON MAKING THE DECISIONS on purchases, not the person who supposedly is a “Buyer”. Find out who writes the checks, and talk to them.
In January, we had a lively meetup with about 20 people. As always, topics ranged the gamut and we had lively discussions.
At the table I was at, people talked about:
How (and whether) scale a company to multiple states–or stay local and focus on tightening the core business for a while;
How to find the right approach to marketing a valuable financial advice service. This was a great discussion because people at the table were able to react to the value of the idea and help brainstorm ways to get it out there. To paraphrase one of the people at my table, “I know /tons/ of people who would love that service: you just need to figure out how to present it”. Which led to discussion of pros and cons of various business models.
What happens to an early-stage business when team roles and responsibilities aren’t as clear as they could be;
How (and whether) to narrow your target audience to hit a more specific niche;
Ways of engaging neighbors & local communities to get value from your hyper-local business.
I’m always incredibly gratified and impressed by the people I meet and the way everyone supports each other–and January was no exception. The format (tables with 7 or 8 people and one moderator) makes for rich discussions. So whether you’ve been bootstrapping for a while or are just getting started, come out and join us in February!