I participated in a panel for Boulder Startup Week, but previous to the panel, thought I’d be giving a 15 minute presentation. I was going to talk about rules for the bootstrapped developer. At The Food Corridor, we recently celebrated one year of having customers. In celebration of that, here are my seven guidelines:
- It will take longer than you think. For any meaningful value of “it”. expect the process to take longer than planned. Whether that is acquiring your first customer, building your product, finding help, or anything else, plan for it to take longer than you think. Heck, this blog post is taking longer than I thought it would.
- Know your runway. It’s important to know your financial runway (both for the company and for yourself). This is fairly easy to calculate–just find out your burn rate and your money in the bank. If you are looking at your personal financial runway, don’t forget to allow some buffer for you to find a different job–typically you won’t be able to step from a cratered startup on Friday into a full time job on Monday. However, more important than financial runway is emotional runway. Talk about the stress with your spouse (if applicable), think about the other emotional difficulties you may encounter, and plan for some high highs and some low lows.
- Extend your runway. Again, for the financial runway, lower your burn rate as much as you can. This will mean cutting back on spending and savings. Make sure the family is on board. Then you will look to find other sources of money to feed and clothe yourself. This may include digging into savings, borrowing against assets (HELOCs work for this), borrowing from relatives, pitch competitions (TFC won two), selling assets, taking contract work, having a spouse who earns enough for the household, and/or moonlighting.
- Talk to your customer. This was one of the great assets that one of my co-founders brought to the table. She had deep domain expertise and had many connections to potential customers. We had numerous customers give us feedback, including via interviews, a month long beta test, regular product advisory councils and surveys. You will note that this point implies you can find your customer and communicate with them in a cost effective manner. Find where your customer congregates online. If you don’t find a place, make one and invite your potential customers to join.
- Everything is borked all the time. In a startup, you just don’t have time to do everything correctly. It can be embarrassing, but if you are building something that solves customer pain, and you’ve found the right early adopters, the customers will stick around. Just keep improving things. And accept a certain amount of brokenness.
- Know your market. This is related to talking to your customer, as that is one fantastic way to learn about your market. There are other ways too–market research, online reading, etc. However, as you build your product, you will surprised by what your market wants. For instance, we thought our market would want a better UX, but were surprised when someone said our v1 UX was “great”.
- Make your own rules. Know that my advice and rules above are based on my experience, with my co-founders, product and skillset, in this time. You need to do the reading and figure out what your rules are.