Start-up founder Mark Coan from MoneySherpa talks about the power of bootstrapping.
As the tide of cheap equity funding recedes in the face of rising interest rates, bootstrapping, funding your business through ongoing profits or debt, is back in fashion. Fortunately due to new technology, bootstrapping is now an option for most as start-up costs have tumbled.
My own start-up, MoneySherpa, turns two years old this week. With over half a million in annualised revenues and over a thousand customers so far, its journey is testament to the power of bootstrapping.
“Even with technological advances bootstrappers will still need supportive networks of people and institutions to thrive”
Based on my own experience, if you have a great idea and the passion to see it through there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from making it a reality.
So here’s my thoughts on why you should consider bootstrapping, how you should approach it, and why the bootstrapping movement might well change the world of work entirely.
Walking away from equity investment is hard, the start up world lionises funding rounds, equating how much capital you raise with how much value you are creating.
Not only that by bootstrapping you are choosing to opt out from pool tables in the office, cushy salaries, and let’s face it hockey stick growth curves – but how many of them ever pan out in the real world anyway?
So why bootstrap?
If you’re the founder you may well want complete creative control on the direction of your business.
- Want to commit to a social purpose that doesn’t deliver as much return on capital as other routes?
- Want to build a business that fits around your life, not the other way around?
- Want to create a place that employees just love to work in?
Unless you are just in it for the money and few of us are, your investor priorities are very unlikely to exactly match up with your own. No matter what you want, bootstrapping means you can choose your own adventure.
Fundraising takes up huge time and effort, just at the point when you need to be nurturing your business and helping it grow. Understanding your customers, your people and building out your minimum viable product.
Achieving product-market fit, establishing how well your product meets the needs of your customers is the single biggest factor in start-up success in my experience.
At MoneySherpa we spent over a year working with customers re-inventing the mortgage process from the ground up. Reducing the overall switching time from 6 months to 6 weeks and relentlessly removing customer pain points.
Even small changes like arranging mortgage protection on behalf of customers, who mostly had no idea what mortgage protection was and how to go about arranging it, made a big difference.
With bootstrapping your customer remains your only customer, keeping you laser focussed and dramatically increasing your chances of success.
Let’s get down to brass tacks with this one. Entrepreneurship in any form isn’t easy. You dedicate your life to building something great, sacrificing job security and sleep in the present for a future pay off. When you reach the promised land do you really want to give it all away?
With bootstrapping you maintain 100% ownership so you can keep all of the value you create for yourself and your employees. The people who are actually creating the value and working with your customers.
If you think you are onto a winner, think long and hard before giving any of that away to anyone else.
How Do You Bootstrap?
Starting a business used to be capital intensive requiring big cash investments in marketing, product and people. For many businesses technology has removed the need for large upfront investment.
Still thinking about that big brand launch and above the line campaign? Think again, in a world where you iterate your marketing on the fly through digital and control your unit cost of acquisition down to cents, splurging on a big bang campaign is so 1990.
At MoneySherpa we have over a hundred thousand visitors a year to our mortgage service, but over 99% of those are organic. Folks using our guides, calculators and tools to understand their finances better. Of those over a thousand get in touch every year to talk to us about actually switching their mortgage.
In a previous life I used to run product teams where months of arduous development and thousands of hours of effort would often still result in launching products with features that customers didn’t really want.
With moneysherpa, working in a garage over lockdown using off the shelf Software as a Service plug-ins, I managed to cobble together a minimum viable product online that attracted customers and allowed them to book a video call with our agents. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked and allowed us to test all of our conversion assumptions with bone fide customers within a few months of having our original idea and before we scaled.
Automation and remote working have transformed the world of work, allowing one person to do the work of hundreds or to do it at a hundredth of the cost. With the AI revolution now underway this is only going to accelerate.
MoneySherpa was formed in the teeth of the pandemic, where remote working was the only option, but we turned that limitation into a strength. Not only can our employees work from wherever they want, they can also work whenever they want. This flexibility has allowed us to attract talent that other businesses can’t, such as employees in inaccessible locations or time-pressed parents of young children.
Qualified financial advice from the very best advisors is at the centre of our business model, by using technology to liberate our employees we have been able to attract the very best in the field.
The Future of Work
A world where you don’t need loads of capital to access opportunity, is potentially a world without gatekeepers. One where anyone with a smart idea can make a go of it, hopefully resulting in more opportunities for those currently locked out of a white collar world and better services for customers.
But it’s not one without its challenges, the career path of the bootstrapper is very likely to be very different than that of the corporate 9-to-5er.
Even with technological advances bootstrappers will still need supportive networks of people and institutions to thrive.
Personally the support I’ve had so far from friends, colleagues and the wider business community has been absolutely critical to the progress we have made. I’ve been able to call on so many people in my own network to help out with everything from designing my logo to architecting my tech stack.
We must think creatively about how we support potential bootstrappers who might not have access to such networks.
The world of work will be very different potentially, however I for one am looking forward to it.
If you’re thinking of becoming a bootstrapper and would like to chat you can reach me at Mark@moneysherpa.ie
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