The majority of startups are started without capital injection from venture capitalists and angel investors. The real numbers are eye opening – VCs fund only 0.05 percent of startups while angel investors are responsible for funding 0.91 percent. Take a moment to really think about those percentages in relation to the approximate 543,000 new businesses started each month.
The chances of receiving funding is very slim, so if you are serious about turning your idea into a reality you are going to have to dip into your own pockets and bootstrap your way to the top. It isn’t easy, but it can be very rewarding – both personally and financially, as you retain 100 percent of your equity.
In no particular order, here are 10 tips to help you bootstrap your way to success.
1. Fully research your market and competition
Before you do anything you need to make sure you have a viable business opportunity. Is your proposed product or service already available on the market? If there is competition, how will consumers differentiate between you and them? What makes you better? What is your unique selling point?
I know of several highly successful software-as-a-service companies that sold their products before they even had it developed. They did this to be completely certain there was a market for it. This isn’t the conventional way to do it — but it’s an example of entrepreneurs going to extreme measures to be 100 percent certain they had a winner before going all in.
2. Create a business model that produces quick revenue
If you are bootstrapping, you need to make sure that your business model generates revenue quickly. If not, you will be dead in the water when you blow through your reserves. Constant cash flow is mandatory – if you look at successful bootstrapped startups you will see business models that generated revenue very quickly.
3. Handle your own public relations in the beginning
Startups can benefit greatly from major media exposure in the beginning. Journalists and editors receive press kits from PR firms around the clock. They don’t want to talk to a public relations representative – they want to talk to you! They are much more interested in speaking with founders than a PR firm because they want to hear your story just as much as they want to hear about your actual startup.
There are several ways for startups to score media coverage, so roll up your sleeves and get cracking.
4. Provide ways for your initial customers and early adapters to create buzz
People love new startups and technologies – and they love to show the world that they are cool, hip and trendy through social media. Provide ways for your early customers to help put your startup in front of their social audiences.
Allow them to unlock a discount coupon by sharing your website on social media or create a branded hashtag and randomly select winners for prizes. You can even share images of your customers using your product with a designated hashtag on the company social media pages. By appealing to people’s narcissism you can create instant brand engagement.
5. Don’t be afraid to let your website grow with you
I see it happen all the time – a startup will have a custom website designed and by the time all of the features are built out they are left with no marketing dollars. They use their entire pile of seed money on a great website but then have no way of marketing – and they turn into a statistic, joining the 80 percent of businesses that fail within their first 18 months.
If you are operating on a shoestring budget, you can use a pre-made theme to get you off the ground and then use the majority of your funds to promote and grow your business. Once you have positive cash flow and have proven your business model, do a website revamp.
6. Launch creative branding and marketing campaigns
You don’t always have to have the deepest pockets to get brand exposure – you just need a creative approach. A great example is Newcastle Brown Ale and its video about almost making a Super Bowl commercial with Anna Kendrick.
They didn’t purchase airtime for the actual Super Bowl but they did release a video about how they almost did. It went viral on social media and was an instant hit.
7. Account for every penny you spend
Keeping track of every penny that leaves your business account is crucial. Money goes out quickly when you are starting a business.
Sloppy accounting can lead to a rude awakening. Using accounting software such as QuickBooks or free tools such as Mint that will help keep track of your spending and gauge burn rate. Monitor your cash daily – there is no excuse for lazy accounting.
8. Eliminate as many personal expenses as possible
When bootstrapping a startup, there isn’t a nice comfortable salary that comes with the gig – you have to be prepared and willing to clip unnecessary and lavish expenses. Find ways to drastically cut expenses or eliminate them all together.
Substitute a huge car payment for public transportation, take on a roommate or two to reduce living expenses, brew your own morning cup of coffee instead of opting for a $4 cup – look at your personal bank statements for the past few months to uncover areas to reduce and eliminate expenses.
9. Do as many jobs as you can yourself in the beginning
There is a big difference between jobs you can’t do and jobs you just simply don’t want to do. If a task requires specific technical knowledge that you don’t possess, then of course, outsource that job – but if it is something that you are fully capable of doing but just don’t feel like doing you are creating an unnecessary expense.
A friend of mine just recently launched a new business and he wanted to repaint the new office and install some shelving units – unfortunately the lease didn’t include any build-out allowance.
After receiving several quotes in the $3,000 to $5,000 range he reached out to a few friends – and for the cost of the paint supplies, shelving and a few cases of beer along with a Saturday afternoon he had exactly what he wanted and saved several thousand dollars.
10. Be persistent and don’t give up
When you are just starting out there will be many challenges and obstacles to overcome. Suppliers and vendors aren’t always overly excited to work with brand new companies and building consumer trust can be an early challenge. You have to be persistent – when I started my company I was kicking down doors and dialing the phone nonstop to build relationships and make connections. Don’t take rejection personally – it is going to happen.
Bootstrapping a business isn’t an easy task. Honestly, it’s very challenging – but not impossible.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How To BootStrap Your Business With Funding From Your Shareholders
Fund your business: Bootstrapping with loans from shareholders.
In the early stages of a business there is often little or no revenue – so where does cash come from to keep the lights on? In our previous article, we discussed raising funds by bringing on new shareholders.
Now we are discussing the opposite scenario – where you support the business with your personal funds rather than bringing on new shareholders. Ultimately, this is what start ups mean by bootstrapping: You, as the shareholder, get your business through a tough patch or an early stage growth phase with your own funds.
Three reasons to consider bootstrapping
Bootstrapping is a very powerful way to grow one’s business for a number of reasons. The first reason is that by having fewer shareholders, you will have fewer partners to share the profits or future value with.
But there are other more complex reasons to bootstrap. You keep control over your business, taking strategic decisions independently without consulting a large board of directors or shareholders.
Often, in the early stages of a business, this kind of nimbleness is essential for maximising the impact of the founder’s creative ideas. You can rapidly deploy ideas, learn from them, improve them and deploy again – ultimately, that is the beauty of a lean start up as opposed to an established company.
Understand the risks
So why doesn’t everyone do it? Well, aside from the obvious point that not everyone has the cash to invest, there is another more subtle point: Risk.
With a limited liability company, you only lose what you put in (see our previous article describing this here). So, if you have personal savings, a bond, etc. you won’t put those on the line unless you decisively invest those funds into the company.
Raising funds from other people spreads the risk around – if you put all your cash into the company, you take all the risk.
So, what to do if you fund the company with a shareholder loan? The critical thing is to record it! If you don’t’ record it, your accountant can’t track it, and there is a good chance that the cash will remain untraced and never repaid.
A simple one page document recording how much was loaned, and a simple liability entry into your financial statements, can mean the difference between getting that money back (with interest) or not.
Treat the funds as loan capital
Then, what about the terms on which the cash is loaned? Many founders regard this as an equity investment, in terms of which the money is “invested” into the business, hopefully repaid, but not with interest. That is wrong.
No matter the scenario, you need to ensure that the funds are treated as loan capital, with a clear understanding that a market-related interest rate applies to it.
Why? Well, aside from complex tax implications otherwise, the question is actually whether or not you are a prudent investor? The reality is that these are your funds and prudent commercial practice means that you should weigh up your options.
For example: do you pay back your debt (saving you interest payments), do you invest it in your pension (earning you returns), or do you invest it in your business. Surely if you invest it in your business, you would only do that the investment has a comparable return – otherwise it is nonsensical.
An interest free loan earns you nothing, in fact, it simply depreciates your investment by the amount of inflation on a daily basis.
Having said that, although interest will accrue on a shareholder loan, it will typically not be repayable until the company actually has the funds to pay. This also applies to the principal amount (i.e. the upfront cash amount loaned to the company).
For that reason, although shareholder loans are regarded as debt, they are treated as “junior” debt – i.e. they are repaid last, only repaid after normal (arms length) creditors have received back their cash.
This is where your shareholders agreement is so useful (once again!) – one of the things which a shareholders agreement does is to lay out the general terms on which shareholders give loans, including interest rates and repayment terms.
Then, as and when loans are made in the future, you don’t need additional or lengthy loan agreements, you just need to confirm receipt, and record the loans in your financials.
Good luck bootstrapping!
Ever Heard Of The SAFE Funding Agreement?
A new way to raise capital? It provides an interesting new way to raise capital for your business.
Everything in Silicon Valley moves to keep pace with the speed at which business and entrepreneurship evolves and adapts. As a result, the legal and transactions infrastructure is forced to match this development by using increasingly innovative transaction documents.
An example of this is the SAFE agreement. Pioneered and made popular by the famous Y Combinator, the SAFE Agreement — an acronym for Simple Agreement for Future Equity — represents the evolution of the much-favoured convertible note.
The South African entrepreneurial ecosystem, whilst a bit behind the pace of San Francisco, has a habit of adopting these trends and applying them, right here in Mzansi. The SAFE agreement is no exception.
However, a word of caution — simply adopting a US template and applying it to your company can create some undesirable consequences.
To keep pace with innovative financing mechanisms, it’s important to be familiar with the salient features of a SAFE agreement.
Briefly, these are:
- Unlike a convertible note, the SAFE is not a debt instrument and so, it wouldn’t traditionally attract interest
- It seeks to mitigate the risk of insolvency for the Investee and does not have a maturity date
- It’s intended to be a simple, standardised document to cut down on transaction costs, negotiation time and provide an easier way for businesses and investors to agree on a neutral document to regulate the advancement of funds.
Typically, an investor would advance funding, in exchange for a future, contingent right to acquire equity in the business, upon the happening of pre-agreed ‘trigger events’, such as:
- Equity Financing: For example, where the Investee company raises capital in exchange for equity
- Liquidity Event: May occur upon a change of control or an IPO
- Dissolution Event: When the company voluntarily ceases to trade and/or is liquidated. One would have to regulate whether business rescue proceedings constitute a dissolution event in SA.
When one of these trigger events occurred, the investor would acquire the right to purchase shares in the company at a pre-agreed ‘valuation cap’ or a discounted valuation to the actual value of the company.
The valuation cap attributes a pre-agreed, but notional, value to the company that will be used in the calculation of how many shares the investor will purchase. For example:
Investor A invests R1 million into Investee Company B at a valuation cap of R10 million. At the Trigger event, the actual valuation is calculated to be R20 million. Accordingly, Investor A will purchase shares equivalent to a R1 million equity purchase in a R10 million company, despite the value of the company actually being R20 million.
This translates into relatively more shares in Company B, than if purchased at the actual valuation — a win for the investor and just reward for taking a bet on a speculative business.
An alternative is the ‘discounted valuation’ method, which arises where the investor agrees with the investee company to discount the real value of the company at the trigger event, by a pre-agreed percentage.
In the example above, where Investor A agrees with Investee Company B to invest R1 million at ‘valuation less 20%’, he would get more preference shares than if he had invested R1 million at the actual valuation.
A further alternative is a hybrid of both the discounted valuation and the valuation cap, where the investor is able to choose either scenario, depending on which would yield the greater number of shares.
It is worth remembering this about SAFE agreements:
- The business is free to issue as many SAFE agreements as it pleases, unless this is specifically regulated
- There is no uniformity on the treatment of the SAFE as a non-debt instrument and has not, to the best of my knowledge, been tested by International Financial Reporting Standards
- The SAFE provides for the subscription of shares on a substantially similar basis to that of other shareholders, but the investor has no way of knowing those terms, unless specifically regulated in the document
- There is no maturity date, so the investor could wait indefinitely for the trigger event to occur.
6 Tips For Bootstrapping
Not all start-ups have the luxury or know-how to gain financial investment at the outset. Most often, newbie entrepreneurs will need to fund the business from their own pockets and resources — this is called bootstrapping.
Bootstrapping a business is a lesson in hard work and flexibility, but ultimately it can help accelerate a company’s success.
Here are my survival tips for entrepreneurs
1. Pick your business partners carefully
When you are bootstrapping, most of the work will have to be done internally; you need to have a partner who shares your vision and is able to bring a skill-set that you don’t necessarily possess.
If you are good at different things, chances are that you can get more done and keep expenses and outsourcing to a minimum.
2. Generate cash flow fast
The most successful bootstrapped companies today share this common trait: They generate cash flow almost straight from the word go.
Without cash flow you will burn any initial investment you have made in the company and you will definitely not be able to show investors any traction.
3. Get good at accounting
If you’re not a numbers person, get one. Track what is coming into the business and what is going out. If more money is leaving than coming in, we have a problem. Look at free budget tracking apps online, such as GoodBudget and You Need A Budget.
4. Don’t be lazy
Don’t outsource work that you can do yourself. Yes, there may be people out there who can do certain tasks better than you can, but in a bootstrapped environment, you will have to learn to wear many different hats.
5. Don’t try to be fancy in the beginning
Posh offices, embossed business cards and fancy tech are all unnecessary items for the bootstrapped entrepreneur.
Use freeware, print your own business cards and use social media instead of expensive websites to promote your business.
6. Don’t take no for an answer
Perseverance is everything. Network, build relationships, be seen, use social media to your advantage. Bootstrapping is ultimately an investment in yourself that will yield results in the long run.
Read next: Essential Tips for Bootstrapping