“Ecommerce Conversions” is my weekly podcast interview with an entrepreneur. I’ve spoken with merchants, vendors to merchants, wealthy former merchants, and more.
But this episode is different. I’m interviewing no one. Instead, I’m addressing a singular topic: bootstrapping, the concept of launching and growing a business without outside investors. My company, Beardbrand, is bootstrapped. The benefits are freedom, satisfaction, responsibility, and making the world a better place — all more important than money alone.
My entire monologue — call it a rant — is embedded below. The text that follows is edited for length and clarity.
Bootstrapping provides owners total control of their business. There’s no one to answer to. Management can direct all efforts on customers.
We’ll be celebrating 10 years at Beardbrand in February 2022. We’re now frequently approached by investors interested in acquiring all or part of the business. We’ve turned them down. It’s not to say we’ll always turn them down. We haven’t shut that door. But I love bootstrapping.
I love focusing on the customers, improving their lives, bring them value with our products. I love the journey.
It’s not easy, however. I started Beardbrand with a few hundred dollars. It definitely limited growth. We couldn’t afford ads, employees, extensive product development. Capital would have facilitated growth. But, it might now have been the right growth.
Moreover, it’s essential in the early days to focus on your product and audience — not calling investors to raise money. The thought process for raising money is entirely different from selling products and helping buyers.
Ecommerce is easy to bootstrap. Imagine trying to start a restaurant. You need a quarter-million dollars to get the lease, build out the interior, create the menus, hire the staff, all that. You can launch an ecommerce business by yourself with minimal investment. Ecommerce platforms are cheap — pay by the month. If you’re adventurous, you could even build your own with an open-source platform, such as Magento.
The hard part is trying to live off a business that’s generating a couple of thousand dollars in monthly revenue. You likely need at least $10,000, depending on the product. Otherwise, it’s a side project.
Entrepreneurship is a tough road. I’ve talked to many people who were forced to accept outside capital. They didn’t enjoy it. But I also know folks who raised outside money and loved it. It was an excellent experience for them. They were able to choose partners whose interests were aligned.
When I started Beardbrand, my wife and I had around $10,000 of savings. It was a rainy-day fund. I was a freelance graphic designer and marketer, doing odd jobs here and there. My wife had a stable job that provided health insurance. I was earning enough through my freelance work to survive. If it came down to it, she and I could have lived off a single income. We lived in a very modest house in Spokane, Washington. My car was paid for. We were paying off student loans and some miscellaneous debt. But, we were very keen on minimizing our obligations.
Bootstrapping is a similar process. You’re likely not going to be successful if you lease a fancy car, buy the biggest house you can, and live paycheck to paycheck. So before launching a bootstrapped business, think about controlling finances.
The paranoid entrepreneur in me thinks about the worst-case scenario. What happens if my wife loses her job, or I lose my job? What’s happens if my warehouse catches on fire and I’m out of products? How do I stay in business?
At first, you have more time than money. You need to focus on tasks that take time and not money. The priority is getting your product in front of potential buyers.
It takes just 10 to 20 minutes to record a video talking about your product and upload it to TikTok or Reddit. That gets the word out.
Search engine optimization is another option. Many brands neglect it because they have money to buy ads on Facebook. Those brands are not focusing on SEO — link building, articles, H1 tags, navigation. Investor-driven brands are typically focused on performance this month or quarter. But a bootstrapped organization can focus on what’s going to happen in, say, five years. What can I do now that will help me five years from now? SEO is a great long-term investment.
Influencers can help, too. Influencers love working directly with founders, folks who are passionate about the products.
Email is a powerful marketing tool. SMS is a new and emerging channel. An engaged subscriber list produces revenue. Email platforms such as Klaviyo are very affordable, especially considering the value they deliver.
Bootstrapped entrepreneurs sometimes forget about the advantages of not having a lot of money. You’re forced to perform tasks that well-capitalized businesses don’t typically tackle. Inserting a personal note in all orders, calling customers to thank them, writing an email — all are free and effective.
A Better World
The world needs more brands and companies that care about what they’re doing and the customers they serve.
To me, bootstrapping is beautiful because I get to focus on my mission of making men awesome. We might chase a project that generates no immediate income and makes no sense to an investor. But it helps our customers and brings value to our brand.
But the real secret of building a bootstrapped brand is not having to sell it. Investors demand a sale at some point. Imagine having a brand that you love. You love going to work every day. You love your co-workers, your mission, and your products. And you’re likely making a lot of money doing it.
Sell your business, and three months later you’re twiddling your thumbs, wishing you had meaningful work that improved folks’ lives.
Bootstrapping. It’s a wonderful thing.