Turning an idea into something that people will eventually want to buy is an exceptional accomplishment. However, like life, business is not linear. The entrepreneurial journey involves time delays and unpredictability. This is especially true for transitioning veterans.
A quarter of transitioning veterans say they want to start a business. While many have valuable leadership qualities and are uniquely suited for entrepreneurship, veterans still have to overcome challenges like any other civilian; paying the bills and providing for their families. You might have to work in the shadows before bringing your idea to light.
You can harness personal disruption and seek a new learning curve to build your business without being full-time or receiving outside capital. It may be necessary to consider career pathways or short-term gigs to support yourself as you advance your idea.
Thomas Edison, described as America’s greatest inventor, requested the night shift before pursuing his ventures full-time. The part-time inventor went on to have a widespread impact on the modern industrialized world. His inventions include the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and early versions of the electric light bulb. Edison also provided advice and research to the US military and headed the Naval Consulting Board in 1915. Edison is one example, regardless of circumstances, that sometimes bootstrapping is a feasible way towards achieving your goals.
Bootstrapping is minimalism applied to business. It takes doing something hard on your own without help from venture capital firms or angel investors. This path is chosen because you want to preserve your equity in the business, demonstrate a practical idea, or unable to devote yourself full-time. The reality is that outside investor funding is not a realistic option for most startups.
Bootstrapping can encompass:
- Working for free
- Tight budgets
- Upfront expenses
- Sustaining personal runway
- Adjusting your lifestyle
- Family sacrifices
- Taking risks
- Embracing constraints
- Battling entitlement
- Stepping back to grow
- Doing things that don’t scale
- Tracking growth that isn’t entirely obvious
- Testing with limited resources
But it can be done!
Apple found Ron Wayne to co-sign a bank loan of $250,000. This week Apple became the first U.S. company to reach a $2 trillion market cap. In 1971, Phil Knight was just getting by without a lot of money, but he negotiated a deal with college student, Carolyn Davidson, paying $35 for her Nike logo design.
Today, the Nike brand is valued at approximately $34.8 billion. Michael Dell raised $1,000 from friends and family to get Dell Technologies off the ground. Dell’s net worth is now $30 billion. The founder of one of the most iconic brands, Patagonia, began selling in his parent’s backyard. Github, the software development platform, waited five years until receiving investment and was acquired by Microsoft for $7.5 billion. All of these examples represent the various courses of action entrepreneurs have taken to bootstrap a business successfully.
Going in on an idea part-time without substantial financial investment can pay dividends over time. Adam Grant, Author of Originals: How Nonconformists Move the World, says it best:
“Entrepreneurs who kept their day jobs had 33% lower odds of failure than those who quit. If you’re risk-averse and have some doubts about the feasibility of your ideas, it’s likely that your business will be built to last. If you’re a freewheeling gambler, your startup is far more fragile…This habit of keeping one’s day job isn’t limited to successful entrepreneurs. Many influential creative minds have stayed in full-time employment or education even after earning income from major projects.”
Whether you scrape seed funding from personal savings, bring in customer-funded money to maintain operating expenses, or take out loans, bootstrapping is a viably proven strategy. Furthermore, you stay in charge of decision-making, and you don’t have to give up a piece of ownership in the company to a stranger. Ultimately, bootstrapping is hard, but being maniacally focused on solving a problem and running lean while working in the shadows can be an unfair advantage.