How to: Guerilla Bootstrapping

Guerilla bootstrapping aka bootstrapping for people who don't have a million bucks.

I am currently right in the middle of launching a startup that has been bootstrapped - in fact it will launch in a few days time.  I started out with around $5000 to spend and when launch time comes you can be the judge of how well I did.

I was reading a post on ReadWriteWeb recently, about how to bootstrap your startup. And I laughed when I saw that the authors lowest expense estimate was $47,500.  Really?  There is bootstrapping and then there is bootstrapping.  I want to prove that you can do it for less than 50k and still launch a slick startup.

Kevin Rose is a Perfect Example

Digg.com was built for around $2000 when Kevin Rose decided to find a freelance developer to build his dream concept.  This is a great example of bootstrapping as it involves outsourcing and only around 2k in capital.  He paid a freelancer $12 an hour to mockup the site, $99 a month for server space and $1.2k for the domain name.   And on the 5th December 2004 he launched the site and had his very own startup.  Simply amazing!

Outsourcing

I have outsourced the majority of dev work.  I posted jobs on GetaFreelancer and im currently working with 6 different developers.  Here are some tips based on my experience the numerous number of mistakes I made starting out:

  • Know what YOU are doing - don't just know which features you would like to build. Know the technical details on how to build it.  I know php (what my app is developed in) and can speak technically with the developers. This is essential.
  • Break your app into little tasks - I have split the app into small parts that are being developed by different individuals.   Each individual is good at doing that little part ie. security, php scaling, etc. There is no point in just getting one guy to do the whole thing.  He might get it right but chances are it won't live up to expectations.
  • Be Very Very Picky - find a developer who is right for you and don't sell yourself short.  If you can't find the right guy first time round, try again.  Ask them questions again and again and also ask to see previous examples of work.
  • Be Insistent and Communicate Daily - I found this the hardest part of all as im just too nice (whic is a flaw).  I found this out the hard way and it cost me.  Use a good task management app from 37signals to communicate daily.  Don't be afraid to keep on asking for a progress report.

The ReadWriteWeb article suggested you would have to travel overseas if you offshored.  No you don't.  If you are good at dealing with Freelancers and actually use a little thing called email, project management apps and your phone - you will be just fine.  Just like me, you will probably get it wrong first time round.  Learn to fail fast and get it done.

Hosting

Ok lets have no false impressions here - you can't run a startup on shared hosting.  If you were considering this, building a startup probably aint for you (on the upside if you have launched a startup on shared hosting let me know, it would make a great story!).

You have a couple of options for hosting:

  1. Dedicated Server - I don't recommend this option.  Its great once you get to a certain size, have people who are good with hardware, and have lots of cash but when you're just starting out this will be the more expensive option.  Instead go for:
  2. Virtual Private Server - If you choose the right company, a VPS will scale for you without the need for having to keep buying new servers. A company such as SliceHost (a RackSpace company) offers the perfect solution for todays Guerilla Boostrappers.  Its like having your own server thats deployed instantly and will scale up with a click of a button.  This tech wasn't around when Kevin Rose launched Digg but he might of used this option.

I am paying less than $100 a month for hosting, and will have all the space I need and this things gonna scale beautifully (fingers crossed).

Make good use of Amazon's S3 if your startup is media rich (or even just to host avatars).  Learn what a CDN is and ask yourself if you need to use one.

Design

I don't think Kevin had a design when he started Digg and he obviousy didn't need one. in the end  If you have a solid product the design can come later.  Of course this isn't the case with all startups.

Im fortunate enough to know my way around Photoshop and Illustrator, so I designed Project Task myself.  I then sent the design to be coded and integrated into the already functioning app.  After a few days of fiddling it looked slick enough to actually launch.  Weeks later it acutal amazes me how nice the UI is working.

I spent a lot of time researching UI (user interface design) and put this knowledge to work.  I suggest you do the same as it could make or break your startup.

Project Task won't be the best designed startup but the feedback I have got so far has been extremely positive.

Legal Stuff

If you just want to bring your concept to market to "see how things go", don't concern yourself too much with patents, trademarks, and incorporation.

You can buy a kit to do this (and then worry about the mistakes you made later....seriously).   If you're a guerilla bootstrapper you probably don't have the life savings to do all of this right away.

Disclaimer - I have 0 experience in this area so flame away.

Domains

Buy something catchy, short, easy to spell, has no hyphens or numbers.  International TLD's are ok.  Peeps are actually typing url's less these days which makes the .com slightly less important.

Make use of the domain markets like TDNAM to find more "premium" domains as the name you want has already been taken.

In Conclusion

The world is flat and anybody can be an entreprenur.  If you have an idea spend the few thousands dollars needed to mockup the site.  Some may say this "mockup" aint a startup but they are absolutely wrong.  There are no rules you need to follow and no model that says "this is how a startup should look".

Get out there and just do it...when you fail, get up and do it again.

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