Today’s article is not by me, but a fantastic person Toon Peters who wrote this guest blog for us. If you read it all the way, there's even a cool offer from Toon!
Have you thought of bootstrapping your own software startup? Are you inspired by the many indie hackers who run a side gig? Are you ready to take your first steps in entrepreneurship? Then let this blog post guide you to get started.
Now is the best time to bootstrap your own software startup. You’ve got an immense amount of resources; the internet has been giving us more opportunities than ever and it was never easier to have a global outreach. Your potential market could be huge! Don’t let your doubts hold you back because bootstrapping your business is relatively low risk and could be done next to a full-time job.
As long as you put the customer at the center of everything you do, you can keep your bootstrapped business relatively low risk. As soon as you forget your customer and think solutions, you’re probably going to invest a lot of time and/or money into building it. The odds are against you if you gamble on this approach: 70% of startups fail because they lose the customer out of sight.
With your customer-first approach, you will then start your discovery of a worthwhile problem to solve. It sounds tedious, and at times it is. Bootstrapping a business doesn’t happen overnight, but can be incredibly rewarding when you have happy (early) customers who really enjoyed your product or service! As an entrepreneur you’ll get to hear from your customers first hand, and you can ensure that the features you built are actually used.
We’ve grown to believe that successful startups were born out of million-dollar ideas. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Ideas are totally overrated; and the underlying problems they aspire to resolve are underrated. Many businesses have changed (called a pivot) their approach and their offer at one point or another. Youtube used to be a dating service, Slack used to be a game and Shopify started as a snowboard equipment store.
As a startup, you too will change your business frequently. To start, you will have to choose a problem you want to tackle. You don’t have to look far; it might be a problem that you or people around you experience. By talking to these potential customers, you will further refine the problem and slowly define which part of it you want to solve.
As developer, you’re probably familiar with Agile. When bootstrapping your startup, you’ll have to apply similar principles, but you will be taking on the role as product manager/owner, rather than the developer. As product manager, you will iteratively validate your assumptions, grow your customer understanding, tackle certain risks and increase customer adoption.
But what if you don’t like talking to customers? Well, this is an essential part of entrepreneurship. You can’t go without customer contact. But if it’s really not something for you, consider looking for a cofounder who already did some early validation and would like to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). But again: Don’t build an extensive solution. Even when you think that your assumptions are right, you might have to throw away your work (ref. A SCRUM sprint’s result can be thrown away). It’s amazing how effective simple solutions sometimes can be. Some early startups built their MVP around a WordPress blog (e.g. Groupon), simple emails (AngelList) or a spreadsheet (yours truly with Validat.r).
If you’re passionate about solving a problem, you can build a business. The iterative and lean methods described in books like Lean Startup and the Mom Test make it all sound very simple, but the reality is that execution can be hard. Even when you’re ruthlessly focused on your customer and their problem, you will face more challenges. You will get distracted by worthless customer segments, problems that nobody wants to pay for, solutions that could be implemented more cheaply, new technologies that weren’t necessary and feature creep!
Many have walked this path before you and gave up before reaching a profitable business. But you don’t have to go at this alone. Toon created Validat.r to help solo software developers bootstrap their businesses faster. Validat.r keeps you
- focused on your customer
- accountable for your incremental experiments
- motivated even when times get tough
Exclusively for the readers of Daily Dev Tips Validat.r offers a rapid review of your startup idea when you sign up for their newsletter. Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments!