Software Bootstrapper’s FAQ – episode one

Are you a software developer or designer looking to launch your own product? These questions and answers may be helpful for you.

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Q: What is Bootstrapping?

A: Bootstrapping is starting your own business from your own money and sweat. That is, all initial funding comes from your savings or your normal job’s salary.

Q: Any resources for bootstrapping?

A: Justin Vincent have posted a nice Bootstrapper’s Kickstarter Kit — it lists blog posts, articles, and podcast episodes to provide you with enough information to get started.

Q: Should I quit my job?

A: Yes if you have a completely passive income that can provide basic necessities for you and your family. Otherwise No. Not until your startup’s profits exceeds what you need to finance a decent debt-free life. Working as an hourly consultant is also not recommended since the temptation of getting more money by extending your consulting hours will make your startup suffer. It might be better for you to get a corporate job with predictable working hours (e.g. 40 hours a week or less) and stable salary.

Q: Should I incorporate?

A: Short answer: Ask your lawyer. Long answer: Maintaining a legal entity is a significant recurring task that takes up your time and energy. You might be better off getting your business running and generate some profits before you start to worry about incorporating. That said, make sure that your sales will be able to cover the running costs of your corporation, namely hiring accountants (at least part-time) to run the company’s finances and file taxes.

Q: Should I patent my idea?

A: Yes if you intend to be a patent troll or sell your patent to one. No if you plan to bootstrap. If your idea is really novel, you probably would need a few million dollars to execute properly. Since your idea is new, you will need a huge marketing budget to educate your target market. If you don’t have this pile of disposable money laying around, either pick a simpler idea or get outside investments.

Q: Aren’t entrepreneurs suppose to have a high appetite for risk?

A: Only the very lucky ones or stupid ones or both that make risky bets. Most successful entrepreneurs are risk averse. Yes, they do take risks, but the risks that they take are calculated and have much bigger upside than the downside. They also ensure that upon failure they can still pick themselves up to fight another day. No “betting the farm” attitudes here.

Q: Any motivational stories of software bootstrappers?

A: Here are some posts done by software bootstrappers describing how they got started.

Mac: Gus MuellerKevin Hoctor.

Windows: Michael RakitaIan D Mead.

Web / SaaS: Amy HoyRob Walling.

Q: Which are the recommended problem domains to start?

A: Since this is your first experience, it would be better if you focus on a vertical. That is focus on an application that solves problems in a particular profession, hobby, or industry. You also will want the people who pay for your software are also users and directly get value from your application.  This removes most enterprise software out of consideration — software which the purchasers and users are two different sets of people. Most software bootstrappers get their initial modest successes in a vertical niche. Once you have a solid experience in solo developing and marketing, then you can start tackling applications that are more horizontal in nature.

Q: Which are the problem domains to avoid?

A: You should avoid making websites or applications that need to bring two kind of parties together for it to work and bring value. Dating sites, job boards, and social networking sites fall into this criteria. That is, matchmaking sites. These problem domains will normally require a lot of advertising and marketing efforts and thus difficult to fund from your own pocket. Unless your bootstrapping fund is a few million dollars or so.

Q: I have so many ideas, I don’t know which one to start with.

A: Here is one methodology to help you evaluate your idea

  1. Create lean canvas for each software idea. The canvas should show which ones that you can start yourself without needing for external funding. Put all of those ideas that needs a lot of seed funds in your archives and keep them there until you have the money to start some of them.
  2. For each bootstrap-able idea, put up a landing page with a signup form.
  3. Try blogging and tweeting in the problem domain of each application. Keep the twitter accounts separate and likewise the blog website.
  4. See which one that has traction.
  5. Implement the one that has traction first. Never try to bootstrap more than one application at the same period of time. Either finish it and get it to 1.0 and launch the application or abandon it. After launch and your application is finally stable, then you can start working on the second one.

Q: Which language should I write my application in?

A: U.S. English, at least initially, and it must have at least that language if you’re selling internationally. Seriously, use the programming language that you are already good at or very, very, really, seriously eager and enthusiastic to learn. Creating a software product from scratch all by yourself is vastly more difficult from the typical programming job in an office, it would be better if you have pinned down most of the technical challenges.

Q: What is entreporn?

A: Entreporn is just like standard porn but it exposes acts of entrepreneurship instead of copulation. Just like regular porn, it is difficult to define by words alone, but “you know it when you see it”. Some entreporn may benefit your entrepreneurial life like how small doses of classic porn benefits your sex life. On the other hand, getting addicted to entreporn will be bad for you as you’ll fall into analysis paralysis and too much daydreaming without execution.

Q: Are you qualified to write any of these answers?

A: No. These are collected from around the web and from conversations in StartupGuild. They may or may not work for you. Standard disclaimers apply.

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