Blog

What You Gain When You Bootstrap

This post is part of the Hyde Park Angels Entrepreneurial Education Series, which brings together successful, influential entrepreneurs and investors to teach entrepreneurs everything they need to know about early-stage investment through events, articles, videos, and more. If you are interested in learning more about whether to raise a fund, register for “Are You Ready to Raise?” on March 5.

1-geuYpchXX7Lz3b-7mG8Zmw
Picture via Cleverbridge

I’ve had the most fun of my life starting a technology company, seeing it grow, watching the development of new employees, winning bigger and bigger clients, seeing the world and making new lifelong friends. Although the current rage is to raise money when you have an idea, a Mac, a cat and a dream, one of the draws of entrepreneurship is that you can be your own boss.

At cleverbridge, we were fortunate to be able to bootstrap the company from startup to profitability in two years. There are a variety of contributing factors to this:

  • No founder salaries for two years
  • Liquidated savings to pay others and buy equipment
  • Contacts in a growing industry
  • A team of trusted eCommerce friends

We grew to over $40 million in revenue and 280 employees on three continents after 10 years. That’s not a small company by any means, so don’t mistake “didn’t take venture money” with “can’t grow fast.”

As an angel investor, I can now compare and contrast the differences between having external investors and not having them. The difference, in one word, is “control.” That includes control in:

  • Company direction — Even if you have great board members with industry experience, you might have a vision that you can’t execute on because your board members have an alternate view. They may want you to focus on a reliable business model when you can see the new business model threat coming from behind. One example here is Borders, which out-sourced their e-commerce operations to Amazon. This gave Amazon tons of insight into the competitor’s business to eventually send Borders to the history books.
  • Oversight — The amount of time required to interact with and satisfy investors in probably on the order of 10%. You have to prepare quarterly or even monthly board presentations, respond to the investor’s neighbor’s friend who had a bad experience with your product, and answer employee questions about what the investors are thinking and looking for are. And those are just some of the responsibilities that come with the investment.
  • End game — Investors have one goal and it’s not philanthropic. They want a return on their investment. They have an expectation on an outcome within a certain timeframe. You may have the energy and stamina to continue on through an economic downturn, but your investors may want their money out at all costs.

This isn’t to say that investors don’t add value, which they certainly can, but there’s a lot that comes with an investment. I counsel entrepreneurs to go as long as they possibly can without funding because the business will be more mature and the entrepreneur in a better position to negotiate terms. Take cleverbridge client and former Chicago-based company Malwarebytes as an example. Rather than raise money early on, Malwarebytes grew without much recognition and was an “overnight” success story when they raised $30 million last year. I’ve known CEO Marcin Kleczynski since he was 17 and working from his parent’s home. Sure he had many struggles along the way, but he fought through them and was able to choose when he raised money.

Every day that I wake up, I don’t feel that I have to report in to someone else. I just have to answer to myself, my partners and my employees because I am my own boss.