10 bootstrapping / startup-life-hacks we’ve learned (so far)

Written By on September 16th, 2011 | Category: Hiring LeanStartup Startup Life | 25 Comments


Editor’s note: Ben, Craig and Adam are the founders of Uniiverse. They’re looking to add Marketing and Development talent, and have $1000 for the person who can help them land a Senior Ruby Dev.

1. Work from a founder’s home

Doing this not only saves money, but if done right is a more comfortable way to work longer hours, with access to a proper kitchen, washrooms, and in our case a beautiful patio with BBQs. In order to make the environment feel like an office, we have decided to collocate – we have found that by simply bringing the team together, Ben’s home was transformed into an office during the working hours.

2. Save on furniture!

We have invested in a ping-pong table as our desk / board room table. Not only is it a cheap way to get a big surface, it folds up for easy storage to make more space, and can double as an office perk (if you ever take your external monitors off it! we haven’t yet). Did we mention better resale value?

3. Use walls (and windows!) as a whiteboard

Post milestones and deadlines on windows as a reminder for yourself and the rest of the team. Post product designs on walls as a convenient reference. It will save you time, space, and you might not even need a whiteboard.

4. Get whatever you can for free

We usually open the door of the condo to get free A/C coming from the freezing hallways of the building! We keep the door propped-open with a cheap bulk-sized bag of rice we’re eating. It is a great way to rapidly cool the room and save money! We still haven’t found what we will do during the Canadian winter, but if you have any suggestions on how to heat up the office for free, let us know! By then we will probably have depleted the rice sufficiently that the door will no longer stay open.

5. Pool funds and buy bulk food

Instead of buying lunch / dinner everyday, we decided to buy in bulk and cook together. We save time by rotating who will cook that day or bring leftovers. (Read: live collaboratively!) Our cupboard is full of random cheap food we’ve found. We work with the ingredients at hand. Who knows… we might even write a startup cookbook at a later date.

6. Bike to work

It helps save the planet. It also obviously minimizes the amount of money you spend on your commute, and saves valuable time. It’s also helped us stay in shape despite our long hours.

7. Tap-into your personal network, and be grateful

Have a family member or friend who’s a lawyer? Get their help in preparing your key documents (and use an expert where needed). Save their time by doing as much prep work as possible for them. You’ll save money, and they’ll probably care more about you than a third party. One of our uncles is composing some music for our videos. We’re also plant-sitting some tomatoes and basil, extracting rents in the form of free food. We have been very grateful of our friends and family thus far. They have provided us with invaluable amount of support.

8. Crowdsource. Crowdsource. Crowdsource.

We are big proponents of services like 99designs.com, crowdSPRING.com, squadhelp.com and MycroBurst.com (we’ve mostly experimented with 99designs, to-date). These awesome services help you generate and execute on ideas faster and cheaper. There’s even a crowdsourced site for code, Scriptlance (we haven’t tried this yet though). Any others you like? Let us know.

9. Negotiate everything!

Enjoy being “poor” for a bit. And use the word “poor” when you negotiate. Whether it is your internet bill or an order of business cheques, tell them how “poor” your company is… It can go a long way in getting credits and discounts.

10. Don’t cheap-out on everything

When you need to spend money, don’t hesitate! Spend it! Even though bootstrapping is really helpful in making you last longer before revenues kick in, we strongly believe it shouldn’t be at the expense of being efficient and happy. If your ping pong table gets annoying and kills your productivity, buy a real desk. It works awesome for us, but it may not work for you. Buy a big monitor if it’s going to boost your productivity. We also truly believe in spending on hiring the right talent, contractors or agencies (and paying them competitive rates along with rewarding them with bonuses). Not only will you get a better product, but you’ll also save time… Early on, we decided to invest a sizeable amount of our initial investment into a top-notch design shop to kick-start our front-end development. This approach helped us save many weeks in the development process.

This is how we’ve been bootstrapping. Any other tips you’d add?

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Comments.

  • http://twitter.com/brookr brook riggio

    Bootstrapping tip #0: Charge your customers. Perhaps it is self-evident, but worth an explicit mention (because it is so often forgotten). 

    If you are bootstrapping via consulting revenue, then the best tip I can offer is: Raise your consulting rates so you can spend fewer hours/week doing consulting. That will free up more time for working on your products, and get you better clients. 

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      Brook, great advice – totally agree.

      Unfortunatley (for me) I’ve been on the receiving end of you raising your rates – so only for everyone else – I still want a deal ;) j/kThx for comment.

  • Snowzerko

    Where do you put your kids at nap time?

    • http://www.facebook.com/braffi Ben Raffi

      No kids here for the moment :)  

  • Qwrfgwef

    Please rename this article to ‘how to live like a vagrant’.

  • http://finance-tutor.com/ Finance tutor

    these work for most small businesses not just start ups! We are 4 years old and still do a lot of this! :)

    PS: Kid nap upstairs! Its all good.

  • http://www.frankdenbow.com Frank Denbow

    Great list. #7 is key. For me I try to always ask others what they need help with, and find ways to make myself useful to them. Never have an express purpose in mind, but I think acting in this way would serve for a greater startup world

  • http://twitter.com/FitnessReloaded Maria

    So you bought a ping-pong table as a desk, but never actually played ping-pong?

    • http://www.facebook.com/braffi Ben Raffi

      Yes…we did!  It is actually a very comfortable desk. It is large, cost less than $200, can be folded if needed and we may actually host a ping pong tournament at some point :)
      It also has a good resale value … 

  • http://twitter.com/Jacquesvh Jacques van Heerden

    A nice list you have put together here. You just have to remember that bootstrapping only needs to go on till a certain point. Where after you can start running the business like a normal one.

    Things do take time to build up though and it takes hard work to get to the next level. I think you are well on your way to the top! Keep it up.

    • http://www.facebook.com/braffi Ben Raffi

      Thanks Jacques ! We do plan on getting an actual office quite soon as our team is growing. We are actually looking to hire a couple of people right now. We have a $1,000 referral bonus on the developer position – if you know anyone: http://www.uniiverse.com/jobs
      Thanks

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=554910975 Werner Colangelo

    A pretty good list. I remember reading a Jason Calcanis blog post a couple of year ago where he came up with his own “how to save money running a startup” list.  I think the combo of his list and the Uniiverse list would be great advice for any startup. My favorite is using ping pong table as a desk suggestion. pariSoma in San Francisco does this and despite my initial scepticism I must admit that it does work well.

    BTW, here is the Jason Calcanis list: http://calacanis.com/2008/03/07/how-to-save-money-running-a-startup-17-really-good-tips/

  • http://www.credii.com vammok

    Working from a cofounder’s home can get to you after a while…it may just get a bit too comfortable. 

    #10 is right on, but #2 is way off. If you’re going to spend 12-14 hours, your desk and chair have to got to be super ergonomic.

  • http://www.credii.com vammok

    Working from a cofounder’s home can get to you after a while…it may just get a bit too comfortable. 

    #10 is right on, but #2 is way off. If you’re going to spend 12-14 hours, your desk and chair have to got to be super ergonomic.

    • http://www.facebook.com/braffi Ben Raffi

      Vammok, 

      I completely agree with you that you need to have comfortable chairs and desk if you spend 12-14 hours a day working. We have actually bought good, ergonomic chairs and large monitors… but nothing super fancy. No huge Mac monitor or expensive desk. The ping pong table is actually surprisingly comfortable! 

  • http://www.Spidvid.com Jeremy Campbell

    Hey I was wondering what you guys think about employees bringing in their laptops and other equipment to work vs having to buy what most people already have. Is that fair to expect employees to provide their own stuff?

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      If you’re bootstrapping – you should ask if they mind.  If you’re under 6 people it’s perfectly normal if they have a laptop.

      Just make sure you get their code up on your repo

      • http://www.Spidvid.com Jeremy Campbell

        OK thanks for that Dan, didn’t really know the protocol but now I have a better idea. 

  • http://twitter.com/cheehan Cheehan Tee

    Dan, what kind of projects did you successfully crowdsource from 99Designs? We did 2 projects (Crowdspring and MycroBurst) but didn’t get good results. I find that the “creatives” there are generally more like ‘order takers’ than designers with strong opinions who give good suggestions. So it works better if you have a very good idea of exactly what you want and can articulate it. Would you agree?

  • http://twitter.com/TheCoolestCool Ross Simmonds

    Awesome advice here.

    The pooling of funds for food is brilliant. Definitely one of my biggest expenses, it doesn’t help that I’m meeting with people in restaurants and bars on a weekly basis. This is some great advice though – The combination of this boot-strapping advice and the 37 Signals archives are going to be key over the next few months.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • http://twitsprout.com Dan Holowack

    Love it. We take a very similar approach. Our office here (notice all the ‘furniture’): http://distilleryimage3.s3.amazonaws.com/5aeda69216f311e180c9123138016265_6.jpg

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  • Team Slide

    Good list…working on a few start ups myself. Actually getting off to a good start being that I started with only my knowledge of HTML/CSS and $150.00 8 months ago :) Only time will see where it takes me…

    http://www.SlideSMS.com – Free Unlimited International SMS

  • http://www.facebook.com/braffi Ben Raffi

    Hey guys – just a quick update – we have now moved to a separate office and have launched our website –> http://www.uniiverse.com – let us know what you think! Looking forward to sharing more bootstrapping tips soon! Ben

  • Francois

    Wll use as many of these I can. I am a solo founder so bootstrap I do need do!