Bootstrapping your own startup is not easy – it takes time, motivation and the support from people who are close to you. Some days you’ll be on the top of the world, whilst other days you may wonder why you’re doing this… It’s an emotional rollercoaster.
Overall, starting my own startup is one of the best things I’ve done – it’s provided me with a better work / life balance and allowed me to develop my skills in a way that wasn’t possible whilst working for someone else.
Anyone can bootstrap their own tech startup, regardless of whether you’re technical or not – you just need to come up with that initial idea.
You may already have your startup idea, but if not, finding one can be tough. Below I detail my thoughts on how to come up with that initial idea and how to quickly check if it’s suitable.
Inspiration and advice
Firstly it doesn’t hurt to gain a little bit of advice and inspiration. The following books and videos are all packed with great advice from some of the world’s experts:
- ReWork – A book by 37signals/Basecamp which provides practical advice on creating a bootstrapped startup, based on their many years of experience. This is the book that initially inspired me to start developing my own startup and I would recommend it to anyone in the industry.
- The Startup Kids documentary – A short inspiring documentary of a few successful young startup founders (I mean, even the trailer is inspiring!)
- Free Stanford startup lectures – A set of lectures put together by Sam Altman (@sama) at Stanford. There is some great advice in these videos from some real experts, and even better: they are free.
What makes a good bootstrapped startup idea
You may already have an idea or you may not, and no one can tell you if it will be a success or not. Over time I’ve come up with my own criteria of what I’d follow should I ever bootstrap another startup. These five points are:
- Subscription-based – I believe a subscription-based startup is more likely to succeed than one that accepts a one-off payment or – even worse – nothing at all for its services.
- Business-to-business (B2B) tool – Unlike consumers, businesses are more likely to part with their cash if you can solve one of their problems and make them more efficient. I believe that creating a B2B tool that solves a single problem in a small niche will improve the chances of success.
- Low running costs – You may be putting a small amount of your own cash into the business to start with – this may be as little as £500. Choosing a startup idea that doesn’t need a lot of servers to run and will scale reasonably easily in the early days is important if you want to be able to actually launch the startup.
- Easy to on-board a user – If your potential users would need to configure something or install a piece of code on their site to use your product, you are instantly making it hard for yourself to on-board new users and will potentially have to spend a lot of time supporting them. A good bootstrapped idea would be something that a user can simply provide an email address and start using instantly, and then get to that ‘wow’ point where they are willing to part with their payment details as quickly and painlessly as possible.
- Simple – There is a whole market of people who don’t want to use over-complicated, bloated software. Whatever your startup idea is, it should be aimed at this market of people who want to be productive and use software without having to read lengthy user guides.
Searching for that great an idea
If you already have an idea and it meets the criteria above then you are in a great position, but you still have nothing to lose in spending a few hours looking at other potential ideas.
Here’s just one way to come up with a list of potential ideas:
- Take a look at a business software directory list such as Capterra and make a list of all those areas that you believe would make a good business tool – e.g. policy management, digital asset management, etc.
- Using the criteria above and your own thoughts, take out all those that don’t fit in with the criteria, or really don’t interest you.
- Head back to the business directory along with Google and for each of the categories that you still have listed, make a list of all the existing startups in the category that you can find and rate how modern/usable they are to use and how much they charge.
- From here you now have a list of potential ideas that you can review further. You’re never going to find one with no existing competition, but if all the existing tools look outdated / hard to use / expensive, then it could be a sign that there is a gap in the market. (I would suggest avoiding areas where existing tools are charging less than $15 a month – this could be a sign that there are already enough solutions.)
- Finally, for those categories that are left on your list, you’re going to want to evaluate if there is actually a demand for them. One way of doing this is to identify a few key phrases that people would search for if they were looking for that tool. Then using something like Google’s Keyword Planner, check the monthly search volume – if it’s very low, then this may be a sign that there is just no demand for it.
There are of course many other ways to come up with a startup idea and evaluate if there is a demand for it, but the above can be done quickly in one afternoon and you may end up with a few suggestions that you can then go off and do a little more detailed research on.
No matter how you come up with your idea, nothing can guarantee success – there is a lot more to it than that. The important thing is to believe that you are capable of creating a bootstrap startup and not to give up too early. Those first 10-20 paying users will be the hardest users to gain!
By Scott Sherwood, founder of TestLodge