Bootstrapping for Success event – Thursday January 15, 2009

Bootstrapping for success was one of the first series of events that ran at TheCodeFactory. The event series was a collaboration between TheCodeFactory and The Ottawa Network. Tim Upton of Titus labs spoke are our first “bootstrapping for success” series of events.

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bootstrapping for success

Introducing “Throwback Thursday”

I have been combing through the blog archives and reviewing The Road Well Traveled posts prior to 2012 … Good times, great lessons learned and lots of fond memories! Long story short … we switched our blog content management system in 2017. However, in the process of switching all the published posts written before 2012 were lost (not republished). So instead of losing all that great content I have decided to republish it on a regular basis starting today.

It is really interesting to see what you were writing (and thinking) more than a decade ago and see how the posts have stood the test of time. The format for Throwback Thursday will be; lesson learned then and now (kind of a retrospective) followed by the original post.

Bootstrapping for success – Five lessons learned

Make getting customers a priority – One of the two original lessons learned from the post was “make getting customers a priority”. Getting customers is great practice that has stood the test of time. Your number one source of sustainable funding is customers. It is ironic that the predominant startup narrative to first time entrepreneurs’ is still “raise money at all costs” (pun intended). A more pragmatic approach when starting a new business is to find customers FIRST then raise money when you need to grow.

Google is a good way to find customers – The second lesson learned was “Google is a good way to find customers”. This lesson learned has also stood the test of time. January 2009 was well before the terms SEM and SEO became popular, however, getting found by search forms the basis of inbound sales. If you couple PPC (Google paid advertising) with good SEO this is an excellent source of inbound sales. SEO and PPC are your 1, 2 punch for inbound sales. If you want to build a great business getting your inbound sales working is a great idea.

Ignore the startup funding narrative – I had a good chuckle when I read “It was not long ago that you were only somebody as a start-up if you could chat about how much money you had raised.” This is still the case at least here in Ottawa specifically and Canada more broadly. You are only somebody if you raise a lot money. A new and better paradigm IMHO is to ignore the noise, focus on customers and build a great business.

Customer funded development is a great source of revenue – Upon re-reading this post with another decade of experience under my belt the notion of customer funded development rings even more true today. I see a lot of consulting companies that solve a real problem for a customer going on to become excellent product companies. If you really want to understand your customers a great way to do this is to build a custom solution for them. Building solutions to real customer problems (and getting paid!) is the path to customer funded development. In my opinion customer funded development is the BEST source of revenue and learning.

Long sales cycles kill startups – Another consistent pattern I have observed is how resistant to change (keep the status quo) Canadian large organizations tend to be. Bottom line you will face a lot of bureaucracy and VERY long sales cycle if you do try to do business with large enterprise or government organizations. Lesson learned, if you are launching a new business find the shortest most predictable path to sales. Time is your most precious resource and you can’t afford to waste it on a really long sales cycle.

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TON 3 x 10 Tim Upton of Titus Labs on BootStrapping

It was not long ago that you were only somebody as a start-up if you could chat about how much money you had raised, at least according to our speaker last week. Forget about how much sales or customers you had the hip metric was money raised. Times change and many of the hipsters are now history, however, the uncool bootstrappers continue to do what they do, get customers and grow organically. Successful bootstrappers are becoming the rockstars of the recession.

We had just such a bootstrapping rockstar speak at The Ottawa Network “3 x 10 Boot Strapping for Success” event. Tim Upton of Titus Labs was interesting, engaging and insightful. I had a chance to chat with Tim before the event and asked him what his most important lesson learned in his bootstrapping experience. I think it is important to put things in to perspective as well.

Titus Labs started out as an IT or Software consulting business which Tim founded. The first product originated by solving a problem for one of their consulting customers. This was turned into a product which they decided to put on the internet or hang it out there as Tim said and guess what; customers started to come to them. Their first win was the Australian equivalent of Canada’s RCMP, shortly afterwards a major financial institution came on board and then it was full steam ahead. The company continued to grow organically and they have never accepted any external money, bank, VC or whatever. For the past 4 years their revenue has grown by at least 100% per year and staff has doubled each year.

Back to the original question of that important lesson learned. THE #1 lesson is get customers; they are a great source of revenue says Tim with a gleam in his eye. Titus Labs has always focused on the customer by building what they want and Titus can sell. That is the most important lesson.
Second, first most important lesson; Google is your friend. Titus first two customers were both won through Google searches.

Finally an interesting insight that I really liked being organic keeps you in check and when your resources are limited you need to be constantly re-evaluating and applying due diligence to every decision, basically the leanness of the model forces you into this state.

I also wanted to take a minute to express my sincere gratitude to Bob Reichert for introducing me to Tim and helping get the event going. Here is Bob’s presentation on IRAP a most excellent and valuable resource for any would be bootstrapper to leverage.

Thank you Bob and Tim.
Ian Graham