Two mistakes I made with my first bootstrapped business

The first bootstrapped business that I created as a solo-founder was a disaster.

I had just parted ways with my previous co-founder, because we had run out of money and couldn’t find funding. Out business idea had been too big to bootstrap, and that taught me a valuable lesson about myself: If the business cannot be bootstrapped, then it’s not for me. I absolutely did not enjoy the process of finding investors and pitching our idea. Of course, I might have felt different if we had secured funding, but I really don’t think so. Plus, once investors are involved, you are no longer independent.

So I decided that my next business must be a bootstrapped startup, and I wanted to start it by myself.

I decided to build a simple social media tool using the Twitter API. The idea was simple enough, and it solved a straight forward problem: You would connect your Twitter account and my tool would let you know whenever somebody unfollows you. What you did with that information was up to you.

I don’t remember how I came up with the idea. At the time I was organizing the local chapter of the Social Media Club, and was talking to many people who were very active on Twitter. I do remember that there was no simple way to get the necessary information from the API, so there was a small hurdle for competitors to do the same.

In any case, I started to build this tool. And that’s when I started making the mistakes.

Mistake no. 1: Not building an MVP

Instead of building the most basic version, my developer-brain kicked in and told me to immediately think about scalability. I didn’t have a single customer, yet I was building a system that would be able to handle thousands or more. Of course, I was having fun doing that, because that what my developer-brain enjoys. Solving technical problems.

Solving the scalability-problem before it occurred cost me a lot of time. Time that I should have spent elsewhere. But, after way too much time, my tool was finished.

Mistake no. 2: Not wanting to spend time with your potential customers

As mentioned before, I had been involved in the local Social Media Club, which was attracting more and more “social media agencies”. In the beginning I thought that to be a good think, because they were all potential clients. But there was a problem: The more I was around many of these people, the less I liked them. Turns out, I don’t like “influencers” and “marketeers”. I had never enjoyed using social media myself (just look at my Twitter account, ha!), but I enjoyed even less the company of people who do that professionally. (There were some excpetions, a couple of people whose company I genuinely enjoyed, but they left around this “scene” around the same time I did.)

Basically, I didn’t want to spend time with my potential customers. That’s not good!

Don’t do what I did

There are more mistakes I made, and I might write about them in the future. For now, just remember to avoid the two I mentioned.

Do this instead:

  1. Build an MVP. Make it as simple as possible. If you are a solo-tech-founder, it’s probably a good idea to ask for help with this. Because you will want to build something that is maintainable, scalable, performant… But that’s not what you need in the beginning. You need customers first.
  2. Think about who your customers will be. Would enjoy talking to them? If not, consider a different business idea and move on. Talking to potential customers will be hard enough, because you want to sell them something. If you actively dislike them, it will be even harder. That’s not good for you, for your business, and those potential customers.

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