Bootstrapper Manifesto

Be inspired:

I am a bootstrapper. I have initiative and insight and guts, but not much money. I will succeed because my efforts and my focus will defeat bigger and better-funded competitors. I am fearless. I keep my focus on growing the business—not on politics, career advancement, or other wasteful distractions.

I will leverage my skills to become the key to every department of my company, yet realize that hiring experts can be the secret to my success. I will be a fervent and intelligent user of technology, to conserve my two most precious assets: time and money.

My secret weapon is knowing how to cut through bureaucracy. My size makes me faster and more nimble than any company could ever be.

I am a laser beam. Opportunities will try to cloud my focus, but I will not waver from my stated goal and plan—until I change it. And I know that plans were made to be changed. I’m in it for the long haul. Building a business that will last separates me from the opportunist, and is an investment in my brand and my future. Surviving is succeeding, and each day that goes by makes it easier still for me to reach my goals.

– Seth Godin in the Bootstrappers Bible

I was so moved by these words that I am switching to just use my computer for work. Entertainment can happen on my phone and AppleTV. To remind myself to stay focused, I’m redirecting the following services to the page you’re reading now:

  • Facebook
  • Hacker News (major tears, but this is a terrible habit.)
  • Macrumors
  • Mashable
  • Techcrunch
  • Instagram

The Wall


Last week I was on day 17 (in a row) of working one-hour+ on this search for a startup. Things were moving. Each day was fun. I think I wrote an average of 1000 words a day, not because I was trying to, but because I had a lot to say.

Then I hit a wall so hard and didn’t even see it coming.

Out of ideas. Feeling unmotivated to keep moving forward. Not sure if people would ever buy anything I produced. Seriously, the song of self doubt is on repeat. Continue reading “The Wall”

The Trap of Small Thinking

Through my process of pre-entrepreneurship, I’ve dealt with a big question: why? Why do I want to start something new? Why not settle into a nice, comfortable job with benefits and free popcorn and money that appears every 2 weeks?

Yesterday I heard a story.

There was a man, and for the purpose of this story we’ll call him Jacob. He’s a software developer working on an app that is “sort of like Pinterest for dogs, but with a twist.” Explaining the twist is hard. It frequently breaks down the conversation at parties.

Jacob has a friend named Chris who has worked with him for a few years. One day Chris walks into the office, looks at Jacob and blurts out: “I was diagnosed with cancer. They’re not sure what the tumor is. I’m dying.”

And just like that Jacob’s life changed.

That day he decided to help his friend and those after him by assembling a database to collect detailed information about every tumor, in every person, in every country. All of them. A friend asked “do you know anything about cancer?” His response: “No. But I know about data, and I care for my friend.”

That’s entrepreneurship.

On the other hand, I am so stuck trying to solve problems that I can’t even really prove are problems at all. Like, here, let me CONVINCE you that this is a problem you face and I have a solution which adds some tiny value to your life. Can I have $10?

Who even cares?

There are So Many Great Problems

Think of all the amazing, difficult, thorny problems in the world. What about the 47% of young children who don’t have an adult who reads to them. Or the 6,027 people who died today from diarrhea. Or the startups in Ghana who deserve attention and funding but don’t get it because of their location. There is a for-profit business in Georgia that hires homeless people to be craftsmen making beautiful furniture. Another group is helping people who need medical care but can’t get it.

A guy made a watch for blind people that looks so good, seeing people want to wear it.

What a win.

So much of the difficulty we face trying to attract quality people and quality investment is based in a simple truth…driven people need interesting problems. They won’t stop until they’ve found a mission worth pursuing. Fortunately, there is a class of problems that are universally worthwhile. Slavery, homelessness, illiteracy, poverty, health. Just about everyone agrees that these problems deserve high-quality solutions.

SkyMall Entrepreneurship

nambe chip and dipWe fall into the trap of small thinking when we believe our biggest problems are (1) how much bigger can my TV get and (2) how can I run out of chips and dip at the same time? As a result, our entrepreneurship revolves around cute ideas while ignoring the people who actually need help. Software is going to play a big part in helping little children read. Technology, rightly applied by caring people, can hydrate a man so he doesn’t die of thirst (literally).

Let’s get out of the the trap of small thinking and start to design fixes for big problems. Society doesn’t have time to entertain lazy thinking from talented, privileged young minds focused on fake problems.

(Don’t get me wrong, I’m preaching to myself too. I started an organization whose sole purpose was entertainment.)

A New Opportunity

Can I tell you the BEST thing about large thinking? There isn’t much competition. While everyone is fighting to get a 14-year-old suburbanite to play AngryAlien (as opposed to AngryBirds), the number of people competing to solve weighty problems is comparatively tiny. Most won’t even show up.

People will tell you there isn’t money in solving social problems.

People are wrong.

It is totally possible to build solutions for those who need them. Maybe you take a little more creativity and experimentation to find profitability, but don’t believe you need to punt on revenue. M-Pesa has done great things for African financial markets. Social enterprise is still enterprise, my friends.


People are waiting for you. Not because they’re helpless but because you hold immense power to enter their life and accelerate the amazing things they’re already doing. Power. Best used with large thinking.

Startup Requirements

So…I hate writing requirements documents. But they’re extremely valuable for thinking through all the aspects of what you’re trying to create. A good requirements doc explains exactly what you’re creating in detail…all the features, functions, how you’ll support it, code methods, etc. Everything from top to bottom. This document is still open to change (a lot!) but I wanted to at least write down some of the things that are driving my thinking.

Since this concept isn’t set, yet, the only requirements are around what it *could* be. Continue reading “Startup Requirements”

Customer Value

Paul Graham talks about offering customers value, and says there are essentially two ways to do it. It fit so well on a graph that I decided to make one.


(Note: if you’re kinda nerdy, the users scale is exponential. Heh.)

Lots of Users. Little Value. One way path we take is to offer a lot of users just a little bit of value. The DMV does this, along with the people who make toilet paper and the little instant oatmeal packets you eat in the morning. “Everyone” uses these products, but the profit per customer is miniscule.

Lots of Users. Lots of Value. In another vein, the predominant Silicon Valley startup path seems to be Facebook’s model. The goal is to provide a medium amount of “joy” to a *TON* of users.

Few Users. Lots of Value. Finally, another way of being successful is to start a “micro niche” shop like a specialty bakery. These tend to have a small group of raving fans who love to talk about the product, but aren’t scaleable beyond the personal relationships of the baker. This is because people love the shop precisely because it’s unknown and unique and adds identity to their life. You can’t typically scale those relationships.

Few Users. Little Value. Go home.

It’s better for a few people to love you a lot

In Paul Graham’s essay “13 sentences” he says…

Initially you have to choose between satisfying all the needs of a subset of potential users, or satisfying a subset of the needs of all potential users. Take the first. It’s easier to expand userwise than satisfactionwise.

As a result, the “sweet spot” for the business is to offer a “much better solution” to a relatively small group of users. This allows my team to stay out of the weeds of VC money to try to grow before proving a business model. The “success factor” in the first stages will be: “did this product make someone’s life substantially better?”

But that question is too abstract, so let’s quantify.

  • The user chooses to use the service 3-out-of-7 days.
  • If we choose freemium, at least 5% convert from free to paid.
  • 10% of people, when asked to write a recommendation for the product, give the service 5 stars.


It all comes down to the requirements I have for my business. What do you care about? Working on a requirements post now.

Day 4 – Discovering Customers

Steve Blank talks about customer discovery as the first step to going through the customer development loop.

There are four phases to customer discovery, but they can happen very quickly. We’re going to go through each phase and add a little bit of detail. In another post, I’m actually going to do this for the first round of customer discovery for my startup. Continue reading “Day 4 – Discovering Customers”

Day One: Stealth Mode Sucks

This is a response to Stef’s post “Will I really steal your idea?” He does a good job explaining the value of the open culture I want to create.

A few years ago, I met a guy named Josh. He was a goodnatured fellow and interested in startups so we sat down for lunch to talk shop and eat red-skin potato salad.

Through the conversation, I eventually asked “so are you working on a project right now?”

He looked back, and without missing a beat responded: “yes, but I can’t talk about it. We’re in stealth mode.”

I was a little surprised, I guess. Sure, you hear about people in “stealth mode” in New York or San Fran with millions of dollars and fancy pens. But this was my first real, in-the-flesh stealth-moder. Curious, I wanted to know more.

“Well, that’s fine. What *can* you tell me?”

“uhhh…I mean…we’re like a way for people to connect with each other through their phone. It’s going to be super impressive.” Continue reading “Day One: Stealth Mode Sucks”