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Is this about 'bootstrappers' or 'values'?


I love the idea of a Bootstrapper’s hang out though I think a lot of people in the business have struggled to find a universally acceptable moniker for what we are.
I am very interested in how ‘bootstrappers’ define themselves and the limits of what ‘bootstrapping’ is.

Can bootstrappers talk about raising angel funds or venture capital? Can a bootstrapped business operate across multiple offices and continents? When do you stop being bootstrapped and start being just another business that happened to be built in a particular way?

One way that I think bootstrappers and larger organisations actually differentiate themselves over what Paul Graham would call ‘Startups’ (wrongly in my opinion but who cares), is that the people behind bootstrapped businesses, micros-ISVs, ISVs, whatever, seem to have an obsession with VALUES, and not VALUATIONS.

Bootstrappers often give a lot of thought to what they want their life to be like, how they want their customers and employees to view them. It is their VALUES that are evident to people, not the VALUATION of the business.

I think this is one of the things that sets ‘bootstrappers’ apart and is certainly something we think very hard about at Business of Software Conference when we put our programme together. We want to work with the overwhelming majority of software entrepreneurs who want to build great products that solve problems, build great companies and ecosystems that help people to do useful things. We are not really interested in the people who measure their lives in terms of the latest round of funding they have raised for their company and what it means for their own personal net worth. Too often, those people give up, go off or are just done over by their investors. It is in the interests of every investor in the world for people to think that raising money is the be all and end all. I want to work with the people that have seen through the BS and just want to do great stuff.


Hi Mark. Welcome to the forums.

When @ian and I named the podcast (and, by extension, this forum), we had decided on Bootstrapped, because it’s how both of us started out, and, for both of us, it’s pretty much the only way that we know of to raise a software company off the ground.

But neither the forum nor the podcast limits interaction to bootstrappers per-se. Indeed, I’m fascinated with the idea of angel-round funding (if not, full-blown VC rounds), and we have members on here who have raised funding.

With regards to the “name” of what it is that we do, I agree that it’s an open question. Again, both @ian and I have expressed dissatisfaction with the current set of standing selections.

“MicroISV” - while inappropriate in terms of its origin, at least has a history of its own among our community, and would, in some ways, be preferable to everything else that’s out there, if only because so many of us are clear in what it means (even if only a few of us define ourselves in those terms).

“Startup” - seems only to be appropriate for the first few years or so. @ian, @patio11, me, and many others, have ran our businesses for close to a decade (more in some cases). This length of time alone makes us cringe when we’re referred to as “startups”. Most 20 year olds who are startup founders in the Paul Graham sense would probably ran away screaming if someone told them on day 1 that they would still be running the same company, in very slow growth, when they are 35 years old.

“Lifestyle Business” - don’t get me started.


I tend to use “bootstrapped” just because other people understand that means we didn’t take funding. To be honest I think what we do is just “business”. We make a thing, we sell it, we continue to sell and support it. Our primary focus is the quality of that product and the experience of the people who use it.

I think values are a part of that. I couldn’t imagine doing what we do against the backdrop of investors who were looking for their exit. It’s fine for us to have slow, steady growth at Perch as @drewm and I own the whole company, so even a small increase in profits makes a real difference to us. I love the fact that decisions are made by us, based on what is best for the product and our customers.


Peldi from Balsamiq and I were talking around this last week. He has a pretty decent bootstrapped business but it won’t be defined as a bootstrapped business forever. We were in Italy and spending time in some ridiculously nice restaurants that take food VERY seriously. The Italians 'Slow Food’ movement started in Italy and it did make me think about what the software equivalent was. As Peldi rightly pointed out, it is probably not the ‘Slow Software’ movement, but many of the ideals are similar.


You and me both. This is just a reductive term used by people who want to crap on someone else.

That’s an excellent summation.


I’m reading In Praise of Slow (no personal association) and the Slow Food movement it covers (and the Slow Movement in general) does parallel well with the approach of the people on this forum.

If only the term Slow Software wasn’t so ironically inappropriate!


I think of this as more of a don’t be a jerk about VC forum.

I like to think of myself as a “dream” software entrepreneur. I think we all like to get the tires kicking and don’t like sitting around.

My experience with VC’d software was pretty miserable. Everything was about being “startupy”, “lean”, “agile” and nothing got done, and money was being thrown around like a gameshow. As an entrepreneur and coming from an entrepreneurial family, it just mad me sick.


Also, you might like to check out Small Giants. Companies that choose to be great instead of Big http://www.smallgiantsbook.com/


I think “Lifestyle business” and bootstrapped are actually different things, even though VCs will usually lump them in the same boat. GitHub and Dell both were bootstrapped, yet clearly not lifestyle businesses. (Yes both did raise money eventually, but only long after they were multi-million profits)


Venture capital funded businesses tend to be the noisy minority. Even if you look at ‘high-growth’ companies, the majority are not venture funded.