Whats the biggest problem for bootstrapped startups?

I’m going to vote for the cheesy answer:

  1. Growth. Since without growth, and ultimately without customers, life can get pretty depressing when nobody understands the product that you’re pouring every hour of your day into. That being said, if you have no growth, there’s probably a good underlying problem like a bad product, a bad marketing strategy, or not understanding what your customers want in the first place.

Please comment/vote on your toughest challenge…

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Off the top of my head, I’d say something like this, more or less in order:

  1. Picking an idea and implementing enough of it to get it out there.
  2. Convincing someone to pay for it.
  3. Convincing enough people to pay for it to make it worth your while.
  4. Making the jump to the business as your main source of income.

I’m currently somewhat stuck between 3 and 4, although this is, in part, due to the fact that I would miss my day job and the people there if I were to quit it.

If you are stuck at #3, isnt that the same thing as growth? :slight_smile:

I think “growth” is a very VC backed startup kinda term. Most bootstrappers don’t need growth in the VC sense of the word, aka 500x a year. UserScape’s growth over the years for comparison is below and would be an abject failure by nearly any VC metric (other than you know, being pretty profitable).

1,657% (compared with only our first 3 months so this is artificially high)

My vote would probably be for an over focus on technology early on. Most bootstrappers are technical and would prefer to stay in the tech rather than working on the other parts of the business.


It’s similar to ‘growth’, but growth is awfully generic, so to me it’s not really as useful as a discussion that goes into the details about what kind of growth, how, how not to, and so on.

In the language of Steve Blank, I think you could rephrase the phases as finding product/market fit, and then scaling.

Patience. When you are one guy or a small team, things take a lot longer than you’d like them to. Because maintaining an app can be a lot more effort than people think. And sometimes maintenance just completely derails your plans to work on new features.

It’s during those times that you think, “Damn, if I had funding I could just hire a few ops guys and let them take care of everything”

But then you remember that it’s kind of nice not having the VC timebomb strapped to your chest. :slight_smile:


Wow, do they ever take longer than I think! I’ve gone from, “I’ll be able to bash this out in a coupla months” to “Alright, I really need some help here.” Only problem is: need some sales before I can get any help.

When you say ‘maintaining an app’ - what kind of issues crop up?

We’re an infrastructure product, so our experience is a bit different than many SaaS apps.

But our biggest time-sucks so far have been:

  • Scaling. It’s not unheard-of for one customer to send us half-a-million requests in a day.
  • Fixing original sin. For example, we made judgement call early on about how a de-duping process was going to work. A lot of customers didn’t like it. But it was such a fundamental part of the app that changing tied up one of my partners for about a month.

For less data-intensive apps, you still have to fix bugs, deal with edge cases, fix UX problems. New features have to not break old features, etc. :slight_smile:

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Assuming you are referring to boostrapped SaaS startups, I believe that the biggest problem is capital, followed closely by time. Given enough capital and time you should be able to get a SaaS startup to the point of profitability for a single founder or a small team.

Having enough capital and being able to work on your SaaS product full time is the best possible scenario.

[quote=“danielstudds, post:7, topic:724, full:true”]Only problem is: need some sales before I can get any help.

That right there is “the biggest problem with bootstrapped startups”, in my opinion.

In addition to what @starr said:

  • fixing interfaces that you thought were so genius but that none of your customers can understand
  • tweaking features to match real world usage
  • One thing that has happened to me several times is that I’ll create an interface thinking users will use it to make 10 widgets at most. Then after release I discover that some of my users are working with 100 widgets, and the interface is suddenly unworkable. Users use your system the way they want to use your system, and that often means you have to revisit your UI and features.
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  • fixing interfaces that you thought were genius but that none of your customers can understand

+1 for that :slight_smile:

For me the biggest issue is knowing whether there is a real market for your genius idea. The only way to know for sure is to launch.


Well, the biggest problem depends on where you’re at in the product lifecycle for your startup/bootstrap business, right?

Pre-launch/Early Phase:

  • Validation of the market, getting the right solution for a customer’s problem, finding an audience to target that to.

Launch phase:

  • Getting customers to convert, understanding funnel problems, hammering out every bloody minor detail to make customer onboarding successful

Post launch growth phase:

  • Growing sales, expanding your market, finding marketing channels that are profitable, clarifying your message to hit the customer’s pain points across audiences, customer support, scaling the business in general

I don’t think there’s a single answer here. A lot of folks get stuck at the top. I guess that would make it the most common, but maybe not the hardest depending on your personality.

I personally have a lot of difficulty getting myself to full execute an idea. I either get too anxious at the idea of the whole project or too ingrained in the details. I can’t find that happy medium where you know how the piece you’re working on fits into the whole while at the same time not fretting over every aspect of the piece I’m working on.

I’ve heard similar complaints from other people, so I guess the biggest issue I see is ourselves, the founders. Sometimes we need to get help to fixes those kinds of issues. I am, and I’ve slowly been getting better and more aware of the types of triggers that cause me to become anxious.

That feeling where you have a great idea but won’t finish it because you’ve never finished anything (to your satisfaction) is also a lie I and other content with. We/I need to realize that MVP sometimes should be to our satisfaction, even if we can continue to improve it.

If you have similar issues, seek a doctor (most won’t prescribe medicine and start with talk-therapy where you just discuss your thoughts and feelings). At least find a trusted friend and dump your thoughts onto them, often you’ll find that how you view yourself is very untrue.

While not only an issue with bootstrapped start ups, the stress of bootstrapping can exacerbate and magnify these issues.

Wait a minute…are you seriously endorsing an “if you build it, they will come” approach?

I think @Andy is endorsing the “if you build it you’ll find out if they come” approach. Big difference!

No. That’s not different at all.

The idea is to figure out if you have something worth building before you actually build it, so as not to waste your time. Isn’t it?

I’m absolutely not saying “If you build it they will come”.

You should definitely do some market research. That will help you to filter ideas where there is no demand, the competition is too strong etc. But, no matter how much research you do, you will never know how successful a product will be until you launch it. There are just too many unknowns, e.g. the exact size of the market, the best marketing channels, the cost to acquire a customer, the features customers really want, the longevity of the platform yu are building for.

I had no idea how successful PerfectTablePlan would be. So I only spent a few months writing v1 before I launched.

I am following the same approach with Keyword Funnel. Do some basic market research then get v1 out ASAP.

I agree a lot with @Andy. You should research and plan. But the market is king. Nobody thinks that “if you build it they will come”, but if you don’t build they will never come. I am much more afraid of analysis paralysis then of not succeeding.

I also agree with @starr that patience is needed. But that is so hard…