Given the increased difficulty of fundraising in the current environment, I wanted to share some learnings from the past two years of bootstrapping our own company, StatsHelix.
#1 Find technical co-founders
You can’t build a tech company without engineers as co-founders (without significant investment). I can’t stress this enough. Not only are they the people building the actual products your company sells, but with their technical know-how they can be a great sounding board for ideas. Find talented developers that share your vision and make sure they’re incentivized with enough equity to stick around and keep working when the money runs out.
#2 Don’t try to do everything yourself
Early on, we were too thrifty to outsource work. We were constantly learning new skills ourselves to take on work we felt was too expensive (e.g. graphic/web design, video editing). This was a huge waste of our time and ultimately something that slowed us down. As a founder, your most valuable asset is time — time that could be spent chasing new clients or iterating on your product. Focus on the things that really matter and actively use resources like Fiverr or Upwork to outsource small tasks that you’d eventually hire for anyway.
#3 Trust Each Other
Similarly, trust your co-founders to work independently without feeling the need to constantly check their work. Being cautious and reviewing things as a group for clarity/correctness is all well and good… but when you’re a team of 4, you just have to trust that your fellow founders will not only do the job correctly, but will be willing to ask for help if they need it. A bootstrapped startup is always strained on resources — at least in the beginning until it reaches scale. Use the resources you have as efficiently as you can.
#4 Be generous with praise, and constructive with feedback
Again, this is an issue of trust. People are incredibly different. They work on different schedules, and under different circumstances. Criticizing and micromanaging your co-founders will get you nowhere. Focus on letting your teammates thrive under conditions which work best for them. Be accommodating to your team. If you allow them to put their best foot forward, it will be rewarded with better work on a better timeline. And if you need someone to step up or otherwise change their behavior, be honest and let them know. There’s no HR department or yearly review to take care of this — it’s on you, the founding team, to give each other feedback.
#5 Everyone contributes in their own way
Investment in a startup by the founders comes in many different forms. It could be time spent coding, use of political capital / network, or direct monetary investment. It’s impossible to compare these types of investment, especially because some of them don’t immediately produce tangible results despite immense efforts. This kind of comparison only builds tension and breaks down trust. Clearly outline what everyone is bringing to the table at the start, then put that aside and work together to build amazing things. The only thing that matters is everyone’s dedication to the company and your shared vision for the future.