That First Cup of Coffee: Lessons Learned from Bootstrapping A Business



“You can never un-sell a bad first cup of coffee.”

When my husband Jon and I began our business, the above thought was never far from my mind.  In my hometown, a new coffee shop closed its doors after a dismally-short operation.  I later learned that the company had initially sold a poor-quality coffee.  Despite switching to a better brand, it never recovered from the first bad reputation, and so my “first cup of coffee” philosophy was born.

Jon’s and my business venture was slated to launch several months before its actual release date.  The delays were discouraging, but more than anything else, we wanted to avoid presenting a low-quality product riddled with frustrating bugs that would permanently chase away potential clientele.  As hard as it was to wait, I’m thankful that we did.  We now have a product to be proud of, and we came away with several good lessons about starting a business that we likely would have missed otherwise.

Starting a business takes hard work, patience, and more hard work.

Our greatest underestimation when we stared out was just how much time, energy, and patience our project would require.  Bootstrapping a business (starting a business without any capital or investors) is not for the faint of heart.  Over and over again, Jon and I had to encourage one another to keep going.

It’s good to plan, but plan in sand instead of stone.

We originally set high stakes for our business.  We wanted to launch it in under two years, and we wanted to do so with 3 times the amount of content that we actually launched with.  We didn’t make either of these goals.  Was it wrong to set such lofty ideals?  Not at all!  Had we not set them, we never would have launched in the time we did with the amount of content we did.

Crystal Payne, owner of and author of Money Making Mom, is a huge proponent of goal setting.  I’ve been following her blog for several years, and much of my business savvy I owe to her encouragement and teaching.  So, when Jon wanted to start out setting monthly business goals, I was all for it!

Setting goals has been extremely helpful for us.  Although goal-setting can also make us frustrated when we don’t make our benchmarks, over all, we’ve made it much farther down this entrepreneurial journey than we would have without planning.

Bootstrapping might take longer initially, but the end result is worth the headache.

With little financial resources and no desire to take out loans for our business, “bootstrapping” was our only option.   We worked with what we had on the budget we could afford.  Many months, we had no money to put toward our startup and could only give it our precious time.

At the same time that we were launching our bootstrapped business, Jon was working for a startup that had received funds from venture capitalists.  We had the unusual privilege of comparing the two different methods for starting a business.  As difficult as it was to wait and save up funds little by little, we wouldn’t trade the freedom of a debt-free business for anything else.  While we’re completely free to do as we think best with our business, the startup that Jon works for during the day has to follow the whims of the investors.

Bootstrapping is definitely not the main-stream recommended method, but Jon and I are happy to suggest an alternative to the debt, fees, and restrictions generally associated with business loans.  You simply can’t place a price on financial freedom.

Not all businesses will be successful, but neither can complete success be measured in dollars or number of users.

No one knows whether or not a business will flourish or fail, but hopefully life lessons will be learned along the way that more than make up for any financial floundering.  If our app goes nowhere, we can take away the above lessons and feel that we’ve been successful in our endeavors.  And if it does take off as we hope it does, well, that’s simply cream for an already-tasty cuppa Joe.

Your turn:  Have you ever started a business, or do you hope to start one someday?  What lessons have you learned, either from your own experience or from watching others?  Tomorrow, I’ll share about a wonderful new resource for anyone wanting to learn more about starting a business!