Today we have something special for you. Or better to say someone special. Before we reveal the guest in the latest episode of the Maoio podcast, we’ll give the definition of bootstrapping.
According to Investopedia:
“An individual is said to be bootstrapping when they attempt to found and build a company from personal finances or the operating revenues of the new company.”
Filip and Gio both have experience with bootstrapped founders. But to make this even more helpful, they’ve invited Višnja Željeznjak to share her insights.
Višnja is a serial entrepreneur with 20 years of experience. You can read more about Višnja on her LinkedIn profile, but do that later.
Now keep reading to discover how Višnja started Eduza and grew a startup without outside investments.
Start Marketing Immediately (Before Founding Anything)
Many bootstrapped founders make a mistake and start marketing their company when it’s already founded. Once a company is live, you have more operating expenses than before the launch. That makes some entrepreneurs neglect marketing even after they start working.
And that’s never a good idea. No matter at what stage the business is, it needs marketing.
But what Višnja did is next-level smart.
She started promoting her startup before it was founded. That’s the strategy huge companies use to raise desire in their market, so the product flies off the shelf the first day.
However, Višnja got something even better from being vocal about her idea. She had to create awareness about it, so she kept posting what she was doing on LinkedIn.
Everyone in Višnja’s network knew that she’ll create Eduza – a platform for business education that helps educators monetize their knowledge and students advance in their careers faster.
Višnja relentlessly promoted Eduza on LinkedIn (that’s where she met most of her current clients). But she didn’t neglect other marketing channels that could give decent results without huge investments. Every business owner needs to be careful about the company’s expenses, but bootstrapped founders are in an even worse situation.
That didn’t prevent Višnja from building a website that, in her words, was ugly, but it was a website. It still gave her audience enough info about her idea. And Eduza team used a random website to create their logo and placed it on their ugly website to start branding.
The website gave Višnja space to publish blogs, which made her more visible over time. But when the pandemic was at its peak, live podcasts on YouTube kept Eduza above the surface. Višnja said podcasts were vital for the survival of Eduza as an idea (remember, at that point, Eduza, as a platform, didn’t exist).
The podcast allowed Višnja to crystalize her idea (you’ll see how in a bit) and close her first clients. Of course, we can’t forget the importance of networking. Without a strong network, she would never get enough guests to make 50+ episodes, and her now successful startup might’ve never been born.
Here are lessons to take from this point:
- Tell everyone what you’re building, why, and for whom.
- You don’t necessarily need a high-end website.
- You don’t necessarily need a high-end logo.
- Don’t limit yourself to one marketing channel (Višnja used LinkedIn, YouTube, and a website).
Don’t Automate Too Early
Višnja opened this point with a quote that might be confusing at first.
“Do things that don’t scale.” – Paul Graham
Why wouldn’t you get more done in less time without burning out if you could?
Because If you don’t automate, you’re forced to talk to people and discover what they need. Those who automate every process from the start waste resources on things they don’t need. Even worse, they invest in stuff their target market doesn’t need.
Without automation, bootstrapped founders get direct feedback from their market, which is one of the most valuable things in business. All those surveys you see in the wild are there for a reason. Research is the foundation of success. The better you know your market, the more precise you can be in solving their problems.
Eduza’s first customers were educators without their personal brands. And we all know the importance of branding. So they transformed Eduza to become a brand-building platform. That would never happen without talking to costumes; that wouldn’t happen if they’ve automated.
They’re now a platform with service because feedback from the founding members shaped Eduza. Thanks to that, they’ve avoided developing features that would collect dust on the site because they’d be useless to their clients. So if you’re bootstrapping, do everything you can to get feedback. Without it, it’s impossible to know if you’re moving in the right direction.
As Gio added, it’s crucial to listen. Instead of building software, build processes. That will eventually create a feedback loop. Real-time feedback lets you adapt on the go and stay aligned with your market.
Follow the Signal
The lack of a business plan is one of the common business scaling mistakes Filip and Gio often mention. But for bootstrapped founders, sometimes it’s ok to move away from the plan. Sticking to something that doesn’t work because it might bring results is risky.
That’s why Višnja’s 3rd tip to bootstrappers was to “Follow the signal.”
In other words, when you see something that works, keep developing it. The Eduza team noticed (from feedback from their clients) that the platform could grow faster with more free courses. So they included more free courses. The market loved that.
Was that part of their original plan?
No, not at all. But arguably, the crucial tip for bootstrapped founders is to do more of what works. Trust the proven process (that worked for you) and arrange it so you can get consistent results. Following the paved path will prevent you from chasing the great white whale. That’s one of the common mistakes digital agencies make.
Gio added that he sees that in the NFT and crypto world. It’s common for Web 3.0 companies to build in the open. Instead of being distant, they grow with their communities, so they have much better chances to create companies that actually solve problems for their clients.
If you’re leading a bootstrapped company, do the same because it won’t just help you build something the market wants but also connect you with the community. They’ll feel like they’re helping you, almost like they’re part of the company. And that’s a powerful branding and tribe-building strategy.
Be visible. Talk to people.
The last point Višnja shared kind of combines everything said before. By being visible and putting yourself out there, again and again, you’ll grow your network. You’ll get more feedback and get in touch with more potential partners.
However, we know that not everyone is born with communication skills, so Višnja shared a book that helped her be more efficient while talking to people. “The Mom Test” by Robert Fitzpatrick taught Višnja how to communicate without being distracted, which boosted her productivity and the value she gets from every conversation.
Then Višnja shared another book that helped her master shaping info her audience gives into future profitable products and offers. ”The Embedded Entrepreneur” by Arvid Kahl.
Filip and Gio thanked Višnja for the recommendations. They’ll both check those books out. Knowing Filip, he’ll probably devour both of them in the audio format while walking his dog. Gio is more of a reader, so he’ll, well, read. But both will use whatever they learn to achieve even better results for our clients. That makes the difference between success and failure in business.
Be careful to avoid getting stuck in student mode. That’s a mistake many entrepreneurs make. They keep learning without implementing most of the stuff they read. In fact, many stick to their old ways despite the new information they acquire. Don’t be like that. Try to implement as much new knowledge as possible.
For example, don’t forget valuable tips from this article and google automation tools for your bootstrapped business. Remember that your community is your greatest asset because they give you feedback. And that will show you the best, fastest, and easiest way to grow your business without investors.
We hope that this was helpful. Filip’s already looking forward to the V2 with Višnja. But that doesn’t mean you have to wait to use the secrets from our blog to help your business.
If we may suggest what to read next (and you’re ready to discover how to get the most out of your network), read “2 CEOs teach how to network effectively and increase visibility.” Reading time is 08:44; it could save you hours of ineffective networking