6 surprising benefits of being bootstrapped

Chris Waters, Sarah Cottle, and Nataliya Soloveva enjoy a break between sessions at an Aha! onsite.

March 14, 2022

6 surprising benefits of being bootstrapped

by Brian de Haaff

What is a business for? I have always believed the answer is “to create value.” You want to create value for your customers by solving their problems, for your colleagues through professional growth and reward, and for your community in how you give back. That is what I believe a lasting and sustainable business is for — which is a counter-narrative to what most people think of the over-hyped, over-funded, never-turn-a-profit world of technology companies.

Frothy financial funding rounds may make headlines today, but valuation can never replace real value in the long term.

It is unfortunate that financing with venture capital has become synonymous with scaling a high-growth technology company. And let’s be clear: Uber-high-growth is what investors are after, no matter how much they say they believe in your vision and purpose. They are bankers who get paid to turn some money into a lot more money.

VC firms disperse some of their funds across a plethora of startups with promising offerings and stories. Then they turn the growth-at-all-cost crank, betting that one just might fly past the sun. And they encourage companies to spend fast to reach velocity. Most will burn out. Your challenge is that you only have one company — yours.

There is an alternate approach that enables the type of value I mentioned earlier. I know because I have been on both sides. My co-founder Dr. Chris Waters and I have been founders of successful traditionally-funded software companies in the past. However, we were impacted in ways that did not feel right. We knew that bootstrapping was the best way to realize the vision we had for Aha! — for us that meant self-funding, remote work, experts serving customers, reducing friction, and eliminating drama.

Taking Aha! well past $100 million in annual recurring revenue in less than nine years proved that you can be bootstrapped and enjoy exceptional growth. We pioneered a new category with Aha! Roadmaps and expanded our product development suite to include a complete toolset for product builders — with Aha! Ideas, Aha! Develop, and our latest offering, Aha! Create. (Editor's note: Aha! Create is now Aha! Notebooks. See what is new.)

Our success has motivated us to champion a new Bootstrap Movement — so that we can inspire and lift up others who dare to build differently.

I believe the core concept of creating more value while maintaining more control is a better way forward for company builders. It has the additional benefit that it almost always creates less waste. These are two reasons that bootstrapping applies broadly to all types of work and all types of companies — regardless of size or maturity. You can apply the principles to any company or even to how you manage a project at an established organization.

As part of defining the Bootstrap Movement, Chris and I discussed the benefits we gained from being self-funded and organically grown. We documented what we found most impactful. I am sharing that list here for would-be bootstrappers. It is written towards company founders but you could realize the same benefits when building anything new:

  • Greater depth — You are an expert. It may be painful at times but you will know your business more deeply than anyone else.

  • Fewer distractions — You have one aim. The focus is on what you are building and selling — not on outside interests.

  • Creative space — You can try anything. There is no need to convince investors to rally around a new idea. Unconventional thinking is rewarded.

  • Learned resilience — You are strong. Most successful founders will push past a series of challenges in a productive way. Each hurdle lays the groundwork for future adaptability.

  • Earned pride — You feel good. If you succeed then you are most likely living your values, contributing in a positive way, and creating opportunities for others.

  • Ongoing adventure — You keep seeking. There is freedom to steer your own destiny. Inspire those around you to bootstrap and build their way.

Today more than 500,000 users rely on Aha! products to build products their customers love. We got here because we had the freedom to experiment, make mistakes, enjoy breakthrough wins, and build a team of people who are energized by seeing their effort make an impact in real time. And we had the freedom to do it our way on our own timeline. Our journey is unique but the concepts that guided us are universal.

Bootstrapping is a mindset. Bootstrappers act with integrity, do things differently, and gain unique skills as a result.

Building a company or product is a meaningful responsibility. Starting with only what you need and avoiding needless waste or overhead shows conscientiousness. Honor the process of progress. Scale should happen organically — in proportion with the value exchanged between you and your customers, teammates, and community.

Ready to be part of the Bootstrap Movement? Join us — add your company or yourself here.

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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