I'm Biro from Jexo and I'm super passionate about the topic of bootstrapping startups. My co-founder Nikki Zavadska and I spend the first two years growing our business, Jexo, as full-time employees with absolutely no financial support. By the time we started looking for funding, we already had a working product used by 100 customers and monthly revenue of close to 6000$.
How to create your own business on a low or no budget?
I've always been a fan of the idea of making awesome things happen without having to dig deep in your pockets. And because this topic is vast, I split it into two parts.
In the first part, I'm going to talk about how to kick start your passion project and business on a tiny startup budget using free tools and startup programs. And in the second part, I'll talk about hiring on a budget and building a product while working full time.
Startup Bootstrapping Tip 1: Become self-sustained
You're either working a 9 to 5 job or have funds aside to sustain yourself while building your business. Either way, the following applies to you when you're bootstrapping a startup. Break down your financial milestones into 2 simple ones:
- Breaking even,
- Quitting your job.
First, break-even - sustain your startup from the revenue
By break even, I mean you're making enough money to be able to pay all operating costs from the revenue your startup business generates. Basically, taking the weight off your shoulders, so you don't have to keep the lights running with your own personal savings.
Depending on how significant your expenses are, it may take a while to reach this financial milestone. Hosting your website, paying developers, and operating software, the bills can add up!
Many early startups shut down because their founders can't sustain the costs after a while. I'll talk about how to significantly cut some of this cost down early on. Still, once you manage to generate enough revenue to cover all expenses. I promise you'll feel proud and motivated to chase the next milestone in your startup journey.
When to quit your job to focus on your startup?
When do you actually get to quit your job? Well, I always advise you to cover the business expenses before you even consider paying yourself.
Whether you are working full time or using your own savings, you want to understand, based on your growth, when your business will sustain your lifestyle. This is not rocket science; figure out your monthly expenses, look at the current monthly revenue and the growth rate, and forecast when the D day is.
If you're looking for a simple calculator to tell you when you're scheduled to break even as well as quit your job to fully focus on your startup, check out this free "Maker's MRR Calculator" by GoSquared. Simply input your MRR, projected growth, operating, and personal expenses, and the MRR calculator tells you roughly in how many months you're bound to hit the various milestones.
Startup Bootstrapping Tip 2: Save by Using free tools
In the early stages of your startup, the first intent is to try and handle everything on your own to save money on people or tools. As a founder early on, you need to wear all the hats. However, nowadays, there is a lot of software to help you with many activities, and many of them have free plans or are just entirely cost-free. What an exciting world we live in today where you, a small bootstrapped startup, can match or even often surpass the big companies in work efficiency.
There are free tools to plan your work, handle your finances, design and build your product, and even web host it for free. You can run your business without paying a dime for tools when you're starting up! We at Jexo use a lot of great software that is entirely free or comes with free tiers.
Profitwell to track subscription revenue
One powerful example is Profitwell, as they charge 0 dollars for their main product. Profitwell enables you to track subscription revenue generated by your SaaS and is entirely free with no limitations. They offer additional paid tools to help you fix churn and improve conversion and retention.
Wave for accounting
Another similar example that we used is Wave for accounting. Wave has beautifully crafted accounting software that is no-strings-attached free. They make a living through optional expert accounting advice or if you decide to use their credit card processing service.
Jira for task management
You can also find tools with a freemium model where the free quota offered, for example, a limited amount of users free, should suffice for an early startup like yours. Take Jira for task management. You can use it entirely free for yourself and up to 9 of your teammates.
Freshworks for support and chat
Another company that does freemium very well is Freshworks, the makers of Freshdesk, Freshchat, and Freshservice, amongst others. Basically, you could run your entire customer engagement and comms without paying a cent until you get big enough.
AWS, Google Cloud for hosting
When it comes to hosting your app or software, AWS and Google Cloud offer free tiers so you can launch your product with no financial drawbacks.
Startup Bootstrapping Tip 3: Make use of startup benefit programs
Segment Startup program
There are programs that give you a wealth of benefits and free stuff. For example, the Segment Startup Program. When you sign up, you get $25000 in credits for their tool to collect and analyze customer data.
But that's just the tip of it! They partnered with an impressive list of other services to bring you over $1mil in free software for you to use.
And you might think there's a catch or rigorous criteria to get in, and you'd be wrong! To qualify, you need to be a startup not older than 2 years and not have raised more than 5million in funding. And there's no catch.
Once you benefit from these perks, you're mostly free to choose if you continue with the tools or not. But what tends to happen is you use these services for free for one year and then wind up keeping them once you're making good revenue.
This specific program massively helped us early! For example, we could freely integrate Segment and Customer.io in our apps to track events and structure customer retention strategies. This massively paid off in our revenue growth. One year later, when we started paying for the tools, we were already making comfortable money to happily pay for them.
And there are plenty of other examples here. We were playing with Mixpanel for some time to realize is not for us. If we would've had to pay for it for 3-4 months while experimenting, reaching the conclusion we did would've been painful.
There are plenty of other services with similar benefits as the Segment Startup Program offers. For example, WeWork. You get 5000 dollars in credits for AWS and plenty of discounts on other services.
And speaking of AWS, they have their own program called AWS Activate. You can get up to $100,000 in computing credits if you're funded by a VC firm or part of an Accelerator that they support. That's enough credits to last you for quite a while!
Final words on Bootstrapping startups on a low budget
These are just some examples of how you can drastically cut costs and spare yourself the stress of sustaining operational expenses.
Here is a list of all links for the tools and programs mentioned in the article:
In part two of Bootstrapping your Startup Business for Success, we'll look at hiring great people on a budget to create a rockstar founding team and discuss a primary differentiator in surviving building a business while working a 9 to 5 job.