Friday, November 18, 2005

Lou Ellmans' List of Sales books

Lou organizes Bootstrap Austin's sales breakouts. Here's his updated list of sales-related books.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Bootstrap Student!

I gave a talk yesterday at the McCombs Business School to students of two entrepreneur clubs, the McCombs Entrepreneur Society and the Technology Entrepreneurship Society. We had a far-ranging discussion about bootstrapping vs VC-funding; Mavens, Relaters and Evangelists and the importance of self-knowledge; the role of serendipity in life and entrepreneurship; and non-linear thinking.

The talk turned into the catalyst for an initiative we have been pondering at Bootstrap for some time: Bootstrap Student! Michael Dell, Bill Gates and Richard Branson, all started their ventures while they were students. Michael and Bill were in college and Sir Richard was in high school. Interestingly, his first venture was "Student," a magazine for teenagers.

We aim to help entrepreneurial students do some of the same things we do in our Bootstrap chapters: find like-minded souls, solve problems, share resources, build community and most importantly, take The Bootstrap Way. We're starting in Austin with UT, Acton MBA and St. Edwards, but look forward to involving other universities, especially in cities where we have Bootstrap chapters.

I'm excited to see how this initiative unfolds!

Friday, October 28, 2005

What is the Bootstrap Network?

An exchange between Jonathan Davis and myself on the nature of Bootstrap and how it is a radically different response than Marx's.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Barry Thornton, Clearcube

Barry gave one of the most profound talks we've had at Bootstrap Austin. Not only did he reinforce the importance of bootstrapping, but he inspired everyone to think the "why" of bootstrapping; and any other choices we make in life, for that matter. Here is Tom Brown's synopsis and a post by Mason Arnold.

Thank you Barry!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Artspark - Collapsing Boundaries

ArtSpark is a boundary-spanning effort to bring different creative groups together, including theatre, graphic design, art and gaming. I saw a one of the productions, "Girl 7" last week, and it was a theatre experience like no other I've had. I highly recommend it to everyone, especially bootstrappers.

Festivals like these are really important and leverage Austin's unique communities by brining them together. It reminds me of an earlier post (and discussion within Bootstrap Austin) about how innovation emerges from the borders between distinct fields. The Digitial Convergence Initiative Conference coming up next week is yet another effort along similar lines. Bootstrap Austin is playing its role in this unfolding process through the Bootstrap Ambassador Program.

I'd like to see more of these boundary-spanning initiatives. The innovation that emerges will astound us. Of course, many experiments that come from them will fail, but that is also an intrinsic part of the process.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Jack Long, Co-founder Lone Star Overnight

We had an excellent talk by Jack Long at our September Bootstrap Meeting. Jack is the co-founder of two companies, Lone Star Overnight and PeopleAdmin. He is also an Entrepreneur-Teacher at the Acton MBA Program in Austin.

Jack touched on many issues relevant to Bootstrap Entrepreneurs.

1. Leverage the Maven/Evangelist Power of 2 in your founding team. Jack has consistently complemented his "Mr. Inside"/Maven capabilities with a "Mr. Outside"/Evangelist. While working with someone different than yourself poses a unique set of challenges, it also creates a powerful creative friction and natural separation of roles.

2. Demo, Sell, Build. If you can, do not expend scarce resources you do not have to build the product up front. It's likely you will build the wrong thing anyway. Instead, go with a demo and find a customer who will pay you for it. You will receive invaluable feedback from your customer Once you have the contracts and payment secured, then design and build it.

3. If you have real competitors, you have not scoped your niche down enough. "Competition" does not exist in the classical sense for bootstrappers. In all reality, we don't compete with any of the significant companies in our space. In LSO's case, the "competition" was FedEx/UPS. Jack used a naval analogy to illustrate the point. These companies are like battleships and it's simply not worth their time and effort to re-point their big guns to blow your tiny canoe out of the water. Whatever you do, do not attract attention to your canoe and keep out of the Battleship's way! If you do, it will result in total annihilation. Think Netscape and Microsoft.

4. Manage the transition between the Valley of Death phase and Growth phase. All the rules change as the venture exits the VoD. The founder must change his focus and tactics. New issues will take precedence, such as people management. Often, the people that were critical in the VoD become liabilities in Growth and must be managed carefully or even let go. Founders can be the biggest obstacle. They have to get out of the details and focus on larger issues. Most importantly, start developing leadership capability in the company. Jack's points on leadership echoed those of Neal Kocurek, founder of Radian and the first Bootstrap Austin speaker.

These points were just a few of the nuggets Jack offered to the group.

Thanks for the insights!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Bootstrap Launches Ambassador Program

Bootstrap is thrilled to announce the creation of the Bootstrap Ambassador Program. Through this program, Bootstrap will interface with delegates and leadership from other organized communities throughout Austin. Our goal is become a conduit for community and facilitation. By establishing a connection not only between our membership and those of participating organizations, but with the greater Austin business community, we have a substantial opportunity to leverage our combined assets for the greater good.

I am personally excited to be involved with this initiative. I look forward to stretching the proverbial legs of Bootstrap to showcase our dynamic membership and to get them invovled with the Austin business community. I have no doubt that opportunities will be uncovered for our members and additional channels of revenue will be discovered on all sides of the fence.

For a complete listing of organizations targeted to participate in our Ambassador's program, please check out the this link: www.bootstrapaustin.org/blog

Steve


Friday, August 05, 2005

Bootstrap Austin Vision

This is part of a note I wrote to members of Bootstrap Austin around the group's 2yr anniversary:

Bootstrap Austin started on July 14, 2003 with a few friends meeting at the Gingerman Pub. I found a distinct lack of support for bootstrappers and the bootstrap approach to building companies. In the bubble-era there was so much noise about the Venture Capital (VC) model, that it consumed all the available oxygen. This approach broadly involved: writing a business plan, raising millions of dollars, spending the funds quickly and going public/selling out in a short period of time. This approach is termed "Rocket" by my friend and colleague, Darius Mahdjoubi. There was simply no space for a dialogue about Bootstrap - and why would there be - the Rocket approach is so glamorous and exciting! Indeed during those heady days, bootstrappers were somewhat disdained - if you hadn't raised $5MM, you weren't a bona fide entrepreneur!

Bootstrapping, in its many forms, is an approach taken by some of the largest and most successful companies out there. To name a few - Microsoft, Oracle, Intuit, Dell, Virgin, The Body Shop to name a few. And indeed, there is evidence that a company's longevity correlates to whether it takes a bootstrap approach during its formative years. (See "The Living Company" by Arie De Geuss.) And it's not that Bootstrap ventures don't take venture funding! It's that if they elect to do so, they do it at the right time, when they're successfully crossed the Valley of Death. Indeed, all indications are that VCs are moving back to engaging with companies in this stage of their development. This is a good thing - for the VCs, the companies and the entrepreneurs!


REALITIES OF BOOSTRAPPING

1. The rules of Bootstrap Ventures are totally different from those of Rockets - and they can be learned! At the highest level it's about seeing and exploiting the incredible non-capital resources out there. The very lack of significant funding causes the Boostrapper to INNOVATE. And as we go through the Valley of Death, we find the hidden pots of gold and competitive advantage. (Dell's model of "going direct" to the customer came out of the fact that Michael Dell started selling computers out of his UT dorm room, not because of a pre-conceived notion about it.) All the activities of building product, finding customers, team building, marketing, etc., are vastly different for a Bootstrap Venture.

2. The nature of bootstrapping means that you start the (ad)venture and then figure out what you need as you go along. This is in sharp contrast to a classic "business school" model where you take two years off to gain all the necessary skills and then start. It's much like an epic story, where the hero sets off on her journey, only to discover she needs all kinds of help along the way to achieve the goal. There's only so much preparation one can do and bootstrappers know this.

3. The support and resources for bootstrappers are virtually non-existent. Why? Well, there's no money in supporting us - certainly not while we're in the Ideation and Valley of Death stages! Business schools are funded either by large corporations or VCs and this inevitably steers the focus towards studying large firms or VC-funded ones. If bootstrappers don't band together and mobilize ourselves, it simply wont happen.

All these factors create the need for an entity that supports bootstrappers IN THE WAY WE NEED TO BE SUPPORTED. Bootstrap Austin (and now, the Bootstrap Network) supports bootstrappers by providing:

I) A community of trust and support
II) Just-in-time resources and expertise
III) Knowledge - key models

I. A COMMUNITY OF TRUST AND SUPPORT

Over the last two years, we have all experienced the incredible power that comes from being able to reach out to each other. At the most basic level, it's simply the ability to share our experiences and struggles. We know that we're not alone and there are others like us facing similar challenges. At a more practical level, we offer advice and direct help. Bootstrap Austin facilitates our community through regular monthly gatherings and online discussions. Bootstrap also facilitates new connections between members through ongoing brokering. Our trusted community is the most vital part of what makes Bootstrap valuable and it is the foundation of everything else we do.

II. JUST-IN-TIME RESOURCES, EXPERTISE

As we build our companies and go through each stage, we discover all kinds of needs for resources and expertise. Bootstrap is the place to go to fill these needs by helping each other through our knowledge and experience. Indeed, many bootstrappers do business with each other. Often, this comes in the form of trades. We create "Bootstrap Breakouts" between regular meetings and cover topics such as sales, marketing, alternate funding, etc. Through various online tools, we leverage our collective experiences to quickly find the resources and expertise we need.

III. KNOWLEDGE: KEY MODELS

We are guided by our mental models of ourselves and the world around us.This is particularly important in the entrepreneurial journey, both from an individual and a venture point of view. If we have a better understanding of the rules of the bootstrap game, we significantly increase our chances of success. To foster this, Bootstrap Austin will forward two complementary models. First, the Bio-venture model developed by Darius Mahdjoubi. This model helps us understand the different stages (Ideation, Valley of Death, Growth) and provides the overall context for the bootstrap venture. It helps us understand the priorities and unique challenges of each stage and focus our efforts accordingly. It also helps us think non-linearly, a most vital skill for a bootstrapper! Bootstrap is also organized into sub-groups by stage and members from around the world can join these groups.

Second, we will use the MRE model (from my book The Human Fabric) to help us understand ourselves, find co-founders, hire the right people, craft sales teams, etc. Recognizing our core talents and capabilities (and corresponding weaknesses!) is vital and enables us to bring complementary energies into our ventures.

Not understanding the different stages and the founder's changing role is perhaps the #1 reason why most entrepreneurs don't grow with their ventures. We aim to change that and will offer ongoing opportunities to learn and apply the models.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Innovation - combining two worlds

Taken from a post I made to the Bootstrap Group:

The group definitely has a foundation in technology. But the core is "bootstrapping" and building innovative companies. One powerful view of innovation is that it happens when two previously separate spaces get combined by an entrepreneur who sees the possibilities. One cool example is Craig Nadel's Groove Labs (http://www.groovelabs.net/) which combines music and leadership development/training. In a similar vein, Enspire (http://www.enspire.com/) combines training and interactive gaming.

Look at two examples in Austin of this in food: First, our last speaker, Amy, the founder of Amy's Ice Cream(www.amysicecream.com) showed how a basic retail product such as ice cream could be turned into a totally unique experience through the customization of your ice cream! Going to Amy's is an experience of joy and amusement.

Second, Alamo Drafthouse (http://www.drafthouse.com) is perhaps the clearest example of this innovation-through-combination approach. They combined food with film! Indeed, their innovation is to take film and turn what generally is a broadcast experience to an interactive one. All the special events at the Alamo have a very interactive feel to them. I always prefer Alamo's fun, friendly and amusing experience to the staid Multiplex.

As entrepreneurs, we can certainly create businesses which simply copy others in our space. But we can create something truly innovative if we combine 2 or more elements that others have not. Of course, much of this discovery process happens in the Valley of Death - which makes it so crucial and vital to our ventures. In Ideation, we think we know what our unique idea is, but we don't fully. It's through the interaction with customers, we discover a further twist on it that creates just the right new angle.

Austin's power (!) lies in its welcoming of multiple communities - music, film, food, technology, etc. But it's only when Austin fosters the interaction BETWEEN these communities that we're going to unleash some serious innovation power. I see Bootstrap's role as being this crossroads for entrepreneurs in different industries to meet and combine forces. We therefore welcome all kinds of entrepreneurs to the group. When we get together with each other, new ideas and innovations will spark. And out of that process, we have the potential of building some truly innovative companies!