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!