Monday, March 27, 2006

To bootstrap versus talking about Bootstrap Austin

Recently a discussion came up about Bootstrap Austin on the bootstrap-austin yahoogroup... I have not up to this point blogged on this blog... but I thought that it is important to share not my opinion about the specific issue, but the essense of what I see that we, the members of Bootstrap Austin are creating. In an email that went to the group, a good friend of mine posted the following email (I have clipped it to a short segment of what he posted):
Second, I would like to register that it would be best to find a way for the bootstrap community to set the rules of interaction. To me, traffic on this group is anemic and somewhat unsatisfying because so much is taken off list. The bootstrap organization has been quick to setup sub-lists, but by and large they are quiet.

Alternatively, when you compare this list to the likes of and, it's clear that too much noise is not a good thing.

The email above came, as I mentioned, from a good friend, and also, probably one of my best critics. :-). Hence, I figured that I would like to write back to open a discussion... but to take this off of the main yahoogroup. I think that this discussion is critical for other bootstrap groups around the country and world that are building out their organizations, so I wanted to share it here. To get the essense of my point across in this blog post, I have copied my response back here. Read on, and please comment on this blog as you have thoughts. My email is a little strong, but this is mainly because my friend and I don't typically hold any punches. Given that he does not know that I am taking this discussion to the blogosphere... I am going to hold off on using his name till he agrees with that. Please read on.


Can you ground the assertion that you made that "traffic on this group is anemic ... because so much is taken off list"?

I have been thinking about your statement for a while. Given that you are a friend, I figure that I would actually talk with you about it. I do not see so much stuff taken off list. I do see a lot of people working on a lot of projects that have not been made public on the main list... mainly because it takes so much time to publish everything that is happening (given that we are all volunteers).

What I do not understand, is, if you get the group. Given that you are working in a job (versus bootstrapping 100% of the time) I often wonder if you "get it". I think that you do, but with this email, I call you out on this.

The idea of this group is not to go head to head with either of the two resources that you named... the idea is to build a community of practice versus a website or business (e.g. a "traditional" business like what is happening with or The difference is like comparing Apache to Microsoft IIS (or Linux to Windows). Sure... there is a comparison to be made in functionality... but not in organization... and to compare only functionality is to miss the essence of why the model behind Linux or Apache will dominate the market in the long term (as I believe that the model that we, as bootstrappers are now exploring,... and will emerge as the dominate model in the coming few years).

If you feel that the conversations on the list are anemic... then why are you not asking more questions to facilitate your business?

Do you get that the way that Bijoy and me and others are articulating the bootstrap network is not about having interesting discussions... but is about building businesses? [In the context of building businesses] who cares if the discussions are interesting... it only matters if they are relevant to building my business... and your business... and Bijoy's business... and Chris's business, and Bill's business.

The other thing that is just important is the part that makes Bootstrap Austin just like Fightclub.... We don't talk about Bootstrap Austin... we bootstrap. Bootstrap Austin is/should be a verb, not a noun. To talk about Bootstrap Austin (on the main list) misses this distinction of bootstrapping.... More than any other distinction in this community, and what will make it work, is this distinction to take action and use the community to bootstrap a business. Yes, the community can be more powerful. Yes, there should be discussions about what is happening in the community, and how that we can improve the community... Just not on the main list, for discussions that are not about bootstrapping on the main list dilute the 500+ list members' time... and end up taking away from bootstrapping.

I am open to your comments.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Bootstrap Student Launches!

Bootstrap Student has been founded by Ryan Pitylak and Michael Griffin - both students at UT Austin and bootstrappers.

We hope this effort inspires students around the world to set up bootstrap chapters in their schools.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Bootstrap: The Next Generation's Chamber?

I started my first venture in Austin back in 1993. At that time, the only resource for a new startup entrepreneur was the Austin Chamber of Commerce. For a young kid with little to no experience and limited knowledge, it was a proverbial treasure trove of information and resources. It was literally the only place for critical answers, connections and community. And trust me...that was so needed in my early days!

This was back before the technology boom had officially happened and the chamber officials still put equal focus on small to medium sized businesses. Their events were evenly balanced and they had some pretty progressive programs that I credit with some of my early success. One program in particular was Executive Dialogue.

Executive Dialogue was a 12 month program in which you as the business owner participated with 11 other business owners and formed what became an informal board of directors for one another. Each month a different business owner from the group was the focus of the meeting. It was encouraged to open your kimono and display all of your laundry, good and bad. It was a place to get the input of others who had faced or were facing similar issues, obstacles and hurdles. It was a think tank. A safe place to ask for help and to get answers and truly be amongest your peers. There was no judgment....only support and assistance and the occasional challenge to pull your head out your you know what.

Though we focused much of our meetings on the company of the month, we had "open time" that any of us could air whatever was going on with our companies at the time. It became a confessional for some and a beat the chest session for others. It was pure and it was brilliant.

The chamber had 5-6 Executive Dialogue groups going at once with each group embracing the opportunity, building community and truly loving the experience. For me it cemented my future success and created several life long relationships with several of my colleagues that continue to this day. Of course since you could say the program was successful, the chamber did what the chamber usually does and they screwed with the format, they milked the results and ultimately made it unaffordable for the little guys like myself. Eventually it went by the wayside as so many of their great programs did and looking back was the first sign that their priorities had shifted. Technology was the call of the coming day and their focus as an organization shifted and we as startup entrepreneurs were once again left out in the cold.

Why do I bring this up? Because to me, Bootstrap has become the new generation of what the chamber and other similar organizations are supposed to be. It has become the primary resource for gaining important knowledge, finding collaborative partners, perpetuating innovative thoughts and stimulating creativity. In my humble but often outspoken opinion, it has by and large surpassed the chamber in so many ways. The collaboration and the pureness of our community's willingness to help easily surpasses any of the programs I have participated in the past and the best doesn't cost half a grand a year to belong!

It is hard to measure the power of our little movement because most new generation entrepreneurs likely don't know the frustration of having an issue and not getting an instant and sometimes overwhelming response to a question. Need an attorney, simply post it to the yahoo group and within oh say...two minutes you likely have 30 responses of people who are more than willing to help with a referral. And not just any referral. Experienced referrals that each of these entrepreneurs would gladly stake their reputation on. That is power my friends. Even at its height, the referral power of business organizations like the chamber couldn't possibly compare to the speed and passion that our members offer with each nugget and gem that is freely offered.

Bootstrap has grown a considerable amount since I attended the second meeting ever of this unique community. I think there were literally eight of us sipping beer and talking about the dynamics of what was happening out there in our emerging companies. Now as we approach 550 members just here in Austin and countless members in other cities and countries, we see the power of the collaborative tissue and community that we all have created. This surpasses any one individual's effort and by and large is an truly special and organic movement that the chamber could never come close to being.

Every time I see a question that is posted or someone that remarks how amazing and giving the people are within this group, I always have to smile. For some of us old timers that thought what the chamber had way back yonder was the bomb....there simply is no comparison.

Steve Harper

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Boot Rap

We are now podcasting our bootstrap events through a collaboration with, a Bootstrap Austin member company. Boot Rap can be found on Hear This and iTunes. My recent talk to Austin City Council is on the Boot Rap.

Upcoming Boot Raps will include the 2006 SXSW Interactive Panel on Bootstrapping and our Book Club discussion on Go It Alone by Bruce Judson. Bruce will be joining us for part of the discussion!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Presentation to Austin City Council on Bootstrapping

Here's the talk (14MB, Quicktime) I gave to Austin City Council on Jan 25th.

Boot Rap!

Bootstrap Austin is working with Hearthis (a bootstrap venture cofounded by Dave Evans and Brian Massey), to podcast our speakers, panels and events. These will soon be available on iTunes. In the mean time, check out the first Boot Rap of Craig Fryar here.

Panel on Startup Capital in ABD Magazine

I participated in a panel hosted by Austin Business District Magazine on the availability of startup capital in Austin. I offered the bootstrapper's perspective: the best source of capital is your customer, not an investor.