Friday, April 18, 2008

Bootstrap Hero's Journey in Bumper Stickers

Bootstrapping a startup means to forgo having a boss, but it also often means doing without many of the regular comforts of office life: the water cooler, usually. The magic wardrobe of Post-Its and swank Rollerballs, almost certainly. And the paycheck -- well, it's usually there, but you're not always sure how big it'll be. Which is to say when you bootstrap, you live by your wits.

Which is another way of saying if you're gonna bootstrap, you better be ready to think: about yourself, your product, and about how to make the scarce resources you do have stretch farther than normal people call "possible."

As I reflect on my career as a bootstrapper -- my company is the make-your-own-bumper-sticker website Bumperactive -- that's the part I like best. I *know* what a bumper sticker is. I know the difference between a good one and a bad one, what a bumper sticker can do, can't do, and just might be able to do if you push the envelope of the medium.

Yes, but why would anybody want to do that? I admit it's a great question. I'm not entirely sure, really, except to say if you're aren't strangely bizarrely obsessed with every last intricacy of your line of work, you're going to have a rough time competing with the guys in the venture funded Maseratis. But that's a whole other post....

Point is, when Bijoy asked me to come up with some bumper stickers for the cause, I knew they had to be more than your run-of-the-mill sloganeering. He often talks about the parallels between the four key phases of bootstrapping -- Preideation, Ideation, Valley of Death, and Growth -- and the stations of the archetypal "Hero's Journey" of myth. I was struck by the notion: would it be possible to take people on an epic journey with four discrete bumper stickers? Totalling less than 30 words, for sure, and barely 120 square inches of printed material? To not just preach, proclaim or sermonize, but actually cause the people who see them to experience a philosophy?

I had to give it a shot: Bootstrapping's taught me everything I know about bumper stickers. Maybe these ones'll teach the world something back.

The Bootstrap Hero's Journey in Bumper Stickers.

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