Tuesday, June 10, 2008

How to bootstrap your business by playing pinball

As the lead of the Bootstrap Ideation Subgroup, I frequently get asked these questions: what is bootstrapping? And what's Ideation? The answer to the first is simple: there's a long and storied history of entrepreneurial endeavors that were launched by lifting one's own bootstraps. The answer to the second takes a little more explanation...

Ideation (and indeed
Preideation and Matrix before it) is where entrepreneurs live before they launch their ventures. It's where they begin to self-examine, understanding why they're driven to launch a business, and begin to chart a path to being a successful entrepreneur. What usually isn't obvious is that it takes nearly as much work to be in ideation as it does to actually be an entrepreneur: there are challenges, both internal and external, that have to be overcome, not to mention constraints on time, resources, knowledge, and talent. Getting up to speed on this path is not easy at all! Otherwise there would be many more entrepreneurs around.

The Ideation Subgroup is where aspiring bootstrappers come to work through this process. And in helping them, I've discovered what I think is the perfect analogy for it all: playing pinball.

Think of your new business venture as the newest, coolest, flashiest pinball machine in the video arcade. As an aspiring pinball wizard, you're entranced and inspired, and so you plunk down some quarters and pull back the lever. And bam!, the ball goes straight down the shoot. No one said this was going to be easy. So you launch another ball, and it bounces around and wham! now you're getting some points. Cool! Another ball, and it bounces in to a bumper and goes in a totally new direction you never thought it could. And suddenly you're racking up more and more points. Sure, some of the balls you put into play don't go anywhere but straight down the shoot. But by continuing to make an investment (in quarters) and launching those balls into play, you will slowly but surely find yourself acquiring the mastery of your new domain...

So how does this relate to entrepreneurship? Ideation is just like pinball: you have to make an investment of time, energy, and of yourself. And you must launch many, many efforts along the way to learn the terrain of your business venture and to gain mastery over it. Absolutely some of those efforts will go nowhere (straight down the shoot) but many others will bounce around, moving you and your business in new directions that will help you achieve success.

So the bottom line is: get some balls in play. And a roll of quarters. You're going to need them on your way to becoming a successful, bootstrap entrepreneur.

Edward Cruz is the founder of Bootstrap Company Melior Technologies, and his first product is Molecular Thinking.

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