Jan 092012
 
bootstrapping a business finance model

There are plenty of ways of raising money for a business; venture capital, bank loans, private equity and – by the far the most common – bootstrapping, where a company finances it’s growth through its own cashflow.

An article in Tech Crunch by Ashkan Karbasfrooshan looked at the reasons why bootstrapping doesn’t work, his views are understandable Ashkan given his own business has raised $1.5 million in venture capital (VC) funding over the past four years.

Outside the Silicon Valley bubble, it’s worthwhile considering the real benefits and disadvantages to bootstrapping your business. As with any business tool there’s real pros and cons with all financing methods.

Benefits

There are a number of benefits with bootstrapping, in that it forces the business’ management to focus on the product and customers while giving founders full control of the business.

Total control

A bootstrapping business has total control over its destiny – the business owners answer to no VC, bank or outside imposed board of directors.

Those outside investors may also have different business objectives to the founders. Often a venture capital or private equity investor has a three to five year time frame while a founder may be looking further.

Also a mis-match between the founders’ and investors’ exit strategies will almost certainly be a problem should the opportunity to sell the business arise.

One of the biggest risks for a smaller business is banks can call in loans or ask for additional security – something that crippled many smaller businesses during 2009.

For those who’ve raised equity funding, founders can find their shareholdings diluted or even be fired from the business they created.

Customer focus

The business that is focused on funding itself pays close attention to the needs of its customers. The distraction of raising, and then managing, investors or lenders can distract from building the business.

Validating the business model

A successful business that has grown through funding itself is has, by definition, a valid and profitable business model. This is not necessarily true of VC or debt funded enterprises.

Overcapitalisition

In his Tech Crunch article,  Ashkan quotes Marc Andreessen and Jason Calacanis as saying “raise as much money as you can.”

This may well be conventional wisdom in Silicon Valley though the reality is a business can have too much money, as we saw in the original dot com boom with businesses such as Boo.com lavishing money on founders and expensive frills.

A business can be crippled by having too much investment money that distorts the founders’ objectives and allows the company to lose focus on helping customers and getting the product right.

Generally with bootstrapping this isn’t a problem unless the founders have an insanely profitable business, which renders the need for outside investors largely irrelevant.

Disadvantages

For all of bootstrapping’s advantages there are real downsides as well including the risk of being undercapitalised and the difficulty in attracting diverse management.

Undercapitalisation

One of the main reasons for business failures is under capitalisation; simply not enough money to grow the enterprise or to put it on a sustainable footing. This is a constant risk for bootstrapped businesses.

Inability to focus

Many owners or managers of bootstrapped businessese focused on making sales so they can pay the rent and make payroll; this distracts management from executing the longer term aims of the business.

Expertise

In taking an equity partner – either in private equity, venture capital or angel investor – the founders get the benefit of the investors’ expertise.

A good investor who has similar objectives to the founders can add real value and complement the original team’s strengths and weaknesses.

No one size fits all businesses

Overall there’s no black and white to bootstrapping versus borrowing money or finding an equity partner; all of them have their risks and benefits.

As entrepreneur Steve Blank points out, there are six types of startup and only two of them; the scalable and buyable (born to flip) are suited to the Silicon Valley venture capital model.

The real risk in business is assuming one way or another is the only way to fund an enterprise, for many it’s a combination of some or all of the methods to raise funds.

It’s quite possible to see a business first bootstrap to get established, then get a bank loan to finance growth, followed by a VC or seed investment that finally sells out to a private equity fund.

For many business owners though, funding the business out of cashflow is the most sustainable way to grow and profit. If you’re happy with what you’re doing, there’s no reason to be hassling for equity or begging at the bank.

  One Response to “The pros and cons of bootstrapping”

  1. The problem of course is that we may never know until after and we look back in hindsight. That great idea that goes nowhere has no value as a business model and finding that out after depleting our resources is a bitter pill to swallow. Especially when some outside interest could have made all the difference.

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