Bootstrapping your web appposted 25 July 2012 by Emma Boulton
Many successful companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Dell have been founded without help from external investors. Such start-ups fund their development through internal cashflow and are cautious with their outgoings. This process is often referred to as bootstrapping.
What is bootstrapping in practice? How do you bootstrap a business? Others have written about bootstrapping their own businesses: Ryan Carson has bootstrapped several companies and writes a lot about the ups and downs of running a start-up on his blog; Rachel Andrew runs a small CMS business alongside her web development consultancy and wrote about bootstrapping recently; author and speaker Guy Kawasaki wrote a blog post about the about the art of bootstrapping several years ago, but it's still relevant. I also found these links useful (and you may do so too): Bootstrapping a start-up (Business Exchange); Seven rules for bootstrapping a business (Inc.com); and How to bootstrap your business (Entrepreneur.com)
Five Simple Steps started life as a bootstrapped company. I recently wrote about how far Five Simple Steps has come since the early days on our blog. Mark wrote A Practical Guide to Designing for the Web while running our design studio Mark Boulton Design. He self-published the book rather than give it to a traditional publisher because he wanted to be involved in the whole process and retain control.
Designing for the Web was first published by Mark Boulton Design, and the imprint was Five Simple Steps. Once other authors approached us, it was clear we needed to create a separate company to separate Mark Boulton Design, a profitable, thriving limited company, from the risk of the publishing business. We ran and managed Five Simple Steps using the staff and resources of Mark Boulton Design, essentially for free or at a subsidised rate. Where we didn't have expertise in-house, we used freelancers (who we paid!). We have only very recently been able to take on a regular freelance editor and customer support maven, Owen Gregory, to work with us on a daily basis.
At times, running Five Simple Steps alongside client work and Mark's speaking commitments has put a terrific strain on everyone's work and personal lives. Noteable examples include the three-month period when Nick got married, Mark spoke at four conferences, and designed and launched Hardboiled Web Design. To hit the print deadline for the 24 Ways 2010 annual, Nick and Alex spent a night in a hotel room in Nottingham knee-deep in Illustrator (what else did you think they were up to?) instead of attending the NAConf party. To launch The Icon Handbook and get it absolutely perfect before our Christmas deadline, everyone worked weekends, thanks to high-profile new project kickoffs with CERN and ESPN.
From a financial point of view, Mark Boulton Design is able to share its resources and time quite effectively – our studio manager Jo, our bookkeeper Jan and myself tend to divide our time between the two businesses, which means none of us is employed on a full-time basis for just Five Simple Steps. Before I had Jan and Jo (and before Jo, Sarah) to help me, I was run ragged trying to do everything. As I only work part-time and look after my children the rest of the working week, I found I spent more evenings than I wanted just trying to keep on top of everything. Thank goodness Rachel Andrew suggested to me that we get a cleaner or I might never have had a clean house ever again, or had a nervous breakdown trying! We're now going through a similar process with Gridset, a new online tool from Mark Boulton Design.
Recently Twitter created a framework for bootstrapping your own web app, Twitter Bootstrap, and lots of sites have used it to get up and running. Its creator Mark Otto wrote on A List Apart back in January this year about how it was built. When bootstrapping a business or web app, or running a start-up, however, there's so much more to think about than just the product. If you focus only on the product and believe your users will find you by a process of osmosis, you will fail. You need to think about who your product is aimed at, what the benefits are of using it, how it might be used and when. This can form the basis of your marketing strategy and promotion. Consult your customers – if you're wondering what features to develop or change, ask them; if you're not sure on the price you're charging, ask them; if you have made a mistake, tell them and ask them how to fix it.
Five Simple Steps author Dan Zambonini has helped hundreds of organisiations create web and mobile apps, and he's written in detail about all of this in his book, A Practical Guide to Web App Success. He guides you through everything you will need to think about to get your web app idea off the ground: ground work, strategy, the interface, development and promotion. Existing businesses would do well to refer to this book too. There will certainly be things in there you may not have thought about and Dan could help you improve what you do.
Fortunately, we have a sale on at the moment! So if you head on over to our shop, you can buy all our books, including Dan's, with 20% off. Go on, what's stopping you?