Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Bootstrapping: How long do the woes go on.

Posted on: April 7, 2008

“Ever learning, but never coming to the fullness..”. 2 Timothy 3:7

There is a verse in the Bible, like that. It’s essentially talking about the kind of people who have no interest in anything spiritual, but are just there as part of the meat mass, and day after day you could keep telling them the same thing and they might have even learnt to sincerely fake the expression of interest, but they never grow up. The verse is a warning to those who are incharge to be careful about wasting so much time on such folks.

How does a startup find a parallel to this? Well, some companies “bootstrap” for ages and never grow up. I think the same advice applies to it as well.

When I first started off my company, my mentor gave me a newpaper article. It had a story about a mountain climber who just was on a adrenalin rush for climbing every rock he would find. He was quite a dare devil, since most of the time he would go climbing on his own.

The story was that, the climber had once gone out on his own, climbed a steep rock, slipped and gotten his hand caught in a crack. He tried pulling the hand out, but that wasnt working, and after 12 hours of hanging there, he knew he couldnt feel his hands anymore. The blood supply had cut off and the arm was very much dead.He hung in there for a few more hours and spent the entire night hanging off his dead arm. By morning, he woke up to the sound of vultures over his head, perhaps eyeing a soon-to-die victim on the rocks.

Six days later, one thing was apparent. Help was not coming and he was there on his own.

He had two options. Either he could hang in there, and die. Or do the logical thing. Give up whats dead and move on. He took his knife, cut his arm off and climbed to the top with one arm, and even drove back home. And that’s a real story. Aron Ralston was his name.

The Moral of the story is that, if something is dead, hanging onto it, is not going to help.

Most startup founders, when they are embarking on a venture would and should know what their time window and market opportunity is. They should know how long it would take to develop the product with realistic timelines – read, with a team which is less than ideal, or even better a very imperfect team.

I think everyone owes to themselves to set a timeline, and essentially call it off if it goes too much further than that without the light at the end of the tunnel. I’d give any business a make or break period of three years. If by the end of three years you cant show a definite growth projection, perhaps its time to cut off that arm and walk back home alive.

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3 Responses to "Bootstrapping: How long do the woes go on."

What does a startup do when one of the founders either give up or stop adding value to the product ? Is it as simple as cutting an arm or a leg or you need to take in other factors in consideration as well ?

This thought just crossed my mind as one my friend’s startup is facing this same problem and he’s in a dilemma for the past few weeks !

Shivaas, it could start by sitting down over coffee, without sounding like an interrogation or being judgemental and ask about where it started, and where things are now and if priorities are shifted.

well, the situation is such that they are either on the path to closure, or one of them exits the venture. Another problem is that the founder who was mainly bootstrapping the venture cannot bootstrap it anymore ! So it’s a double whammy for both of them in a sense…

What would you suggest ? Is exit and start afresh the best possible solution to this game or does one of them leave quietly and let the other one build the venture till it starts showing some value(in which case the other founder might ask for some compensation for exiting). Can any of the founder demand compensation to some extent when he or she decides to leave the venture due to some reason ?

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