Friday, November 1, 2013

unCon 2013 Session: BeeGees at the MassTLC unCon:

“Stayin’ Alive” through Bootstrapping for Startups 

Moderators: Joe Tagliente, Gopinion & Chris Muto, Gopinion

One of the sessions at the 2013 MassTLC unConference I most enjoyed was titled “Staying Alive: Bootstrapping Your Tech Startup”

As dancing to the BeeGees was a guilty pleasure of many of my friends back in the day, I was drawn to the session to see what the Brothers Gibb might be able to teach about building a startup on little money.

Moderated by Joe Tagliente & Chris Muto of Gopinion (, a dozen or so people from the MassTLC community gathered together to compare notes, share lessons learned on how to sustain and grow a self-funded software company through its precarious early stages.

As two out of three co-founders of Gopinion, Joe and Chris convened this session to solicit feedback from participants for proven tips and techniques to build a product and stay in business without giving away the store. Coincidentally, these first-time entrepreneurs know a thing or two about soliciting opinions as their company (Gopinion) is focused on helping businesses to capture critical customer feedback. Gopinion’s mobile Micro-Surveys look a good idea at the right time. As those of us who’ve endured them know through painful experience, conventional surveys are long, boring and often don’t even make sense!

The session started when Joe and Chris opened their kimono by honestly admitting a challenge faced by all software startups:  how to hire or contract development talent to build products with little available cash. With programming talent a precious commodity, good coders can command high cash compensation and are hard to land.

The Bootstrapping session was spirited, informative and very interactive. Virtually everyone in the group weighed in at some point with thoughts and/or questions.

If you’re in a startup yourself, you’ll be interested in some of these bootstrapping ideas that came up:

1) Explore programs at your alma mater
Ben Maitland-Lewis (Founder & Partner of Pretty Instant and “Founding Alchemist” of described how the IDEA: Northeastern University’s Venture Accelerator awarded his company a $20K grant to help fund one of his companies.

2) Take advantage of Boston’s position as the world’s higher education capital
With 60+ universities and colleges in Greater Boston, there’s no place on earth with a greater concentration of brainpower, including eager undergrads and grad students who are ready and able to provide their services “cheaply.”

From internships to co-op programs and summer jobs—there’s affordable talent in abundance in this town!

3) Accelerate a healthy business
If you’re building a healthcare product or service you’ll be interested in applying to Healthbox, an “Accelerator Program” that supports startups in the US, Ireland and the UK. One of the session attendees (Scott Hebert, CEO and Co-founder of TheraVid Inc.) spoke highly on how Healthbox helped him to translate his expertise as a Physical Therapist into a promising digital health startup that provides PT-prescribed injury rehabilitation programs that help engage patients and get them better, faster and at home.

4) Blend full and part-time work and workers
Frank Cho, CEO of Flocx suggested that startup founders who’re tight on cash consider continuing to work in a full-time job while putting in a number of hours each week to build your dream company proposed

5) Keep it local
Reem Yared, CEO at Help Around Town, Inc. (community-based online marketplace for odd jobs and volunteer services) added interesting comments and questions to the forum by describing her Lexington, MA & web-based service launched in response to a growing need (often by young people) for part-time work or volunteer opportunities.

6) Build it in the cloud, not the garage
Serial entrepreneur and tech-marketing exec Josh Kanner caught our attention through his casual mention that he bootstrapped his last company and then sold it to AutoDesk in 2012. Josh encouraged the group to get creative and to take advantage of the crop of new cloud software tools to built prototypes.

And finally, one last piece of unsolicited advice from yours truly:
Having worked in or on behalf of scores of tech startups whose funding ranged from entirely self-funded, to friends and family, angel, VC, PE and strategic investment… a good rule of thumb for an early stage company is to raise as little money as necessary and essential in order to progress and stay in business.
It’s your business. Hold on to as much as you can, as long as you can! ;-)

Patrick Rafter
My LinkedIn Profile:
Twitter: @prafter

Chief Valuecaster at Valuecasters and Principal at Rafter Communications, Patrick Rafter is longtime Boston area PR, marketing, social media, and LinkedIn consultant. He’s been active in MassTLC since its inception and is a founding Advisor to the Nantucket Conference

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