Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Startups: Angels Or VCs Or None Of The Above...7 Reasons To Bootstrap

Posted by Tom Foremski - August 17, 2010

There's been much written recently about angel investors and venture capitalists especially about the rise of the "super angels" such as Ron Conway, Jeff Clavier, Marc Andreessen, etc.

The VC community is disdainful of the angel investors and their puny funds but the angels can go into deals that the VCs cannot because they are too small for the large funds.

Today's entrepreneur has a choice: angels or VCs or none of the above.

It's worth considering the "none of the above" option because startup costs are very low.

Joe Kraus, co-founder of Excite, which was the Google of its day, told me that they needed $5m for a data center when they first started.

Today, with the ready availability of cloud computing you don't need to raise lots of capital to fund your capital costs.

Development costs are cheaper too, with high level languages and development platforms such as Ruby and even development platforms in the cloud from companies such as Engine Yard, development is quick and scalable.

Angels and VCs can be good in terms of getting access to an experienced hand in building a business, helping to recruit the right people, even mundane things like finding office space.

But a good network of mentors or board directors/advisors could provide similar help without the ownership and other terms that outside investors demand.

Bootstrapping is a viable option

Many startups could achieve a lot with just the founders pooling their credit cards for a year or so and then seek expansion capital, maybe with debt.

Sramana Mitra, writing in Forbes, says there is an assumption that only mom-and-pops businesses can be built with bootstrapping:

How very wrong! Ask Frank Levinson and Jerry Rawls of Finisar whose bootstrapped venture went public at a $5 billion valuation. Or ask Christian Chabot of Tableau Software, who raised his Series A from NEA at a $20 million pre-money valuation by bootstrapping the early stages, when typical valuations for that round are in the $2 to $5 million range.

From: Why B-Schools Set Up Entrepreneurs To Fail

This is a good time to reprint one of my favorite guest columns, written by serial entrepreneur Greg Gianforte, CEO of RightNow Technologies:

Seven Reasons Not To Raise VC capital
By Greg Gianforte

Raising venture capital for early stage start-ups seems to be the prevailing path for most entrepreneurs; however, most would-be founders should reconsider.

Here are some reasons why:

- If you start by selling your concept to potential prospects (rather than stock to VCs), you will either end up with initial customers or a conviction that your idea won't work. Why raise money and then find out which one it will be?

- Raising money takes time away from understanding your market and potential customers. Often more time than it would take to just go sell something to a customer. Let your customers fund your business through product orders.

- Adding VCs to the mix early gives you an additional set of masters you must serve in addition to your customers. It is always hard to serve two masters, especially in a startup.

- With no money you can't make a fatal mistake. This is a blessing. Without VC money, you are forced to figure out how to extract funds from your customers for value you deliver. Ultimately that is the only thing that really matters.

- Money removes spending discipline. If you have the money you will spend it - whether you have figured out your business model and market or not.

-Raising VC money determines your exit strategy. You will either sell the business or take it public. What if you end up with a very profitable, modest sized business that you want to just run? That is no longer an option once you raise VC money.

- You sell your precious equity very dearly before you have a proven business model. This is the worst time to raise money from a valuation perspective. I know this is a contrarian view. And some of you are saying that might be fine for a small company.

Don't forget Dell, HP, Microsoft all originally started without VC funding; you can build a big business with bootstrapping and without VC money. At RightNow, we doubled our revenue and employees every 90 days for two years before we took any outside money, and even then the employees retained more than 75% ownership after raising $32m.

Greg Gianforte is the author of:

"Bootstrapping Your Business: Start and Grow a Successful Company With Almost No Money."


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