How to bootstrap when you have a high social overhead?


I love the idea of bootstrapping, but when I hear the bootstrapping evangelists talk about what it takes, they basically portray a lifestyle that only makes sense for a single person in their early 20's. What about someone who is married, has kids, and has to maintain a certain salary to provide for their family? How can someone bootstrap a startup if they don't have gobs of dispensable money and can't just move in with their parents and live off of Ramen soup and instant oatmeal? Should they just seek seed funding and stop dreaming about organically growing a business?


Wow, thanks for all the great feedback! I posted this in the middle of a late night coding session while frustrated at the limited time I have to work on my business. We definitely don't live beyond our means, and I don't expect a high salary as some insinuated. We make plenty of sacrifices and I'm covering all the costs myself right now.

The problem is time. When you have kids, you don't have the luxury of coming home after work and just jumping into your business. You have to help them do homework, make/eat dinner, potty train, brush teeth, read bedtime stories, etc. So even if the kids are down early and you sit down to talk to your spouse for 30 minutes, you're pushing 9:30 - 10:00pm. Which typically gives you a whopping 1-2 hours to work if you're not already falling asleep. Then you're up at 6:00 - 6:30am again to start the entire routine over again.

Yes, I negotiate some time-off from family duties to focus on the business, but we're in the pre-launch phase on our product right now. After we launch our product, the game changes. I'll have to spend more time doing support, responding quickly to customer issues, adding new features, and talking to customers (we're a B2B offering). Trying to get some customers and grow the business organically with its own cashflow sounds really nice, but I really feel that the competition will eat us alive if we can't have at least 1-2 people focused on the business full time. Unfortunately nobody involved has that luxury.

Yes, I agree that it might not be the right time to do a startup, but we feel like we have a solid idea and a good market, and I just can't stop thinking about the product. I have that entrepreneurial bug right now. I bet some of you know how that feels... ;-)

Bootstrapped Seed Funding

asked Sep 11 '10 at 16:23
Javid Jamae
347 points

5 Answers


Bootstrapping isn’t just about being in your twenties and living in your parent’s basement. We are currently bootstrapping our business, and I’m happy to say that I don’t live in my parent’s basement, but sad to say that I am no longer in my twenties.

Bootstrapping is about making common sense decisions, being creative, and living within your means. That means making sure you can provide for your family, without going overboard. Do your kids really need that iPod? Does your wife really need those expensive shoes? Do you really need that $2000 TV? Maybe the answer to those questions is yes, and that’s perfectly fine. The point is, you have to sit down and assess your finances. What can you do without? What must you have? Maybe you can find a way to reduce your expenses by 10%, that’s an extra 10% you can inject into your business.

In my case, I’m doing it by working on my business part-time in the evenings and weekends, and working a full-time job during the day. I would absolutely love to quit my job and focus solely on my business, but I just can’t afford that right now…maybe someday :-) I’m not driving around in a Lexus or BMW, but I have a decent, reliable car. I own a single family house (with my fiancée) in a nice, safe neighborhood, but it’s not the most expensive house you’ll ever see. I don’t spend money on manicures and pedicures, because that’s just not important to me…someone else may see it differently. My situation is easier than yours because I don’t have any kids, and my fiancée is also working on the business part-time, while working full-time.

In your situation you must have a steady income. That doesn’t mean you can’t bootstrap. You can keep your current job and work on your business in the evenings. Or as Jesper pointed out, you can do consulting. Or maybe you can bring in a partner, as Tim pointed out. Or maybe a combination of those. Every situation is different, and maybe in your case it doesn’t make sense to start a business right now. But I recommend you do a self-evaluation before giving up.

Best of luck to you!

answered Sep 12 '10 at 03:23
Zuly Gonzalez
9,194 points
  • Thanks for the answer, please see my update to the question. Yes, having children adds an entirely new dimension to the equation. – Javid Jamae 14 years ago


has to maintain a certain salary

We all make choices in our lives, and they sometimes close doors. If you need a certain steady income, then maybe a startup isn't for you. That said, it can be done if you want to.

Should they just seek seed funding and stop dreaming about organically growing a business?

No. First off, seed funding is unlikely to provide for a high salary to you. Unless your idea is truly exceptional and you seem just the guy to manage the effort, you should generally expect seed funding to only cover base operating expenses and ramen-noodle salaries.

When you say "stop dreaming about organically growing a business", what do you really mean? If you mean "build a company worth 100M Dollars without risks and external financing", then forget it. If you mean "gradually build a small business on the side while keeping risks minimal", then that's absolutely possible.

"Bootstrapping" isn't only about people in their twenties who work full-time on the next big thing. It also applies to grown-ups who gradually build a business in their evenings while keeping their day job.

Another common approach, if you have market-able skills, is to go out and do consulting to cover living expenses, and then work on your own product in the periods where consulting isn't filling out your time.

answered Sep 11 '10 at 22:18
Jesper Mortensen
15,292 points
  • Thanks for the answer, see me update to the question. By organically, I meant growing the business off of its own cashflow rather than taking on debt or funding. I've never gone the funding route, but is it expected that seed-funding would only cover stakeholders? What if you wanted to hire a FTE, does seed funding usually not cover that? (Maybe this should be its own question). – Javid Jamae 14 years ago
  • @Javid Jamae: Yeah, you did seem frustrated at first, and you're making good sense now. :-) "Seed funding" is a wide term, that covers from 1,000 - 500,000 USD. But today the action is mostly at the lower end of that spectrum; Y Combinator fx gives ~6000 USD per founder AFAIK. That said, startups who look like a great fit for venture capital still manage to raise large Angel rounds, or even larger small VC rounds. But getting this kind of seed funding in todays market really takes a lot to pull off... – Jesper Mortensen 14 years ago


I guess you could say that I am in the similar situation to you. I don't have all the answers, but yes time is the main problem. I sat down with my wife and poured out my dreams and what starting a business meant to me. I wasn't sure what she would say, but once she knew how important it was to me, she began to help out i.e. she would put the kids bed when it was my turn, she would sit and discuss things with me when I had trouble deciding what to do with a particular problem. Sure, it can be tough, but with your partners help and support you can work through it.

Don't expect her to do everything though, as you will need to spend time with the family. It's a good distraction. You could pick a time frame to give her some idea of how long this will go on i.e. two months. You can adjust this later with her, but keep her in the loop all the time. I used to keep my wife in the dark with some of this stuff, but I found that when she knew what was happening it worked out better.

Set yourself realistic deadlines. There is not point in saying I need to get this done by tomorrow if you know you won't. You'll just keep thinking that you are behind. Don't race and don't rush. I used to rush to get things done, but on reflection I could have done the same work over a few nights and it wouldn't have made any difference.

You aren't alone in this problem, but the key thing is to keep on moving forward. Use your family as support, don't alienate yourself from them. Good luck!

answered Sep 12 '10 at 21:13
Smart Company Software
1,190 points


if you have 10 hours a week to dedicate to a project you can grow your own business. It also helps to have a partner in the business (regardless of any other specific details)

answered Sep 12 '10 at 01:45
Tim J
8,346 points


Jesper's answer covers most of the options. One, obvious, other thing is to save for a while while you're working on your project in the evenings so that when you're ready to bite the bullet, you have 6 months or so where you can afford not to work.

I started my first company with a bonus I got from my day job. During the first 8 months I didn't take a salary at all. After than I took a salary that was 45% of my day job salary. Only after 4 years did I pay myself a salary that was higher than my regular job, though I have to admit that if it was a priority, I could have done it earlier.

Bootstrapping is tough, but you're the master of your own destiny. You don't have to spend time on managing your board, and you get to make all the decisions for good and bad.

answered Sep 12 '10 at 03:22
1,833 points

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Bootstrapped Seed Funding