Bootstrapping vs. Barry

Last week Melanie Mackie told her story of how she bootstrapped and grew her business. Here, Sage Business Expert Tom Darlow gives his insight on how you can start a business with no investment and not much capital.

“How Barry raised investment, risked everything and faced bankruptcy before turning his company into a multi-million pound operation…”

Tom DarlowThe ubiquity of these headlines makes us tempted to think that we need big investments to start our next project or company. It’s even more tempting to use this as an excuse not to start work on our exciting ideas.

The sobering reality is that many (founder) + (investor) equations don’t work out. First and foremost, it’s even more than difficult to find investors that get the joke and are willing to invest in the first place.  And when we do, of course, they’ll want their money back — and quickly.

An empowering alternative exist – bootstrapping

What is Bootstrapping?

Let’s eliminate some question marks. Here’s Seth Godin:

“A bootstrapper is determined to build a business that pays for itself every day. In many ways, it’s easiest to define a bootstrapper by what she isn’t: a money-raising bureaucrat who specialises in using other people’s money to take big risks in growing a business.”

And Jason Fried on the benefits of the constraints:

“A lack of money forces you to focus on building something that works. It forces you to find ways to earn money, instead of amusing yourself with projects that are just fun or interesting.”

Although I recognise some ideas demand investment, I’m a great believer that with some initiative, insight and guts, we can succeed without much money by focusing our effort and being more nimble than our competition.

Walking the walk: two little stories

Story One

During my A-Levels, I decided I wanted to learn how to build websites and setup my own business. From the handful of savings I made while working as a bakery boy at Somerfield, I managed to buy a new laptop, some essential books and a tiny batch of business cards.

An enthusiastic novice, I began winning tenders by answering briefs well, researching the clients (and their customers) needs and offering-up innovative solutions which were feasible to implement.

Slowly scaling-up the client projects I was taking on, I managed to walk straight out of University into my own, half-baked web design company, Bright Headway.

Since then (now fully-baked), I’ve worked on a range of exciting projects with national councils through to budding new start-ups and university spin out companies. All of which was made possible through those savings from Somerfield and a dash of good old fashioned initiative.

Story Two

A tiny, more recent example of bootstrapping was an event I co-founded with fellow web developer, Matt Richards. Doing our fair share of ‘beg, borrow and steal’ we organised Demo – an event for those working on products and ideas.

With over 40 attendees from all over the North West, the event was a great success and cost us little more than £50. We built the website ourselves, made use of free blogging tools, leveraged social media, borrowed the overhead projector and realised our love for the kind folk at DoES Liverpool, who let us use their event space for free.

No investment, no potential bankruptcy, no Barry, just a continued forward motion, piece by piece.

There’s never been a better time to start a business with no money and you can start right now.

Some resources to get you started:

Tom Darlow

Tom is a designer based Liverpool, UK. As the founder of Bright Headway, he’s helped a number of organisations maximise their online potential including Forever Friends, Ford Fuel Oils, the National Council for Entrepreneurship and University of Manchester spin out, Dwelltime. Outside of client projects, he’s the designer and co-founder of Beanbag – which is working to reshape the way we bookmark and share links for later. He blogs at