Starting a business through bootstrapping entails funding your venture primarily through personal savings and revenue from initial sales, rather than relying on external investors. While it’s an approach that can offer you greater autonomy and decision-making power as your business grows, it can be overwhelming to try to establish a brand while maintaining positive cash flow. Lindsay McCormick, founder of eco-friendly personal hygiene product brand Bite, did just that.
Lindsay’s inspiration came from her own experiences, in particular her notice of how frequently she used up tubes of toothpaste while traveling for work. “I felt like I could do this better and make something better for the planet and our bodies,” Lindsay says. What started in 2017 with an innovative toothpaste tablet has since grown into a multimillion-dollar company, with new product categories that help eliminate the one billion plastic toothpaste tubes that end up in oceans and landfills each year.
Ahead, learn how Lindsay was able to achieve her business goals while staying committed to bootstrapping her way to growth—and how you can do the same.
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Tips for running a bootstrapped business
Lindsay was able to bootstrap her business from day one, thanks to a full-time job and the skills she learned while working as a film and TV producer. These are some of her tips for staying cash-flow positive as you build.
1. Prioritize your product
Bootstrapping can be an exhausting process, because it takes more time to launch when you don’t have outside funding. By prioritizing product development first and business operations second, you can create a strong hero product that sells.
“In all of my preparation and research I wasn’t thinking, Is this a good business idea?” Lindsay says. Instead, she asked herself, “How can I make the best tablet possible?”
Since making toothpaste in tablet form was the priority, Lindsay invested in machinery and clinical testing to ensure she could provide her customers with high quality products that actually worked. “We’ve done these clinical tests because we want to have something that’s not only better for the planet and our bodies, but is also scientifically backed,” Lindsay says.
Lindsay’s business succeeded because she prioritized focusing on product quality, rather than trying to accomplish too many things at once.
2. Research, research, and more research
One of the best tools you have as a self-funded business owner is your research skills. “I started talking to dentists, dental hygienists, and spent a lot of time on YouTube and Reddit figuring out what a tablet really was, and how I could make these things,” Lindsay shares.
At first, Lindsay desperately wanted to make a toothpaste alternative without using a tableting machine, given the tool’s expense. After countless hours of research and experimentation, she realized it was worth the investment, and reached out to a company in Texas for help. “They had customer support where I could fly out there and learn how to use the machine. They’d show me everything about it and how to work it, which was invaluable,” Lindsay says.
The more hands-on research with experts you can trust, the better off your business will be, because you’ll be able to rely on the quality of your products without having to spend a ton of money to rework them down the line.
3. Define your values and make sure to share them
Having a business that is bootstrapped means you won’t have a huge marketing budget to share your company message and values. This means you have to become an ambassador of your own brand and communicate your company values in everything you do.
When sharing your company values, inhabit the perspective of a brand new customer who has never heard of your brand before. “Find the confusion that a customer would have with your product and figure out how to close that gap, and have it make sense to them,” Lindsay says. In order to get others to understand the value behind Bite, Lindsay emphasized the eco-friendly benefits, why they were so important to her life, and why people should care.
4. Put your day job’s skills to work
“I think something that people really discount is the importance of what they’re learning in their day to day,” Lindsay says. “What skills from your 9-to-5 can help you as you’re building your side business?” Lindsay recommends focusing on these questions to find transferable skills, since it takes so many different experts to run a business.
“Because I had been managing a pretty stressful job as a TV producer, bootstrapping and building a business on the side, when Bite went viral [and I came on full time], I was able to manage the responsibility and management,” Lindsay says.
You may be surprised to discover skills from your day job that help you run your business.
With bootstrapping, as opposed to outside funding, Lindsay says, “You can do things how you want and build in a slow, sustainable way, and you don’t have to worry about scaling or hiring faster than you want to.”
Bootstrapping your business might take longer, but it will give you more control in the long run, and may result in a more successful, value-driven business.
To hear more of Lindsay’s bootstrapping advice, and tips for product development and brand building, tune in to the full Shopify Masters episode.