Banking on bootstrap
As a founder with a mortgage and a young family, it was difficult to decide to bootstrap. It meant that I needed to maintain a fulltime job to pay for the bills. The question that comes up regularly was whether it was sustainable to maintain two jobs and work such long hours. Whether we were missing out on valuable information and networking opportunities by choosing to bootstrap.
The answer is subjective and will differ from person to person, for me at least, I believed that we needed to make sure we were solving the right problems and that we needed to have a strong product offering that stood on its own two feet. I wanted our team to have control over how we managed the company and for the founders to retain more ownership.
The approach we came up with was simple. Validate our concepts, build a compelling product, get market fit and work with our network.
This approach was largely inspired by Atlassian's early history. How the founders were able to retain a majority share, that they had built a viable business that was profitable and did not depend on VC funding to ensure a runway, that they were building their company with purpose and did not result in an environment that was driven by 'growth at all cost'. Valter and I had first hand experience at how this approach truly yielded an amazing business and most of all supported the leader’s effort in retaining an amazing work culture.
This inspired me and I wanted to ensure that at InOrbit we had the same focus and used the same principles in organising ourselves and how we run the business.
In practice, this was another thing! Maintaining crazy hours was hard to sustain, long days and the constant context switching were slowly burning us out. As the CEO I felt that I have made mistakes and its cutting deep, the team is suffering and I am to blame. How do I ensure that we maintain a majority share of the company without going to a seed round?
To find some inspiration I picked up and read a book that was gifted to me by Valter. "The Hard things about Hard things" Ben Horowitz.
In the book, it spoke of Ben's realisation that he was able to rely on his teams with hard decisions. That by sharing the vision and entrusting it to the team yielded better results. Taking on all the decisions for the company as the CEO meant that you weren't leaning in on those around you and missing out on the chance for the team to rally around the mission.
I realised that the answer to my problems was the very thing we were building. InOrbit aims to align the efforts of the individuals toward an outcome, to align with the mission and to ensure that we can measure the commitments we have made. Vincent had reminded me that as a group we needed to ensure we were tracking those commitments.
So in taking inspiration from Ben Horowitz I shared and discussed the pros and cons of bootstrapping with Valter and Vincent, why I believed it was an important sacrifice to do so and that I believed that the product and the problems we were solving will result in our market fit and adoption. The three had an intense debate about what it means to bootstrap for each of us, the impact of taking on the cost of running the business ourselves and what it will take to build a business on the merits of a good business model and a sound product.
We all agreed that funding in the future is not out of the question, this was now a collective response to the growing scrutiny around startup business models and an intense look into the viability of the product we are building. We ended with really liking the thought that we are building a business that is going to be around a long time and intend for InOrbit to be one that has a longer-term view, like many others who have succeeded.
At the end of that long chat we jumped onto InOrbit and reassessed our Mission and Vision, Valter re-prioritised our Objective and Key Results.
As a team, we were able to have an in-depth discussion on the repercussions of our decision. How do we deal with the constant context switching and how do we deal with long hours? We decided, at least for now, we are in a position to continue with this setup however we did land on the most important aspect of any startup, Getting to market fit!