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5 Lessons Bootstrapped Startups Can Teach Big Organizations

Corporate giants have a lot to learn from startups particularly when it comes to agility, flexibility, technological innovation and delivering quality work within strict deadlines. But nothing exemplifies the core values of delivering the maximum within limited resources like a bootstrapped startup.

In the startup ecosystem, the popular stories doing rounds generally comprise of funding raised, investments and acquisitions. But every once in a while, there are startups which succeed solely based on the quality of the product or service offered with minimal or no funding raised.

text and small graphic illustrations Photo from Medium


Not just the GoPros, GitHubs and Spanxs of the world, but organizations all around the globe that thrive on a shoestring budget, the dimes invested by their founders and co-founders. These businesses thrive on organic hacks like building a strategic alliance with industry leaders across various verticals and a strong connection with the user community.

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The fact that these startups are successful despite often being handicapped by marketing spend and branding opportunities highlight the efficiency which established corporates can learn from.

[Related Article  - 6 Lessons Corporations Can Learn From Startups]

1. Steer clear of vanity metrics

Numbers, data points, and key performance metrics are obviously vital for a business to function. But more often than not, businesses focus on metrics like social media likes, page views, and subscribers instead of focusing on the engagement on social media platforms, and conversion rate.

Opting to focus on the former data points can be hazardous to the business as they clearly call for a wrong course of action. A metric is worth measuring and acting upon, only if it directly contributes to the company revenues and (or) aid in understanding and resolving customer pain points.

Bootstrapped startups functioning on a tight budget understand the importance of return on investment and prioritize it over a vanity metric like the amount of marketing spend.

2. Shoestring survival

Bootstrapped startups have to rely on their founders, co-founders and close circle of acquaintances, friends and family, for capital investments. This means the cash flow is by no means exorbitant.

Hence, frugality and judicious spending is a part and parcel of every bootstrapped business. Lean startups cut down on all expenses which are deemed unnecessary like flashy office space, and plush work parties.


A graph depicting the lean startup model cycle The Lean Startup Model | Photo by Digital Agency


Instead of spending time developing an all-out strategy, bootstrapped startups are keen on agility and experimentation based on user feedback.

Since these startups don’t have the luxury of spending big bucks on marketing, they come up with ingenious growth hacks that help popularize the brand.

Learning how to survive on a constrained budget helps these startups better utilize their spending. This brings in far better return on investment compared to companies who wouldn’t think twice before shelling out on marketing, branding and customer acquisition.

3. Develop first, scale later

Scaling a business is every founder's dream, but what businesses get wrong is skipping the development phase in a rush to scale. This is precisely what bootstrapped startups can’t afford.

Instead of spending time and effort on thinking about scaling, developing the product is the top priority at these startups, as it should be at any organization. Knowing your product/service and the market, what works and what doesn’t is half the battle.


Purple background with laptop Develop First, Scale Later | Photo from Coder Coder


During the development phase, the core functional team (founders, co-founders, CxOs) needs to have their ears to the ground and closely follow up on the sale and conversion funnel, in order to understand the consumer pain points and try to address them. Breaking into a niche segment with a disruptive marketing model should be the top priority before foraying into other spaces.

There are numerous instances of startups burning through the marketing budget from the funding raised. They run unnecessary TVCs, futile ads, and social media sponsored posts and later end up running their business to the ground and shutting shop.

The smartest decision always is to develop the product or the service first, understand the customer needs, address their pain points and then spend money on marketing the product/service to various customer and user segments.

4. User-focused decision making

Bootstrapped startups, unlike big organizations, are agile in their decision making with shorter turnaround times. They aren’t hesitant in making massive overhauls if customer need dictates it.

Changing the business POV in the face of hard evidence is something that all enterprises small, big, or funded can learn from bootstrapped startups. But there’s a distinction that needs to be made between considering key consumer insights and taking every feedback at face value. Finding the common ground is the trickiest part and one that needs mastering.

The Indian startup ecosystem is brimming with agile startups that focus solely on user satisfaction and consumer goodwill. Consumer loyalty in the country’s competitive coupons and deals space is a tough nut to crack. One bootstrapped startup in particular, GrabOn, has been working on changing that since its inception.


image of an office entrance with the logo grabon Photo from Inc42


GrabOn was one of the first in the industry to opt for a smooth user experience-oriented platform instead of a coupon listing forum. Based out of Hyderabad, India, this startup became an instant hit because of the seamless coupon browsing experience and innovative features like buzz alerts providing the latest deals and offers.

Inventive tech stack along with a relentless focus on users, have helped GrabOn acquire a massive monthly haul of 6.5 million+ loyal visitors.

After establishing a firm footing in the coupons and deals niche, the startup has recently ventured into the online gifting space with its gift cards portal and aims to solve the gifting woes of the average Indian shopper.

5. Talent acquisition & retention

The biggest contributors to a startup are the people putting in the effort day in and day out. Struggling to make the right hires and finding good resources isn’t a choice that startups have (especially a bootstrapped one).

The HR team needs to set well-defined guidelines for the hiring process based on the company’s core values and ethics.

Talent recruitment should happen strictly within the said guidelines, to ensure the candidate is a right fit for the company. Post recruitment, organizations need to spend time on developing and nurturing the employee into a priceless resource. Talent retention is one of the key focus areas for bootstrapped startups as they realize the impact of a well-motivated and driven individual on the overall growth.


When asked, every startup founder would promptly reply that people are the biggest resource. And that holds true for every organization in its early stages. Bootstrapped startups too are on a constant look out for talented employees, but in the desperation to hire a work force, one shouldn’t compromise on soft skills and other personality traits essential for creating organizational culture.

The lesson here is to distinguish between the right hire (one who fits into the company culture) and a talented hire, which is something big organizations and MNCs can emulate.

Making the right choice at the right time

In many instances, bootstrapped startups have to take a tough call and choose an option on the fly, based on customer insights. Due to the time-sensitive nature of the situation, proper research is sometimes off the table.

This ability to make the right call at the right moment is definitely something corporates can pick up on. As mentioned throughout the article, the ability to take agile decisions is what sets the bootstrapped startups apart.

This is in part due to the fact that they don’t have enough of a time frame to make relaxed decisions. More often than not, they operate on strict deadlines with resource crunch and bandwidth issues, so making the right choice at the given moment matters.

Perspective and mindset of the key players

Another aspect of the bootstrapped startup is the attitude of the key players in the organization. Unlike funded startups whose ultimate goal is to get acquired, these organizations have leaders who are driven by a vision, instead of a short-term goal. In short, they understand that startups are not a ‘become rich quickly’ scheme, rather a venture that requires time, money, effort and patience. 

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Of course, bootstrapped startups are run by people and hence must have an endgame, but the difference is, it is a marathon while funded startups think of the process as a sprint. The exit plan is nowhere in the immediate future, what really matters is how well the base of the business is built, which makes for smooth acquisition and (or) pivot upon raising VC money.

The bootstrapped startup founders are stubborn enough to not hand over the business in budding stages, neither are they foolish enough to pass on a lucrative offer come the right time. Now, one of the several deciding factors that would impact the right time is growth.

If the company is on a steady growth trajectory based on the data analysis from the market segment combined with feedback from the target audience, then bringing in funds might help market and sell the product/service better, thus helping with better revenues and rake in profit.

A contribution by GrabOn.

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