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Ask HN: successful, transparent bootstrappers?
68 points by sdrinf on May 18, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 50 comments
Hey HN,

I'm currently digging into case studies on how to do startups in the bootstrapping way; and so I turn to the nice HN community: what other blogs fits into the criteria?


successful: $1k/month at minimum

transparent: blog describing the internal business process of creating the startup

bootstrapper: no external investment

The ones I know of:

http://www.balsamiq.com/blog -balsamiq mockups

http://www.kalzumeus.com/ -patrick -bingo card creator (and others)

http://pluggio.com/blog/ -Pluggio (was: tweetminer)

Who else would fit into this criteria?

I'm a single-founder, bootstrapped, successful (by your definition - my monthly revenue has ranged from $2.5k to $13k since launch) startup founder. I don't, however, have a public blog about how I run or started the business. It's not that I'm trying to hide it, I just don't have a blog. My site is http://www.dkpsystem.com (Hosting for MMO guilds). Woo self-promo.

A while back (over a year), I had a reasonably open discussion about it here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=423249

I'm not afraid to discuss just about any internal operation I do with my business, I just don't have a blog yet. I started one a while back, but never really updated it.

You managed to earn a living from something I both don't understand and despise :-)

We meet those requirements here at GitHub: github.com. Along with the official blog some of us also talk about the business on our own personal blogs: http://tom.preston-werner.com and http://ozmm.org.

Maybe it is just me, but I've never seen the reason for being "transparent" about internal business processes. While I am certain that the HN crowd here finds it interesting, our customers have never once asked us (in 8+ years) to divulge our monthly sales figures. We are 100% focused on our customers, and really don't worry what other entrepreneurs might think of our company. Does anyone here have any stats that show that being "open" about your sales/business processes improves the bottom line? That's something I'd love to see - even some anecdotal evidence from those that have tried it (i.e. you saw a boost in sales after becoming more transparent) would be nice.

You can add us (Talldude Networks) as a successful (almost 8 years) "startup", completely self funded and roaring along.

It doesn't, but you miss an important point: essentially, the "product business community" -those, who are in for the long run- is a small one. The real ROI does not come from having more customers, but rather from business contacts, who can (and will) provide important info, and valuable insight, for you, at the right time, which will have real impact on your bottom line.

There are, of course, many others way to do that, than blogging. But the level of needed transparency is roughly the same.

This is an interesting point - thank you. What would you consider the level of transparency to be? Does it mean sharing detailed revenue figures, or is it more about simply being open about your "growing pains"? Thanks!

The two most valuable insights I'm getting from the blogs mentioned above are: _context_, and _details_. Incidentally, revenue fits both (especially with patrick, where evolution is trackable).

To get the most value out of business partners, you generally have to put us into a position, where educated guesses can be made about which lever might give you the best ROI, and what you shouldn't pull too much.

You don't need detailed revenue figures to make this happen. But, you are in _business_. Your most important enabler is money. Business discussions relevance to business will be correlating with it's proximate to money.

given your desire to join the "product business community" it would seem you should put some information in your profile so others can understand who you are and where you are coming from.

A sort of indirect benefit, but I think patio11 will get more out of being open with BCC/Appointment Reminder than hurt by it. He's starting to become known, which will make it easier to find talent / co-founders / investors if he needs them later on. I doubt it will influence anyone to buy the software, though.

Yes - I definitely can see that being a plus. Can you think of any negatives though (besides hiring) that come from NOT being transparent?

I think one of the biggest concerns small companies have is that divulging their monthly income can give their competition insights into their revenue stream and customer count - something that I know makes me a bit uneasy. But maybe there's a way to be more open/transparent without divulging "too much" information - and maybe there is a benefit in that to your customers?

Not all companies need or can even hide customer counts. In our business, one can easily guess our userbase by looking at how many maps are in our database. We could hide the total number, but a few simple searches would give a person an idea of what it is. As a result, we publish user counts and route counts. I don't think there are great benefits, aside from showing our users we are growing and have some substance, however, I also don't see there being much harm.

I can see a company that provides mockups or time management tools being able to hide this info (it's not intended to be publically consumed), but in our case it's difficult.

I guess creating a sense of complacency in the competition is a good thing. They might be more worried if they were watching huge growth in a competitor, but if the underdog is coming up with big growth anyway, there isn't much the market leader can do to prevent it...

If your customers are fellow entrepreneurs, it's one way to lure them in.

If your ideology involves the encouragement of more small biz, it's a way to further your mission.

And if you do like both of those things, but don't think your customers need to know, then blog about it elsewhere. Most won't bother to search for it :)

I guess I'm a successful bootstrapper by your definition. Revenues vary, but tens of multiples of your definition at this point (am I the only one that still feels weird about divulging this info in public?). I'm a single-founder.

The startup is http://www.ratemystudentrental.com, which licenses private-label subscriptions to universities. I also have a consultancy that builds web-based software, and that consultancy has a new SAAS app (http://www.leadnuke.com, which actually started as a solution for a problem my startup was experiencing).

I haven't blogged a ton about the internals of business specifically, because I find it somewhat dry (which means I rarely motivate myself to write about it). I do blog about life and the emotional roller-coaster that I've experienced in being an entrepreneur, though.

Blog about technical stuff (and sometimes entrepreneurship): http://www.alfajango.com/blog

Blog about entrepreneurship, life, and whatever else: http://jangosteve.com

am I the only one that still feels weird about divulging this info in public?

For me its kind of like boiling a frog. I get all kinds of queasy about telling people what my salary was (I was raised such that one just did not do that), but back when I was making all of $24.95 in sales a month well pfft no harm in saying that... and then all you have to do is "not stop".

Amusing cultural note: Japan is almost totally open about salaries. I didn't know what my father's approximate salary was until I was in my twenties. I don't know what my friends make now. Here, I've been asked it on second dates before, and the local sushi guy knew it without me even telling him. ("Well, duh: engineer in Nagoya + I know your age. What else could your salary be?!" And he's right.)

My father raised me the opposite. He was always open about salaries but let me know other people weren't always comfortable talking about it. It resulted in me being pretty open about it personally, but I can understand where the awkward thing comes from.

Self promotion alert, but I just wrote this last week and people seemed to like it:


And then why you shouldn't be transparent:


I welcome self-promotion, but you don't seem to fit the "successful" criteria, by revenue? do correct me, if I'm wrong.

Um, Carbonmade is profitable enough to have an NYC office and hire employees. Seems successful to me.

I'd suggest you set your sites higher than $1k/month. $10k/month is a start. $100k/month is a business that pays you and your employees. And there are zillions of them out there to learn from. My blog isn't about the internals of our business, but I'm happy to tell any bootstrapper who asks.

That depends on the expenses (incl. # of employees), doesn't it? The bootstrapped founders I know that I'd consider very successful don't make $100k/month, but they also don't have employees. A two-founder business with few expenses, clearing $20k/month profit, makes the founders $120k/yr apiece, which seems pretty successful to me. Certainly more than ramen-profitable, anyway!

Sure, you can have a "successful" business that grosses $250k / year. If you can do that with no employees and go surf every day, there will be a lot of jealous surfers out there.

But if you're looking to bootstrap a startup into a sustainable enterprise that "solves the money problem" (as Paul puts it), there are plenty of fabulous examples with $2million, $10mil, $50mil in revenue. Study them.

Two out of three ain't bad?

While I'd like to blog about the internals and experience, we sell mostly in the B2B large corporation space, and our small size is our largest pain point during the sales cycle. I think an open blog about our internal business growth would make things worse for us, not better.

Interesting - we're in the same space but I don't think I know a single paying client of ours that actually reads our blog. Most of our readership comes from Hacker News and friends - it's a little like living in two worlds.

I agree. For B2B, they don't want to know about your dirty laundry and how the sausage is made.

Another B2B guy. Shoot me an email, will ya? I am alone here :-/

ServerDensity is a transparent bootstrapped startup.

Product: http://serverdensity.com

Blog: http://blog.boxedice.com/

Not sure why this was downvoted. This is (1) bootstrapped, (2) transparent (for example, http://blog.boxedice.com/2010/03/07/choosing-a-price-for-you... ) and (3) probably profitable, but I don't have the numbers.

Worked on http://Todoist.com while in university. Not really my active startup, but Todoist is bootstrapped, profitable ($1k+) and one of the largest task managers on the net.

If I was to bootstrap something again then I would do it in my free time until it took off (like patio11). If you have any questions feel free to ask :-)

It seems from the homepage that Todoist.com is free. How do you make money? Ads? Can you share more numbers?

Freemium, but I don't promote it that much. When people pay they expect support, new features and new iterations - something that I don't have time to provide as Todoist isn't my active startup.

For numbers: Todoist has 100.000+ users and only a few % paying customers - enough to cover costs and make it profitable.

Todoist is by far my favourite task manager, and has helped me complete countless projects over the last couple of years.

great stuff amix.

There are quite a few successful bootstrappers on The Business of Software forum:


Would you mind linking a few examples, by pointing to their revenue confession posts?

I don't have any of the comments bookmarked, but I'm sure you could find them with a tiny amount of Googling.

We (productwiki.com) are 100% bootstrapped - no debt financing, no government grants. Though this year we finally started doing tax credits, so that's not a bad influx of free money. We aren't transparent about the numbers but I can tell you that we have 5 full-time employees (including the founders) making decent to good wages, and a few regular contractors. That should give you a ballpark.

Ummm, I'm not sure I agree with you financial definition of success. But, after all... it is your definition. I meet the criteria. I don't consider my business financially successful, yet. Although we make on average $2k a month and have made as much as $4k a month. Our blog is http://techneur.com

We (iTeleport) meet these criteria. We just started our blog a couple of weeks back:


Our latest post details some revenue numbers:


We're going to try to keep posting actively...

While we haven't been too open about our business (lack of time!), http://ridewithgps.com qualifies on income and the fact we are bootstrapped. We are generating just under $1k a month in donations from users right now (yeah, just donations as we don't have our paid accounts ready yet), and a small licensing deal puts us over the top of those numbers.

We are working on becoming more transparent with our business, as there is decent appetite for any information in regards to the bootstrapping process. I think I just got motivated enough to write a decent blog post this evening.

That guy Kreci that just posted his info recently. He made 1500 last month.

Mind a link?


The blog: The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau (http://chrisguillebeau.com/3x5/), writes a lot about bootstrapping and how he started out, he now has a self sustaining blog and affords to travel all over the world and blog about it. It's a great blog, lots of inspiration, and I think it'll definitely meet your criteria.

I believe that fleaflicker.com was done by a single, bootstrapped founder. It was acquired by AOL. The founder, Ori Schwartz, did write some on Reddit (where I heard about this) and likely elsewhere.

An older story was Bob Parson's development of his tax software company, which was acquired by Intuit for 64 million. He's quite transparent about it, to say the least.

We fit into this criteria. Not great about blogging about it...ok, we sort of suck about blogging in general, but feel free to email me if you want to talk.

http://www.twobitoperation.com/ menuism, the wedding lens, pickfu

Not me. I launched http://sproutrobot.com last week. Revenue so far is $160. Profit is like minus $1000 YTD. :)

As soon as I meet your criteria I'll point you to my blog.

Probably semi-transparent, but 37signals/Basecamp?

Freckle earns nearly $10,000/mo in revenue: http://letsfreckle.com/

Our blog is kinda sparse now but I'm fairly open on HN. :) And I'll be writing more about business specifically at http://unicornfree.com/.

EDIT: Totally bootstrapped, launched Dec 2008. There are 4 of us, but I'm the owner. We have a profit-sharing agreement with our partners.

Your shit-free religion seems delicious. Especially this part:

"... The discussion always seems to revolve around funding, or getting acquired, and retiring.

Or growth. Or hiring. Or tech tricks. Or it’s about affiliates and IM products, and getting rich off teaching people’s parrots to talk.

Or it’s about hyper-optimization, and split-testing which way you should orient the toilet paper roll. (The answer is over, not under, by the way.)

Or everyone in the group agrees that they are working on the next big breakthrough, when really they’re just building a social network for dogs.


I feel your pain -I'm also reading HN. Looking forward seeing your take.

Thanks for making my day in two ways: a great example of a successful startup doing good things, and a pretty hilarious rant on your blog.

Bookmarked both the blog and the service!

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