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Ask HN: When bootstrapping a startup, what are some ways to keep the lights on?
8 points by sherm8n 12 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 19 comments

The easiest way would be to do most everything yourself and keep your overhead as low as possible besides the cost of hosting. Get a cheap server from https://www.digitalocean.com for example but keep in mind its not cheap to manage it especially if you do it yourself and it ends up getting hacked. Go for management bundled into the server from https://www.iozoom.com to keep your costs down.

Start an affiliate type website selling other peoples products and earn commission. Get logo and site designed from https://www.fiverr.com, learn about seo and online marketing at forums like https://www.warriorforum.com. Once you get a better understanding of online marketing you can promote your site for little to no money at all.

Plain and Simple. Charge from Day 1 and don't give stuff for free unless it absolutely makes sense. Also, keep costs low as much as possible. Don't get AWS if you can get a $5/Month DigitalOcean droplet. Don't spend money on ads etc. unless you know exactly HOW it works. Focus on building inbound marketing i.e. people finding you organically.

Thanks! What if people say they want to try it for free? Do you say no?

Just to add to what @hawkice said already, you can offer them a money back period or offer a short free trial like for 7-10 days BUT take credit card upfront. Always take credit card upfront, period. If not, then you will get tons of tire kickers and time wasters. For bootstrapped, it will not be of too much use to you and may add unnecessary support time.

It is simple. I offer a 30 day money back guarantee. But if you cannot commit to credit card on day 1 knowing that you have nothing to lose, then you are not the customer I want.

Great insights. Why do some businesses have a free tier then? Does that only make sense if you're venture backed?

I would think so. Having a completely Free tier will surely get a lot more signups but how many of them convert. venture backed or well funded companies have the time and resource to handle free clients a lot more.

Say you have a money back guarantee period (30 days seems reasonable), and if they push and you feel it's worth it still, offer to extend the money back guarantee period. If someone wants a thing but absolutely will not pay for it, that's typically resolved by them not getting it.

Hmm, is there a reason for NOT offering a guarantee?

I'm not aware of any good reasons, but I think GAAP standards say you can't recognize the revenue until the returns period ends? I think standard wisdom is to not have an official policy so as to keep the books simple (and maybe to avoid the downside I can't think of for returns periods) but use refunds pretty aggressively in support?

Your company should be on cash-basis accounting. Unless you have a need for accrual based. When you file corporate taxes, you list the method of accounting you are using.

Cash basis:

Cash in hand, recognized. Cash out, recognized.

Keeps it simple :)

To add on the simplification, throw technology at the problem.

Research cloud services, compare prices, at the "cheap level", you can swap Digital Ocean for Vultr, OVH or even others (http://www.hostingadvice.com/reviews/vps/)

Throw more technology at it, find a PaaS that can rack docker instances (Flynn is my preferred one) and mount local versions of your expensive cloud services (Redis vs ElastiCache), (MariaDB vs Aurora), (Riak-docker vs S3). Every penny you save in your "infrastructure" setup can be put towards keeping the lights on.

You can run a company that makes $5,000 a month on $20 worth of Digital Ocean droplets (it's sketchy, but it can be done)

Keeping your day job until the opportunity cost outweighs the monetary value of your day job.

Well, too late for that :)

I've seen a lot of smaller outstaffing companies like moonlightwork.com offering remote employees and it's a good way to keep your costs low. The lights will go out quickly if you get developers at $50-$100 an hour and upwork is hit or miss and you can waste a lot of time. Toptal seems good but not cheap. Check out intellabridge.com they have good mid-level remote developers you can hire for $18-$20 an hour and they specialize in designing and building MVPs.

I just tripped across this and I thought it would interest you:


I also run a google group called Business Bootstrappers and you are welcome to join:


Hire slowly... don't hire until it's a real pain point and the runway for 6+ months is there.

Alot of startups will do consulting work while they bootstrap their product.

How do you get consulting work?

That tends to be a brew your own situation comparable in difficulty to creating a business from scratch. If you have to ask that, you will probably be better off getting a part time job or signing up for some service to do piece work through them (like UpWork, but preferably not actually UpWork).

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