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What it's like to bootstrap a business before it can financially support you (indiehackers.com)
289 points by ChanningAllen on Dec 24, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 98 comments



Oh man. I bootstrapped a business on the side, and quit my dajob when it got to the point where it could support me (which is to say, could pay me like 1/4 of my market value in silicon valley) -

One of the clearest mistakes I made that could have made the company opportunity cost profitable had I not screwed it up was that I was conserving capital while I had the opportunity to grow really fast. For a short period of time, because of a blog post someone else wrote, I had a huge waiting list. I was building servers one at a time, using the money from the first to pay for the next one. A lot of that waiting list dried up while they were waiting for me; There is a reasonable chance I would have been 5x bigger at that point had I maxed out my credit and bought servers all at once. And if I was wrong? if I maxed out my credit and went bankrupt? I'd still be better off than I was in reality.

10 years at 1/4 salary is... brutal in a way that bankruptcy isn't. (I think. I've never actually gone bankrupt.)

I guess my real point here is that you need to time box it. At some point, you need to give up. I've never worked with VC, but I would assume that it would act as something of a forcing function here. I think being disciplined about "always take a better job if you are offered one" might also work.


Reminded me of a similar experience I had approximately 15 years ago.

I had a 3:00AM conversation with Steve Jobs (long story) about something I was trying to do with Apple. This led to being invited to meet with an engineering and marketing team in Cupertino.

Without saying a thing, a few days after our meeting Apple added a link to our website from the first page of one of their main product pages.

Traffic instantly went from a few thousand hits per day to hundreds of thousands per day. It didn’t let-up for perhaps a year.

We were not prepared for this at all. It was a mad scramble to shift, pivot, adapt, evolve and attempt to rise up to the opportunity provided by this unexpected move.

I don’t think I slept for a whole year.


I’d love to hear more about this, if you don’t mind? :)


sounds wild, would love to hear about this as well


Well, I'll keep it simple.

This was before iPhone times. Apple, among other things, was focusing on the applications of its product in the media-related industries. I launched a self-funded startup to develop hardware (FPGA, embedded, real-time image processing, software) for this industry segment. After a year of very hard work I was able to emerge out of the garage with a fairly sophisticated product that was very well received.

Only one problem: The product could work much better if Apple would only modify their newly-introduced Apple HD Cinema Display. I had already hacked the display and developed the modifications, I just needed Apple on board. I tried in vain to make contact with a number of people at Apple. I was getting nowhere.

My work schedule was nuts, pretty much 18 hour days, 7 days a week. That's what you do when you are launching a business, particularly if you put it all on the line and have no outside funding or support. Which means it was normal for me to be in the garage up to 3 or 4 in the morning coding, designing hardware, or just generally working on the product or business.

One morning, out of frustration, I decided to hunt down Steve's email address and send him a note. I found a plausible candidate and sent an email at 2:30 in the morning. I still remember the subject line: "Trouble doing business with Apple". That was followed by just a sentence or two which, frankly, I can't remember. Not much in the way of details. Clicked "Send" and went back to coding.

Around 3:00AM I get a short email back:

"What's the problem? -Steve"

I sat there staring at that email for some time. I finally decided that this was either someone having fun at my expense or the real guy. No harm in trying. I typed-up a couple-page response with as much detail as made sense and sent it.

I got a reply within thirty minutes or so. A couple of questions, which I answered.

The conversation ended with another short email:

"Thanks for reaching out. -Steve".

It's was 4:30 AM or so. No point sleeping. I couldn't.

Later that afternoon I got a call from a VP just below Steve. He said "Steve asked me to take care of this for him". We spoke for about 45 minutes. The following day he invited me to come out to Cupertino, meet with their engineering team, explain how to fix the problem and discuss a few other non-engineering items.

Fast forward to a few months later, I designed an iteration of our product per Apple's request and we launched it at the Apple booth during one of the industry events. Pretty crazy ride. Like I said in my prior post, I don't think I slept in a year.


I wonder sometimes if I had less time to do dome things if I’d still have managed to get the most important bits done. If I’d have just been more circumspect about available resources. If, for instance, I’d gotten an hour more sleep a day, my output may have been better.

Too often have I come in the next day and deleted all but four lines of what I was tying the day before. Sunk cost fallacy hits me less severely after I’ve “slept on it”. Maybe all those grandads were right.


These are important questions with very difficult answers. I think one of the fallacies in business is to actually think you are in control. You can plan and have the best intentions, but reality is the business tells you what you are going to do each and every morning and it has absolutely no sympathy for the fact that we are a human beings with very real limitations.

I equate it to sailing in stormy weather, something I've done a bunch of times. It is important to know the general direction you need to go and establish a few goals, yet is it foolish to think you are actually in control. The ocean tells you what to do from wave to wave and you work hard to do as it desires while constantly pushing towards your desired outcome. It's an art, a science and, yes, a bit of luck never hurts.

That's the challenge of entrepreneurship. You can either let the ocean, the business, sink you by taking you off-course and causing you to make bad decisions and face dangerous circumstances or you can navigate what it puts in front of you every day as best as you might be able while also pushing hard to generally point in the direction you want to go.

Sure, there are cases where people get on that boat and the thing just pushes forward with favorable winds and it's go-go-go (Facebook comes to mind). Yet that's not what a typical business looks like. Most businesses are like the aforementioned storm. Which is to say: Hard work, uncertainty, fear, joy, trepidation, doubt, bad decisions, good decisions, bad luck, good luck and, maybe, if things align, a good outcome on the other side of the storm.

This is why I think --conjecture on my part-- groups like YC have found that multi-founder teams consisting of young people without prior business experience do better than single founders with the same life experience.

Anyone can operate when the weather is great and winds blow in the desired direction. Yet that's not reality. You are going to tear a sail or break a mast here and there. In these situations the right team can be much better than a solo founder, even if they lack life and business experience.

My best advice is to not use the past as a source of regret but rather as a source of wisdom. Failures hurt (I've had a few, I've been bankrupt, penny-less) but they are also absolutely invaluable if one is able to remove emotion and learn from them.

At the moment I am in the process of starting yet another company, this time in the vertical farming space. I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that my failures in life and business have helped me and will help me along this new journey far more than the success I have enjoyed.

Don't dwell in the past, use it to make you a better entrepreneur in your next adventure. Make something that solves a real problem and give it all you got. If you are willing to navigate the storm the market will reward you for it.


What was the issues, solution, and your product?

...unless you left it out for a reason


I can’t discuss due to NDA with Apple.


> For a short period of time, because of a blog post someone else wrote, I had a huge waiting list

Why is this short opportunity window unique? So you realized you missed this window but then the environment was already one where this "5x" demand no longer existed? If that's the case would it have been wise to ramp up that quickly? Maybe you did the right thing.


Let’s say he took out a bank loan to build 50 machines real quick. He probably would have sold them quickly and been able to build the next 50 and pay the bank at an accelerated rate, and everything would have been fine. He’d eventually have a higher customer base and slightly higher volume.

Where you’re correct is that people look at this in hindsight and say things like what I said. But in the moment they may think this is the big chance, hire a few staff to build them faster and get stuck with a bunch if liabilities when demand ramps down while they were hoping it would continue going up.

People who don’t believe in their business fail, some never even start. But believing your own hype is the best way to fail spectacularly and I expect it’s hard to see while it’s happening. Even as an employee I’ve looked back a few times and wondered what the hell I was thinking buying into a failed idea.


Possibly because he had exhausted his professional network of contacts who trust him enough to put an order with him.


There’s always a risk to give advice via blog posts and such, and also to decide which advice to listen to.

I’ve been on both ends of the stick and can honestly say it sucks to give advice that didn’t work out for someone, or receive it.


Funny how this is in stark contrast with PG advice of staying alive (http://www.paulgraham.com/die.html)


I don't see this the opposite of PG advice but rather PG advice.

PG also says to aim initially for Ramen profitablity (cover your rent and food bills) and then stay there till you figure a way to grow exponentially. Which is what OP did.


Luke, you've been an inspiration for years.

It's a lot easier to hold a regular job than it is to take a business from idea to execution... as you well know!


I don't understand. It seems like you were pressed for time, not for cash. How could you have served your customers quicker with more money?


The way that I read what they said here:

> I was building servers one at a time, using the money from the first to pay for the next one.

Is that they were financing the purchase of each new server with the money that they got paid by their customers. So they had to wait a certain amount of time until they had enough money to build each new server. If instead they had bought multiple servers at once, on credit, they could have started serving more customers much faster.


Yup. We had a pretty good (20%) discount if you paid for a year up front that customers often used, so it wasn't slow to save up the cash, but it serialized a lot of processes that could have been parallelized. Testing one server well takes a few days. Testing 100 servers well takes a few days.

I mean, there certainly was also a time aspect that was independent of that serialization, but a lot of that was also saving money. I mean, I personally argue that buying servers from parts is less time than negotiating a good deal on an assembled server, but we certainly could have gotten tested servers out faster if we were willing to shovel more money at someone. Maybe even if we still serialized the purchase.


Sounds like similar challenges with hosting companies. Huge capital float and long payback period.

If you were selling/leasing compute commodities you were probably more of a logistics company vs tech.


Live and learn. Ironically, I think a lot of people who took VC money will have the opposite experience. "If only they had more runway they could have found growth."

I don't think that they are mutually exclusive. Some products take a long time to get organic growth and some products have a narrow window where they could blow up.


> 10 years at 1/4 salary is... brutal in a way that bankruptcy isn't.

Perhaps you should remind yourself that plenty of people in your age group have salaries that are less than 1/4 of a silicon valley salary, and they think it is normal.


You should compare yourself to your own potential in the industry you're in, otherwise you're just capping your pay for no reason.


Sure if your asking yourself "how much money should I ask for?" or "how much money can I make if I do x?".

Not if you're reflecting on how you spent the last 10 years.


Sure but that’s not quite relevant to the opportunity cost the OP was measuring against.


This directly contradicts the generic advice of lean startup pundits that it’s a waste of time and resources to be prepared for a sudden influx of customers. The same tired old advice is always trotted out: that you should sell first and build later and do things that don’t scale.

Thank you!


Your comment is all past tense -- are you still working on this business?


nope. Complaining while you are working at a company is generally bad form (though it was something I did a lot) - I'm working deep in the bowels of a faang company and it is so cushy and so remunerative in comparison. I don't even carry a pager anymore! I get vacations! I kinda miss the physical servers, but I own some as a hobbyist.

One of the worst parts, though, was that I felt like getting my first job after working on my own company for a while was... much harder than it has ever been for me to get a job. Like getting a job after being unemployed for a long time, which felt like a huge insult after how hard I worked.

I personally think it's actually a much bigger risk to do this when you are young (I mean, if you otherwise have the opportunity, like I did, to work a corporate job that let you max a 401K) than when you are older, once you have maxed that 401K as a younger person.


Wow I did both, started young and failed, got employed by fortune 500s, started up again with lots of spare cash.

I haaaate working for anyone else after tasting success, but my FAANG salary and 401k and stock options simply can’t match the 100 cold calls a day startup life


Why are you “building servers”? Was there something about your business that precludes you from using a hosted solution?


I’m guessing he means provisioning servers.


He WAS the hosting solution.

- https://prgmr.com/about.html

- https://prgmr.com/~lsc/


Yes, he was. I, along with Alan Post, took over prgmr from Luke. We're hiring another developer full-time in January.


Glad to hear it's still a going concern! :)


Makes sense. Before I commented, I looked at his profile to see if he had information about his previous companies.


Why would you go bankrupt?

If you have a growing business making money it should be fairly straightforward to get a loan under your business name.


>If you have a growing business making money it should be fairly straightforward to get a loan under your business name.

this is not my experience, not without a personal guarantee or collateral that holds it's value better than servers.

(Leasing servers was also an option that would have made sense then. Most of the leasing deals I was offered that didn't include personal guarantees were two year leases wherein I paid about as much as the servers would cost up front over two years. It would have made sense in that case, but it's super expensive compared to buying servers)


This. Loans for small business require personal guarantees. If you are at a point that you need the capital that badly that you cant leverage it from existing cashflow, and VCs put you into their "maybe later" bucket (e.g. "no" for the rest of us), then requiring a personal guarantee is a signal for you. The signal means you should consider whether or not you should continue your endeavor, as the bank values your net worth and its leverage, far more than it values your business.

I've been down this road. I did not answer this question properly. Doesn't matter how much you believe in yourself, if the bank wants a personal guarantee, they dont really believe in your vision.

My best advice 3 year post blow up. It ain't worth it. Move on. You will save yourself pain.


>My best advice 3 year post blow up. It ain't worth it. Move on. You will save yourself pain.

My own personal view, if I could go back in time, would be to tell myself to go all in. I think it had a shot, and I needed to take that shot. I still think risking a bankruptcy to get a better chance at that would have been worth it.

I don't regret trying. I needed to try. And I think it was a near-run thing. I could have made it. I feel like there are several points here where if i zigged instead of zagging, I'd have done really well.

I just regret that I spent so long at it, without much success. A spectacular flameout involving business and personal bankruptcy after three or five years would have been far better for my long-term financial health than just slogging along at 1/4 wages for a decade.


I disagree depending on the circumstances.

If you are just trying to make ends meet, then yes, probably don’t go for it.

If you need access to working capital to hire more people, increase production, etc then it’s completely worth it.

For reference I founded a consulting company. We landed large projects. Had to pay employees to produce the deliverables, but did not get paid until later.

Basic math here is: Typically Net 30 terms. Usually have to pay a month or so worth of salary before hitting milestone to allow billing (then 30 more days to get paid). With $80k/mo in salaries we required working capital.

Even at the criminal levels that are charged for startup loans (plus personal guarantee) it is worth it when you are making 60%+ margins.

I have since paid down the loan and then sold the consulting side to focus on some products with a small in-house team. Funded for years at this point.


Local bank offered $250k on a 3.8% APR. SBA offered $110k on 8% APR. bank loans aren’t that bad in a low interest rate environment.. SBA has a much more flexible repayment plan tho

Plus once you’re in profit, your loan frees up capital for growth.


You can file bankruptcy on failed loans. 2-3 years out the game and then you jump right back in

Don’t act like bankruptcy is bad, it’s a valid pathway and you should by all means use it instead of sitting in a hole for 5 years or more. But learn from it, don’t be that person filing chapter 7s every 7 years


> If you have a growing business making money it should be fairly straightforward to get a loan under your business name

That's a tale told by everyone who read books about business or took some MBA classes.

It is not the case.

You can only be guaranteed to get a loan that is collateralize by FCF. FCF loans are stupid because you pay interest on a loan that is given to you in the amount of FCF. If you already have FCF, the only reason to get that loan is to build a business credit history by, quite literally, paying for it. That credit history is irrelevant for next 5-10 years because conventional financial vehicles do not care about your credit history until it is about 10 years long.

That's why VCing is the thing. If you are small, you have growth and you have FCF, your rapid path forward is with VCs, not conventional loans


FCF == Free Cash Flow


Nope. They generally want physical assets, as collateral. Even then, you may have to sign personally, because your business has no credit history, etc.


When I was in tangentially involved in sales, companies under 2 years old were required by the underwriters to provide a personal guarantee. Similarly, any credit card issued in the name of the company either had very low credit limits or personal cosigners. This was like 20 years ago though, so things could be different now.


Opened a CC last year for my 8 month old business, got $40k line of credit on $100k gross revenue. The limit may have gone up since then (my personal cards have)

It feels a lot like 2005 all over again, easy credit that will wash up at the first hint of economic downturn (I had cards reduce their limits in 07 just because)


I’m bootstrapping my third company[1]. I sold the previous two.

I’m surprised my approach wasn’t mentioned: bootstrap with consulting revenue. It’s not novel (it’s how 37Signals bootstrapped Basecamp back in the day).

The ideal way is to provide a service that aligns with the product so you can deliver under the same brand.

In my case I’ve consulted as a fractional Product lead[2] since 2007 to bootstrap my product businesses. Consulting has allowed me to support my family and provided as much runway as necessary before the bootstrapped business could support me full time.

One criticism of this part-time consulting approach is that it distracts from the product. This is not true if you’re delivering a service that doesn’t compliment the business.

But ironically probably more than half the founders i know are in permanent fundraising mode for companies that probably shouldn’t have raised in the first place. I look at consulting as a higher probability form of fundraising and see time spent on it as little different than fundraising for the “traditional” angel or venture funded company.

1- my current company is https://www.savio.io

2- i do product management consulting through https://www.reemer.com


Yep, that's the approach that worked for us: we started a consulting company and built up a war chest to self-fund the initial development of our "real" idea.

Rather than pulling the trigger as an event, it was a process: we funded some prototype work - paid ourselves to prove out some things. Then we moved one of our devs (of 5) over to it full-time. As it started to take off, we began to wind down things on the consulting side while simultaneously moving more and more resources over to the new thing, until we were all over.

It's always scary, and there's always a point where you just have to jump in, but this way made the risk feel much more manageable.


The problem with consulting is that it only scales linearly with the amount of bodies you throw at it, and it takes a lot of time away. I have been "consulting with a view to bootstrap" for a year and a half now, and the result is that I still have no real product, because most of my brain energy is spent on the consulting side to keep the lights on.


In my experience the ideal is to have a little lead gem machine that spits out leads, and discipline around how much time I consult every week vs time spent working on the product.


The ideal thing is if you can consult in the field your product is in.

For instance, I run an LSAT prep business, and started with tutoring. This gave me a pool of users I was close to for feedback on whatever I was working on, and kept me close to the material.

Trying to do unrelated consulting is much harder.


Shouldn’t there be an additional scaling factor as those bodies gain experience and you improve workflows?


Maybe media do not report on that because it's the obvious way to do it. I am doing the same for my own company.


Agreed. I’m a little surprised Indie Hackers didn’t mention it (hence my comment) given how viable it is. There are still stresses associated with this approach.


Would you mind saying how old you are? I'm 37 and wondering if that's too late to try my first the bootstrapping a side business path. I imagine I'll make mistakes along the way as a first timer.


42. Never too late but my advice would be to de risk as much as possible (eg get paid by customers as early as possible - that’s true validation).


I spent some of my best years bootstrapping a business (trying to avoid the word "startup"), growing steady each year 30-50%. No hockey stick so far, but our customers are happy and the product rocks.

1) It is hard, properly HARD.

2) It does not seem like it is fair to yourself - you might feel like you are not really giving yourself a proper chance, be it capturing the market, hiring the best possible talent etc.

3) It might make you more risk averse, as you are gambling with your baby.

4) On the other hand, it is not the low risk path either, so it sort of conflicts with #3. I mean that there are a lot of risks involved in raising capital at an early stage, but going the tortoise path has other kinds of risks. Also see #2.

5) Your type of market needs to support it, obviously. Low investment product, stable customer base. In our case, the customers are large semi-governmental organizations and in all of history we have lost just 1 established customer. This gives a lot of consolation that you are building a house, one brick at a time.

6) You need a lot of mental stamina - everyone else seems to be doing things more cleverly. Your buddies will move on to work for the big bucks and establish their careers, others might be busy burning through VC money. It will take time.

8) Sometimes an investor will come along and try to offer you their money. But it often turns out as if your are playing a totally different ball game. One thing I learned was to ask not just how many X they expect us to deliver, but straight out ask how many X-s their "family" or whatever expects them to deliver.

But in the end you might have a company that is actually self sustaining, fantastic people around you and customers that appreciate what you are doing to them. I consider myself lucky, though. Feels like all odds were stacked against us.


> * opt only for business ideas that can generate good revenue upfront

The fact that this isn't a fundamental requirement perplexes me. But I consider the generic silicon valley startup model a sickness. You sell your and the company's soul to VC's before you even make a dime at the expense of the people who sweat and bled for you and who you also promised stake, only to routinely get screwed by the VC's who get paid out first.

> * jump into bootstrapping full time while relying on personal savings

It can be done, but I don't recommend it.

> * bootstrap on the side while working a day job

This is what I did. About the time you're pulling your hair out because you don't have enough time in the day to follow through with taking people's money is a great time to finally quit that day job.


Keeping your day job and being willing to slog through your nights and weekends is a level zero test of whether you believe in your own success. “I don’t have time” is the sorriest excuse for an excuse.

If you really want to make it you’ll make time. If you don’t, consider it an indication that you don’t have what it takes.


I have a four month old daughter. My job takes eight hours, almost two hours more for the commute, at least an hour each day for cooking and meal prep, six hours for sleep, and the rest is taken up with the baby. I get some work done on weekends or in the middle of the night but it's not enough.

I recently negotiated with work to drop down to four days a week. They refused to let me do three days a week for the worst reason: my coworkers depend on me too much, so they need my butt in the chair. I tried it for a bit, but it's still nowhere near enough time to bootstrap my side project. So I decided to quit. I'll burn savings for a bit while I try to prove out my idea.

My wife knows she married a starving artist. I feel a lot older than I wanted to be when starting a family, but we're getting old enough that we don't have the luxury of putting it off any longer. I don't know if I'll ever be able to afford a house.

Am I failing your level zero test? Not everyone is a 21 year old college graduate with zero expenses or obligations. Saying it's just the "sorriest excuse for an excuse" and "you don't have what it takes" is just insulting. Real people have real time commitments in the real world.


For what it's worth, I did launch a side-project into a full-time company the same year my first kid was born. I would contend that if you have difficulty managing all the competing interests in your life between work family and side-projects now, it will not likely improve when you launch your former side project into a full time gig. Elon Musk is notorious for not taking vacations and sleeping on the factory floor when exciting shit is going down. His partner knows this and is ok with that. If yours isn't, then frankly, yeah it's going to be a major uphill battle and stressor on your relationship to try and pull that off.

It's totally ok to not be in a position to do this. In fact, it's arguably a healthier way of living. But it may still be an indication of failing that level zero test because you just aren't into it enough. Business is not the make-a-wish foundation.


Just a shot in the dark. But how hard would it be to reduce your commute to practically 0? How hard would it be to convince your co-workers/manager of working remote?


People make different choices, and then they have to live with the consequences.

I agree that not having time is a sorry excuse because it ignores that people made decisions on how to spend their time.


”I don’t have time” is the sorriest excuse for an excuse.

Yeah some people have to do silly things like spend time with their kids and make sure they are attentive to their spouses.


I 100% agree with that. If you can't balance your career/interests/family/side-projects/sanity to keep everyone happy while working a day job, then good luck doing a lot more of the same after you fully launch.


We're not on LinkedIn, so it's probably a good idea for you to keep the gratuitous chest-beating to a minimum.

Let's be honest. Having what it takes is about whether you successfully sell the MVP you get built to happy paying customers and keep the momentum going. Simple as that. "Slogging" through the nights and weekends on an idea that doesn't have legs is a level zero test of being a glutton for pain. Don't mistake that for actual progress.


Do you have kids? Do you have a wife pressuring you to save for a deposit on a house and get a mortgage in an overpriced market in order to provide a stable environment for the kids?

I doubt it. This is typical generic startup know-it-all bullshit.


The cynical me hints that "for the kids" is just a nice way to say "I need an option for 50% that I get to execute, should I leave our startup." With this logic, the price of the house doesn't matter.


I have kids, launched my company the same year my son was born, and 100% agree with his statement.

There's room for some level of success outside of failing that "level 0 test", but there's also a lot of truth in those words too.


>>Do you have a wife pressuring you to save for a deposit on a house and get a mortgage in an overpriced market in order to provide a stable environment for the kids?

Wait... are you seriously suggesting that struggling to save the deposit for and then buying an overpriced house will provide a stable environment for your kids?


You're attacking a strawman. Nobody was saying anything about struggling. Accumulating a down payment is by definition a lengthy process because you have to pay rent while you are saving up money. If you could get a mortgage with 0% down you could immediately convert the money you would have spent on rent into equity.


If the environment was poor, people probably would not bid much for the house.


Amen


Even a company which can go better than ramen profitable with the first sale still has risk in the expenses of closing the first sale.


I was revenue-positive by the second month but couldn't draw a salary until the end of year two. Everything was reinvested into the business. Having a spouse who contributed household income and health insurance was the only way I was able to do it. I am eternally grateful to her.

I also picked up a few consulting gigs (including one that was quite steady) and still do that now.


I am pleasantly surprised to see Amir Rajan on that list. From this reddit post I thought that after his game went viral he couldn't capture any long-term success and went back to working a regular job: https://www.reddit.com/r/Entrepreneur/comments/7m96wn/a_dark...

It's a fascinating story. He has several other iOS games besides A Dark Room, but none of them seemed to go anywhere. Glad to hear his business is doing better now.

I suppose there's always money in the Skyrim business model -- just port your one successful game to every platform ever :)


I’ve pretty much given up on working as a coder, as it seems too hostile to side endeavors. From manager squeezing time, to contracts squeezing IP, it creates a fearful mentality. Working as a laborer not touching computers feels like the way. As a bonus, I barely have to go to the gym to stay ripped. My phone never rings and everything I touch is mine. I worked in SV startups and corps for some years, always felt too risky to work on the side if I wasn’t sleeping or getting drunk. I’m not sure what I’m founding yet and have no pressure, I just work for hours a day on whatever if I don’t have a job scheduled. Where’s my business co-founder? Email in profile.


Genuine question here: have you thought about trying Upwork? You can set your hourly rate low to start off with and then gradually increase it as you get more satisfied customers, more reviews, more proof of your capabilities. You'll have a global customer base, and so long as you get things done in a timely manner, not that much trouble finding work. It won't be market rate for a long time (if ever), but based on your past posting history, it might be something that could be really helpful for you right now. Best of luck!


How ripped are we talking here?


I think there's two approaches to this and they probably often overlap.

You may have a great idea and you want to do it because you believe its a great thing to accomplish.

Or you may think you want to maximize your net income, and do whatever it takes to do that.

I think the latter is better if that is what you want to do but only if that is what you want to do.


If I could do it all over again and actually succeed this time:

* Get your living expenses down to $1000/mo before you start your startup (this is just a target for the northwestern US, find your own where you live).

* Multiply all projections by 3. People will complain that you are being over-conservative and probably laugh at you or grow concerned. They might point to other companies that succeeded in such and such time. Ignore them just like they ignore survival bias.

* Divide revenue by 5 to 10. A repair business running at 30% profitability needs to gross $3 for every dollar it keeps. A restaurant needs to make 20x at 5% margin. Chargebacks. Refunds. Illness. Accidents. Countless life experiences can make it feel like you are treading water for months/years. Another way to say this is that each dollar you make in your startup is like making $5-10 anywhere else, so treat it with the reverence it deserves.

* Donate plasma. This is a form of prostitution because you are selling yourself for money, but you'll make an extra $300/mo. You'll get a glimpse of the value of human life and dignity inherent to an industrial society that's being denied to us all by the lack of UBI. It will also show you the true value of money because you'll see that retail service jobs pay 1/2 to 1/4 per hour what plasma pays. You'll learn how all money is blood money because someone always exchanges blood, sweat, tears or time for it (unless they are born into it like the people who most likely have it today). And if you aren't ready to put your life on the line in some fashion, you might not be ready to make the big sacrifices that running a startup demands, or even lead others.

* Learn The Secret (The Law of Attraction) and other mindfulness practices. It's not so much that they are real (my experience is that it's all real) but that successful people are likely to attribute their success to things besides luck. It's good to know how to speak the lingo and present a good appearance for networking, since your primary revenue stream will probably come from a human need you might not have expected.

* Find a romantic partner that believes in you. Short of that, work a good job for a while and provide for their needs for some number of months or years before your startup so they're willing to take a risk on you. Or reject this advice completely and be a loner for a few years. Most startups were started by geeks, so it might be advantageous. But if you succeed, don't be a douche. Nobody likes that you succeed. Many secretly hate you for it. Be magnanimous. Pay it forward. If you suffer in solitude or walk around like a self-help guru, you'll probably fail.

* Remember that the thing isn't the thing. Financing to get you to the thing is. Our entire system of western capitalism is at odds with your personal dream of being the next Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. And since all money is blood money, maybe you don't want that anyway. We need new heroes like, I dunno, Captain America. I think that there is vast untapped potential in ideas like cooperatives and communal stewardship of the things we care about. I've tried to adopt ideas like radical inclusion into my life. Maybe something in your belief system will lead you to a worthy cause and the funding to see it through. We all know that banks sure won't.

Well this post stinks but my gut seems satisfied that most of the nonintuitive stuff has been covered. Happy holidays everyone.


This was an intriguing read, so I'm kind of reluctant to go OT... but is selling blood and/or plasma really a thing in the US?

For background, I'm from the UK, where people donate blood, plasma and platelets, and AFAIK, it's illegal to sell such things. I read all kinds of things about US health care on HN, but this isn't something I've come across before. If true... I don't know exactly, it just feels very, very strange, especially for a "western" country.


In Germany you can also get paid to donate blood or plasma. So this definitely happens in Europe as well. However the pay is not that high, it’s basically just a small compensation for your lost time and nutrients.


I'm from Europe as well and remember seeing this mentioned in more than one US movie.

For example, there is a scene in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pursuit_of_Happyness where the main character sells blood for money.

You can find several websites that mention this "money making strategy": https://www.thepennyhoarder.com/make-money/240-month-selling...


Selling blood is somewhat outlawed. I say somewhat because you can still receive gift cards and movie tickets.

Selling plasma for cash is mostly done by very impoverished people. I used to live a few blocks from one of these businesses. The people you see hanging around the place would probably discourage anyone but the neediest from "donating."


> is selling blood and/or plasma really a thing in the US?

Yes. An acquaintance who has a Masters in CS (but no experience so they're finding the job search tough) sells weekly.


Wait how. I want to do this. Sounds like great extra income.


People can donate but what if there is a need for more?


I'm not sure why you are being down-voted. The thing is, your experiences are going to paint the world for you in a certain way. If you are living in an honest society where everyone is kind and most of your interactions are legitimate, you'll think everyone is honest. You are up for a shock in a dishonest society where everyone thinks that everyone is a thief. They'll probably think you are an idiot too.

For all purposes, I hope you are doing better now and things are working out for you!


Plasma isn't free, you are literally selling the energy it will take your body to rebuild that plasma


Back in the day, my mother would sell plasma and immediately spend half of it on liver. Plasma may not be free to produce, but it can still be mispriced.


>Learn The Secret (The Law of Attraction)

Get by by donating plasma, presumably fail in the end.

You're not really selling me on this approach. I'm a bit anti "The Secret" by the way.


Curious are you anti-the power of attraction or anti Oprah recommended books that have mass appeal when they shouldn't.

Reminds me of Led Zepplin.. music snobs will profess to how bad stairway to heaven is but love black dog or battle of evermore on that same album. They hate stairway to heaven because others like it. If the song was hated they would be the first to love it.


Referring specifically to "The Secret" DVD I watched the first minute and it comes over as so much lies and hucksterism. I couldn't take more than that. I like Stairway to Heaven.


It sounds like you've been through some things. How'd it all work out? I'd honestly love to hear it, you're a great writer.


It's like the embodiment of "nice guys" but for startups.


Thanks! Hey you know, I'd like to respond to everyone, but since you asked: it never really did work out. When I try to write up a summary of the highs and lows that got me here, it ends up being long and negative so I’ll save it for a blog post. I’m in a committed relationship in a home we share together and get a lot of love and support from my family. I couldn’t ask for a better upbringing. So there’s a lot of guilt there that I let opportunities slip by. But I mainly wanted to reply because I’m sorry I compared donating plasma with prostitution, I don’t believe it’s like that, and it was wrong to write that. Something has been bothering me about the idea of selling oneself in one form or another, and I think what I was trying to say was that when people do what they must for self-preservation, then that's noble and we shouldn't be so quick to judge them when we haven't walked in their shoes. If anyone reads this someday, please don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t remember only your mistakes like I do.

As far as the future goes, I just got out of a 4 year stint at one of the better consulting agencies in town so am back to contracting. I’d like to be part of something bigger than myself, with a grander purpose like ending labor as we know it. I believe there is a bright future in the gig economy and that eventually we’ll be able to work as needed, sustainably. Once we have something like a global jobs service so that labor security is always available, it will put pressure on corporations to raise wages. That should prop up the late-stage capitalism we’ve found ourselves in long enough that robot labor can take over when the singularity arrives around 2040 and provide UBI for everyone. It’s either that or dystopia.

With all these things, it’s hard to tell anymore if I’m talking about myself or the world. So I’ve been coping a lot and battling depression off and on. But I’m also grateful to be alive in such interesting times.




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