I'm going to talk to bootstrappers but you don't have to be starting a company to get something from this post. Also, I'm going to talk about bootstrapping (because it's my preference), but it's not because I don't have experience raising venture capital.
Why wait for permission?
When I first started working at Berkeley Lab in the mid-90's I remember waiting to be part of something big. I was on a project to help get video to move across the Internet and I watched the big and important teams do amazing things while I managed a team of 5.
My mentor at the lab asked me a question that challenged me then and has challenged me since then.
Why are you waiting for someone else to tell you it's ok to be a big success?
He was right. I was waiting. I wanted to be part of something big, but I was hoping to get picked, like schoolyard kickball. His question pushed me to evaluate my own insecurities.
Everyone I know is Insecure
My dad got his second masters degree from USC when I was 18 and about to go to Berkeley. He said, “Don't tell me getting A's is hard in college, because I just did it.” Trust me when I tell you it made me nervous and a bit insecure. Could I meet his expectations?
Even after graduating, I constantly walked around with a sense that someone was going to walk up behind me and see that I didn't know what I was doing, and call me a fraud. But since then, I've learned something…
Every high performer I've ever met has a bit of insecurity that drives them.
But that insecurity doesn't stop them – it drives them forward – to try things.
There's a certain class of folks – folks I have been engaging for the last decade – called bootstrappers that demonstrate this better than anyone else. The term bootstrapper simply means someone who starts an effort to build something without funding (or formal backing).
Bootstrappers ask for favors
When bootstrappers start thinking about a new project or company, they don't stress that they won't be able to do everything themselves. They know they have friends (and that their friends have friends) that can help them. And they're not afraid to ask for some favors.
I don't know what may be holding you back, but there's likely someone in your network that could help you – that's been on the road you're on and happens to be in front of you. Leverage them. Ask for help.
Or borrow from customers. If you're building something your customers want, and they have the capital you need, see if they'll front you the money. Isn't that what Kickstarter is doing?
Bootstrappers get creative
When bootstrappers start a new project or company, they realize they may not have all the resources they need, but they make great use of what they have already and leverage it for what it's worth.
If you have a smart phone you can now create a video. If you have a microphone, you can now create a podcast. If you have a computer, you can create an online course. The tools (like WordPress) are out there (and free) to do amazing things.
So leverage them – to build an audience, to grow a community, and to create something from nothing. I've written about it before, but we used a bunch of free tools to create a business that generates over $10,000/month in recurring revenue for the owner. How? We got creative.
Bootstrappers know that version one is just a draft. They know they'll be working on v.2 just as v.1 goes out to a few folks to try. But that doesn't stop them.
So we're clear. I'm not talking about just your product or service. I'm talking about your business model. Iterate it until it turns your assets into cash – consistently and profitably. A bad business model will kill you. A great business model, on the other hand – not only meets a need but does so profitably.
Bootstrappers get things done
Maybe the most important thing to note about bootstrappers is that they get things done. They don't wait for everyone to agree that their idea rocks. They don't wait for everyone to give them permission. They don't wait until they have every single little thing figured out. But they execute.
They understand that the idea isn't the big deal. Execution is the big deal (which is why I focus on Done Done all the time).
So here's your Permission – Go!
I don't know about you but I know there have been times when I've dreamt of doing something else, building something else, starting something else – and the only thing holding me back was my need for permission.
I know the same thing happens to me sometimes at work. I have an idea but I wait to see who will approve it – even if there's no one above me to approve it except the CEO (and I've never shared it).
So here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to give you permission right now.
Go! Start something. Now. You have my permission.