Bootstrapping: “The art of learning to do more with less.”

Gary Rushin

Gary Rushin – Turnaround Specialist

Bootstrapping…bootstrapping…bootstrapping, it can be said that the purest form of entrepreneurship is bootstrapping.  During the prelaunch phase of a company and at times when access to business capital is difficult, bootstrapping is the way to go. To compete with existing businesses entrepreneurial firms face two major disadvantages: the burden of smallness and the disadvantage of newness. The reality means that the majority of start-up businesses and small businesses lack available resources to effectively compete (Winborg, 2009). Access to capital is a major issue for entrepreneurs. Inexperience of many entrepreneurs has made it extremely difficult to obtain debt and equity when lack of a track record, reputation, or collateral for loans exists.  Starting with personal savings, followed by funding through family and friends, have been the main sources of finance for the vast majority of entrepreneurs. Engaging in “bootstrapping activities” is the way to go in operating the business.

Do not be discouraged with the thought of bootstrapping. There exist many great American bootstrapping success stories. A snippet include (Sherman, 2005):

Apple Computer. In 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak sold a Hewlett-Packard programmable calculator and a Volkswagen van to raise $1,350. Through bootstrapping, the partners built the first Apple I personal computer in Job’s garage.

Hewlett-Packard Co.  Starting with $538 in 1938, Hewlett-Packards first client was fellow bootstrapper Walt Disney, who required sound equipment for the production of Fantasia in 1940.

Microsoft Company. With is high school sidekick (Paul Allan) and dropping out of Harvard University, Bill Gates moved into an Albuquerque hotel room in 1975 to start the company and write the programming language for the first commercially available microcomputer.

Nike Inc. William Bowerman and Philip Knight in the early 1960s sold imported Japanese sneakers from the trunk of a station wagon with startup costs of $1,000.

Lillian Vernon Corp. With her brainstorming idea of selling monogrammed purses and belts through the mail, Lillian Vernon established a mail-order company in 1951.  As a recent bride and four months pregnant, Lillian needed to earn extra money to support her new family. Society in the 1950s dictated that she stay at home for the duration of the pregnancy. A home-based business was her answer.  Lillian took $2,000 that her husband and she received as wedding gifts and designed a bag and belt set targeted at high school girls.  She manufactured the set through her father’s leather goods company. Than placing a $495, one-six-of-a-page ad in the September 1951 issue of magazine Seventeen the company generated $32,000 in orders by the end of the year.

The use of bootstrapping requires imaginative and parsimonious strategies for marshaling and controlling necessary resources. Think of bootstrapping from two perspectives:

1.    Raising money without the use of banks or investors.
2.    Gaining access to resources without the need for money.

First, entrepreneurs can raise money through the use of personal credit cards, cross-subsidizing from other businesses owned or through employment, reducing the time for invoicing seeking advanced payments and loans from friends and family. Entrepreneurs can hire temporary employees, share premises and/or employees with other entities, share or borrow the use of equipment, and obtain emotional support, skills, and knowledge from friends and family.

A key question that should be asked, “Do I need it or want it?”  In the event the entrepreneur needs a resource, try to use a bootstrapping technique to get it. If the entrepreneur wants a resource, defer the purchase. Preservation of cash is important.  This means controlling cost too.

Based on the writing of Oswald Jones and Dilani Jayawarna (2010) some bootstrapping techniques include:

•    Customer related

  • Receive payments in advance
  • Obtain advance payments
  • Increase invoicing
  • Select customers that pay on time

•    Delay payment

  • Negotiate payment conditions
  • Barter for goods and services
  • Lease rather than purchase

•    Owner related

  • Change salary payment period from weekly to bi-monthly
  • Use personal credit cards
  • Cross-subsidize with other businesses or employment
  • Fund through friends and family

•    Joint use

  • Borrow equipment from other companies
  • Use temperate employees or contractors
  • Share equipment, premises and employees

Simply put, bootstrapping is “entrepreneurship in its purest form” (Salimath & Jone, 2011). Overcoming resource constraints enables business operations to continue with the aid of external financial resources. Bootstrapping transforms human capital into financial capital also known as sweat equity that converts into bankable equity. It is about creating value that includes the idea of “meeting the need for resources without depending on long-term financing (debt or equity).  Bootstrapping is the strategy of necessity for entrepreneurs and not of choice.

For entrepreneurs that want to learn how to raising money for their business, go to to sign up for a free video training course. The course is offered for free for a limited time. Sign up Now!!

Gary Rushin, CPA/CIRA (

Gary Rushin, a licensed Certified Public Accountant and is a Certified Insolvency and Restructuring Advisor mentors entrepreneurs and business executives on business strategy and corporate renewal. Gary Rushin taught executive level business students in the U.S., India, and China and has advised donor agencies and a central bank on prudential underwriting and supervision.

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Jones, O., & Jayanwarna, D. (2010). Resourcing new businesses: social networks, bootstrapping and firm performance. Venture Capital , 12 (2), 127-157.
Salimath, M. S., & Jone, R. J. (2011). Scientific entrepreneurial management: bricolage, bootstrapping, and the quest for efficiencies (Vol. 17). Orange, CA: Journal of Business & Management.
Sherman, A. J. (2005). Raising Capital (Vol. 2). New York, NY: AMCOM, 2. 30-33.
Winborg, J. (2009). Use of financial bootstrapping in new businesses: A question of last resort? Venture Capital, 11 (1), 71-83.

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