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Band Aids and Filling Gaps

Monday, May 2, 2011 by Slaughter Development

Today’s blog post is by Nick Carter, author of “Unfunded: From Bootstrap to Blue Chip Without the Fuel of Round-A Capital.” His entry offers the story behind the story, untold tidbits that didn’t make the book’s final cut.

Bootstrapping a business means you have to make decisions from time to time that will keep you in business another month and resolve to deal with any fall-out in another year.  I have bought a cheap easel instead of the fancy one, knowing I’d have to replace it after just a few uses.  I have paid monthly on insurance premiums, foregoing nearly 25% in savings, simply because I didn’t have the cash-flow to prepay a year. I have hired a friend to fill a short-term position knowing I would need to retrain a new full-time employee within a year.  These are all concessions we know we must make as business owners.

The planners and theorists among us might call these sorts of decisions short-sighted, mere band-aids, or just plain bad ideas.  But the reality is that band-aids are sometimes required.  In medicine, first responders are trained for triage.  Nobody faults an EMT for taking stabilization measures before the injured patient can be transported to a surgeon for the long-term fix.  Growing businesses must make similar decisions when they are faced with challenges for which they do not have the immediate resources to address the “right” way.

I made such a decision when I created AddressTwo.  I am a firm believer that for any startup, time-to-market is a vastly more important objective than any other you can plan for.  However, startups that center their strategy on getting a minimally viable product to market quickly are often faced with several concessions in the interest of this pursuit.  For me, it was the fact that I, as a novice developer, knew only one rudimentary programming language—ASP Classic.  Was it enough to create a viable product?  Yes.  Was it ideal for a large-scale software company?  By no means.  But, when faced with the option to either forge ahead with the tools I had available, pause for a matter of months to learn new language, or spend my precious little capital on an outsourced developer, I remain confident today that the “short-sighted” decision I made in June of 2008 was absolutely right.

Nevertheless, I did make an error—one which I hope others can learn from.  No, it was not an error in the short-sighted decision to use an out-dated platform.  It was the error of failing to plan to compensate in the long term.  Let me explain.

When you put a band-aid on a gaping wound, you must then make a long-term plan for getting to the hospital for stitches.  When you buy that crummy easel that’s bound to fall apart, you must then begin saving for the more expensive version.  When you pay this month’s insurance premium, you still have to save for next month’s. When you hire your friend as a stop-gap employee, you still have to prepare to eventually onboard a more permanent staff member.

I continue to encourage young entrepreneurs to make decisions that will make the coffers ring on day-one.  But if those decisions mean leaving intentional gaps, you cannot forget to plan for the day when all the gaps will be filled.  It took us over two years, but last fall ASP classic met its match. As it turns out, ASP Classic isn’t scalable for thousands of users.  Who knew? Robby Slaughter knew.  Heck, I even knew it.  Now we’re working to replace that crummy old easel that is ASP Classic.  Did I make an error in June, 2008?  No.  I made it every day after that.

To read more about Nick Carter’s framework for startups and get copy of the book, visit the Unfunded website.

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Like this post? Here are some related entries from The Methodology Blog you might enjoy:

Putting Theory into Practice - Over at TechRepublic, writer Chip Camden reminds us that “no methodology or theory is a silver bullet.” Project success depends on the quality of execution, not blind adherence to broad principles. Read on »
The Challenge to Stopping Short - Let’s be honest, at some point or another we’ve all taken on a project that is never finished. For some of us, the choice to give up may be easy and guilt free. For others, the idea of throwing in the towel is more than just difficult. It’s painful. For my friend Gary, it was a matter of life or death. Read on »
Disregarding Decision - Jacob Miller prides himself on his decisiveness. No matter what options, alternatives or dilemmas forthcoming, he makes a choice and sticks to it. That is of course, until he chose to construct a home. Read on »
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