10 things we are ignoring in our bootstrapped startup

If you are reading this, odds are you are either running your own business or have interest in starting up for yourself.

You might be overwhelmed with all of the things you ‘should’ be focusing on. Conversions, validation, split testing, scale, design, pricing… the list goes on and on.

We’ve found a lot of the advice that we read online is only suitable for established companies. SaaS startups are different. Service startups are different. And self funded service startups, well.. they’re a whole new ballgame. There are only a few things that really matter and a lot that don’t matter too much… well, at least not yet.

Here are 10 things we are ignoring in our bootstrapped startup WP Curve.

1.  Automation

It’s truly astonishing how many people tell us we should automate this and automate that. Bullshit. Automate things when they become a problem. And remember… don’t solve problems you don’t have.

We’re keeping it old school with our systems and processes. We’ve found our customers really enjoy receiving a personalized email when we solve their WordPress problem.

This goes against the grain of what a lot of automation gurus will tell you, but hey – we actually enjoy talking to our customers. Other examples of tasks that we could probably automate but haven’t yet are: creating valuable content, writing personalised welcome emails and customer service.

Even some of our WordPress development tasks could be automated, but those tasks become problems when we have thousands of customers. As Bane says… “that comes later”.

bane

Because a customer service business is reliant on humans, we feel to build a sustainable company; we should provide excellent customer experience first.

Sure… it takes a lot of effort, but when you really think about it, who you would recommend to your friends? The telephone company that leaves you on hold for 30 minutes or Zappos, the customer service team who went down in service folklore by ordering their customer a pizza, just because they asked?

Don’t automate what you’re good at. Get better at it!

2.  Passive income

Hey – we love the idea of a passive income stream. 4 hour work week? Oh yeah! As it turns out, a lot of folks get a bit confused between a recurring revenue stream and a passive income stream. A passive income stream will typically make you think of this:

norry lazy

What’s the difference? A recurring revenue stream requires effort. Passive means no action for monetary reward. Sounds too good to be true.

Passive income businesses are few and far between. Even passive income gurus run businesses that are heavily reliant on their input. There’s nothing passive about a business that dies when the founder gets hit by a bus.

So we’ve ignored passive income and are completely obsessed with recurring income.

A recurring monthly income stream is more stable and less stressful than relying on a project to project business, plus it makes calculating your customer’s lifetime value easy.

If you’re interested in building your own business, think about how you can deliver a product or service that helps you get paid every month.

3.  Split testing

When you start having arguments over how a sentence is written, you need to take a step back and think about what you’re trying to achieve.

norry junior

Dan and I both have strong opinions on what should and shouldn’t be on our site, but here’s the funny thing. While debating minutiae might seem productive and valuable in the moment, it’s a massive distraction and you probably don’t need it just yet. Go and get some customers!

We’re absolutely, positively going to optimize our site and test the bollocks out of our copy, but right now the priority is getting people interested in who we are, what we do and how we can help their business.

During the start up phase of your business, the colour of a button is not going to be materially impact your sign ups.

4.  Design

As much as this one hurts Dan (he’s a design tragic), we haven’t spent money on a red-hot designer.  So we are making do with Dan’s Fireworks mockups, off the shelf themes, a few cheap PSD libraries and some stock images.

We would love an award winning design.

bad design

We were actually kind of jealous of WP Engine’s recent redesign, but we’d run for the hills when the bill arrives. The truth is – our customers care more about whether we can solve their problems. So we focus on the social proof, testimonials and spreading the word. Design takes a back seat.

Obviously, you don’t want a horrible design but we believe there is a minimum quality level you can reach without spending big on a pro design. Dan discusses this approach in his post How I hack excellence with 1 simple trick.

5.  ‘Pro’ copywriting

Dan’s been creating guides, producing podcasts and crafting blog posts that are extremely valuable for the last six years.

Meanwhile, I’ve been slaving away at uni and corporate jobs, compiling essays, documents and reports that would put you to sleep. But here’s the funny thing… we both love writing content!

There’s nothing quite like putting yourself out there, trying to help people out and getting feedback on what worked and didn’t. One of the best ways to generate traffic to your business website is to create valuable assets and give them away.

Do it yourself and your writing will improve. Rapidly.

crafting copy

Having a pro copywriter on board would be great. But for now, we seek advice from experts like James Schramko, Noah Kagan and Dane Maxwell.

Do the best you can with what you have.

6.  Complicated analytics

Analytics and tracking tools like Kiss Metrics and Crazy Egg are great and can have a big impact on your business. But for an overworked co-founder, it can become way too easy to get bogged down in the numbers.

We see value in analytics, but at the same time things get messy when you get carried away. For an early stage startup, there is rarely enough data to draw conclusive outcomes or real statistical significance.

There are only a few metrics we worry about. These are very easy to track and we track them in a Google spreadsheet (remember what we said about automation?)

  • $ revenue and profit
  • Monthly growth in signups
  • Customer satisfaction – NPS means nothing, we talk to our customers and take action on what they say

While there is a need and value in using analytics tools, when you focus on your growth and keeping customers happy, you can look at the details later.

Keep it simple, start-up founder!

confused norry

7.  Accepted expenses

Events, meet ups and conferences are a mixed bag.

Sometimes, you’ll feel like no-one there even has a business. Other times, like at last week’s Ontrapalooza, you’ll have a blast and cover the cost of your travel, accommodation and expenses through business generated directly from new clients you meet at the conference.

ontrapalooza

So how do you attend a conference at a fancy hotel for three days and nights and keep your expenses under $1,000? Here are a few tips.

  • Use Craigslist rideshare to travel from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. $200 saving!
  • Share a room with someone – thanks Jake Hower$535 saving!
  • Order the biggest pizza you can get your hands on and eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner… mmm. $40 saving!
  • Take full advantage of open bar events and stock up just before the bar closes. Two Long Island Iced Teas, to go, please. $1,000 saving!
  • Force yourself to find a cheap way to get home. Thanks for the lift, Caleb Hodges$200 saving!

Just because everyone else is paying top dollar, doesn’t mean you have to.

Have some fun and see if you can hustle a ride, a cheaper conference ticket or even a free overnight stay.

8.  Office space

Another thing you don’t need is a fancy office, which is an enormous overhead. Especially when you live on the Gold Coast or in San Francisco, like we do.

Maybe, just maybe you could use a co-working space. But if you need to take client calls and work silly hours, a home office is going to do the trick. Dan works from his garage (Jeff Bezos style) and I work from my home office / bedroom.

As an added bonus you’ll save money on food by being close to the fridge and if you’re a big procrastinator, you’ll find that your house is spic and span while your startup flails in the background.

We are looking forward to having an office or joining co-working spaces, but for now it’s garages and bedrooms.

Don’t use excuses like ‘I need an office to be legit’. You can do it from home.

9.  Fancy computers

When I relocated from Sydney to LA, I found my wife’s old computer under the lounge, gathering dust.

It was abandoned for a shiny new 2012 MacBook Pro. Instead of returning the favour and buying me a new machine, my wife bought me a $3 Despicable Me decal to make it run quicker.

The decal works. It’s like a racing stripe!

despicable claff

Plus I downloaded every single Mac cleanup app on the market and ran them twice each. Now it purrs like a kitten.

Dan runs a 2 year old, 13″ MacBook air and has had the keyboard replaced twice as a result of his furious typing. Both times, Apple have replaced the top half of the laptop no questions asked.

A 2008 MacBook will do the job for you. It does for me!

10.  Shaving 

There’s something about unkempt facial hair that screams scrappy startup founder.

It’s part of your identity, like a hipster with a funky hat or a basketball fan who wears their team’s jersey so much, they had to buy two.

Save a few pennies on razors and get your beard on. Here’s a few variations to get you started…

beard

This is Dan’s ‘Abe Lincoln’.

magnum pi

This is Claff’s ‘Magnum PI’.

* For female founders, if dodging razors doesn’t appeal to you, you can try wearing the same clothes for a few days, skipping a few showers or being a bit of a slob around the house. You’ll get that gritty startup founder feel in no time.

OK. What do YOU think? Are there areas of your business that you’ve wasted way too much time on? Are there important points we’ve missed?

Please tell us in the comments!

About

Hi, I'm Alex McClafferty. I'm the co-founder of WP Curve.

  • Gideon Shalwick

    you guys are the two most awesomest entrepreneurs I know!

    • http://wpcurve.com/ Dan Norris

      Lol was it the mo or the beard?

      • Gideon Shalwick

        both pretty epic!

        • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

          Abe Lincoln beard wins IMHO. Dan and Abe have plenty in common. For example, Dan channels Abe with quotes like “Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” on a semi-regular basis.

  • mundacho

    Thanks for the post, I really enjoyed it. It is true that people tend to overdo things. It gives you the impression that you’re doing something useful. Personally I enjoy programming and I use automation as an excuse to program :-P. I also agree with you on shaving, maybe we could combine the movember movement with the founder/bootstrapper community.

    • http://wpcurve.com/ Dan Norris

      Yeah buddy, theres’s an idea!

      • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

        I love a dirty Movember moustache. I wonder how many folks I could get on board…

  • Marc Diaz

    Excellent post. When you’re starting up it’s tough to prioritize – one easy trick is whatever has the shortest path to revenue. Brave that you’re sharing while actually making the product.

    • http://wpcurve.com/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Marc, we are really focused on signing up customers but also doing a good job for them. It is working well.

    • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

      Appreciate your feedback Marc, thanks for your support!

  • Marcin

    “This is Claff’s ‘Magnum PI’.” Lol, I don’t even know how to comment it, so I’ll just smile :)

    • http://wpcurve.com/ Dan Norris

      I think he looks a bit creepy with the Magnum PI. Like more so than usual.

      • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

        I’m thinking the Genghis Khan will help mix it up.

  • Caleb Hodges

    Excellent post, super down to earth advice. Let the scruff begin!

    • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

      Would love to see your rendition of a beard. I’m also waiting on your guest post on networking at conferences and how to hustle a free night’s accommodation…

      • Caleb Hodges

        Its in the works, brother!

  • Derek Keepers

    Great article Alex. I was reviewing my key metrics yesterday and for a second I felt weird about only having two. Then I remembered,oh ya those are the only two that matter. I may have my head in the clouds, but I’m getting a lot done up here.

    • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

      Thanks Derek. There’s nothing wrong with having high expectations of yourself. I feel like Swapserve is one tweet away from superstardom ;)

  • Tania

    Great list

  • http://www.taniahew.com/ Tania H

    Great list. I would say I especially agree on the last part of the list because I concur with #6, 7, 8 and 9. However, I’m not so sure that #10 would work well for me here in North America :).

    • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

      Right on Tania! I did offer some alternatives, though. Ha!

  • Guest

    Hey Dan,

    Rocking post, I’m guessing you also would add advertising to that list ?

  • http://www.brokercorp.com/ Jock Purtle

    I guess you would also add advertising to that list ?

    • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

      Hey Jock – good pickup. Advertising is going to feature in the followup post to this… 10 things we are doing in our bootstrapped startup…

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  • John Peterson

    Great topic. There is so much you should ignore in the beginning. You can’t do it all. Even with 12-hour workdays. Something that has worked well for me is to slowly delegate tasks. As I get busy and have trouble meeting deadlines I start looking at ways to offload work. The repeatable tasks are no brainers. Next up are tasks that take me 5-hours to do and someone else 1-hour. Next up is finding cloud services. For $20 – $50 there are armies of services ready to solve your problems in a repeatable manner. Love the cloud. Makes my company super productive.

    • http://wpcurve.com/ Dan Norris

      Thanks John, what cloud services would you say help the most? We have boosted productivity a fair bit recently by using Zapier and ItDuzzit to sync our support emails and infusionsoft tasks with Trello.