Bootstrapping: Full-Time, but Not Really

I lived the bootstrap life with my company and learned a lot. It has pros and cons that founders should consider when deciding whether it’s the route they want to go. One of the things I regularly encounter is the full-time team taking no salary.

Building a company is hard. It takes a lot of time and effort. Naturally, you want your team to be focused. This usually means you want them to be working full time on your startup. This sounds great in theory, but it often doesn’t work in the real world. If the team is working full time with no salary (i.e., for equity or deferred cash compensation), they still must fund their lifestyle. They need cash. Some people are fortunate enough to have cash reserves, but most don’t want to burn through their savings. What usually happens is that your team starts doing things on the side for cash as they go longer without pay. As people start doing side things, they lose some focus. As they lose focus, things slow down a bit. As things slow down, people get frustrated. You see where this is going.

Bootstrapping is a good path in certain situations. I did it (albeit painfully) and built my company to over $10 million in revenue. I also personally went without pay and couldn’t afford to hire the people I needed for long periods of time. Founders should avoid asking people to work full time without a salary if that’s going to last for a while. It’s usually not sustainable, and talented people with options (including cash) may be less inclined to accept these types of offers.