Sometimes You Just Need Breathing Room

I’m often asked why I didn’t raise capital from investors at CCAW, instead choosing to bootstrap. I think people expect to hear some strategic thought-out reason. The truth is much simpler. I didn’t know any better. That may sound ridiculous. Let me clarify a bit.

Not raising capital forced me to be capital-efficient, but it also resulted in challenges. Most of them I didn’t recognize until much later. We had customer revenue from day one, so I viewed us as different from companies that burn cash for months while they build a product. Customer cash flows were fine in the beginning, but as I started to think more strategically it wasn’t enough. We had enough money to pay salaries and other operating expenses, but sometimes we didn’t have enough left to invest in strategic projects. And if we did, we didn’t have enough for the entire project.

I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t afford the appropriate resources for the entire time it would take for these projects to pay off. This resulted in a start-and-stop rhythm. We’d start, run out of money, and stop until we got enough in the bank to start again. This extended projects unnecessarily and frustrated the team. Really big projects can require people who work on nothing else. With some of them, it takes a year or two before you see an ROI. That means paying salaries for two years without a contribution to revenue or profitability. We couldn’t afford to carry salaries on the books that long if they didn’t result in revenue. Our large projects were understaffed at times or simply never happened. Strategic projects are what move most companies forward. We never had enough runway to execute properly on our strategic projects. We had too many conflicting draws on our limited capital.

With the benefit of hindsight, I’d do lots of things differently. Mainly, I’d think hard about the resources needed to implement my vision. That would take time, but I’d identify the first major milestones. The milestones would be early indicators of success. For CCAW, that would’ve been early signs of increasing revenue. I’d determine what people and resources were needed and what the time frame was. I’d put all that into a simple budget. That budget, along with my vision, would have been great tools for soliciting investor capital. Had I gotten an investor, it might have given me the breathing room we needed to start working toward my vision. Notice I didn’t say it would’ve been enough capital to make the vision reality—just enough to show others that my team had what it took to make progress. If we were successful, I’m sure additional capital would have been easy to come by.

Hindsight is 20/20, and I wouldn’t change anything about my journey. The situation I’ve described isn’t unique to me. I regularly speak with entrepreneurs in similar situations. They just don’t have enough breathing room to begin executing.

If you’re in that situation, considering identifying short-term milestones that will show you’re headed in the right direction. Couple them with a timeline and budget and you’ll have a powerful tool that will help others understand your vision. Asking for a small amount of capital (just enough to allow you to make some progress) de-risks you as an investment. You will still hear “no” from lots of investors, but you’re more likely to find one willing to give you a shot. There’s a lot to be said for breathing room!