Thoughts on Bootstrapping vs. Venture Capital

I spoke with a buddy today who asked me for my thoughts on raising capital for his business versus bootstrapping. I shared the lessons I learned from bootstrapping my own start-up and from investing as a venture capitalist:

  • Market size – It’s important to understand the size of the market you’re going after. If it’s a small market, raising capital is less likely to make sense. If it’s a large one, then raising capital can make sense, depending on other factors.
  • Destination – Once you understand how big the market is, you can determine how much of it you want to capture. CCAW’s market was $40 billion. I figured we could realistically capture 1% of it and build a $400 million company. Sadly, I didn’t think about this early enough in my entrepreneurial journey.
  • Speed of execution – Once you know how big a company you want to build, you can think about the time frame for achieving your goal. The faster you want to execute, the more resources you’ll need. If you believe you’re facing a closing window of opportunity, you may want to execute as fast possible.
  • Team – Given the speed with which you want to execute, who do you need on your team? Unsurprisingly, the faster you want to execute, the more people you’ll need.
  • Runway – Consistent execution is important. You’ll want to make sure you have enough financial runway (i.e., cash) to consistently execute on your plan at the speed you envision. If you’re executing at a slow to moderate pace, bootstrapping may suffice. It’s more challenging (though not impossible) to provide ample runway for rapid execution if you’re bootstrapping.
  • Accountability – The bootstrapping approach usually means the founder isn’t accountable to anyone. If you raise capital from others, it comes with an enhanced level of accountability. In my experience, most people need accountability—but no one wants it.

How to capitalize a new or existing business is situational. This is one of many decisions a founder has to make. There’s no right or wrong answer in the abstract—only the right answer for your situation.