It sounds frightening, but bootstrappers report they not only learned precious lessons from cutting corners but also had fun in the process. Surviving can be a pretty exciting game. It certainly was for the Franz brothers.
In 1988, Bob Franz, a former salesperson for Hughes Missile Systems, launched Tucson, Arizona-based Executive Office Systems. With minimal capital and only one technician, Franz set up the fax and copy machine dealership in his home.
Although he didn't realize what the word meant at the time, Franz was a natural bootstrapper. His kitchen table served as his desk, his garage was his warehouse, and a decrepit pickup truck delivered the merchandise. Ten months after starting his business, he rented an office in a rundown part of the city, about 30 miles from the city's business center.
In 1991, Franz's brother, Ron, joined the company as an equal partner, and they changed the name of the company to Copier Brothers. Even though the business was profitable, Ron says the two men continued to bootstrap. "We were almost frugal to a fault," he says.
Ron adds that bootstrapping has become a way of life for the two brothers. "I guess we developed a budget mentality, and it never went away," he says. "Even today, we spend very carefully. While many of our successful competitors drive luxury cars, my brother and I drive pickups."
Running a tight ship during those early years certainly paid off. This year, the Franz brothers project sales of $11 million, a substantial increase over last year's $8 million.
As these entrepreneurs proved, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps makes good sense when other cash avenues are closed. It may even teach you lessons that will keep your company profitable well into the future.