3 Companies You Should Emulate If You Want to Bootstrap Your Business Why it's okay to say 'no' to venture capital money.

By Brian de Haaff

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Maskot | Getty Images

There is plenty of hype in startup circles these days. But despite the whispered sightings of mythical beasts, there are no make-believe creatures that I know of. So, can we stop talking about unicorns?

I want to hear about workhorses. Here are a few companies that found success by bootstrapping their own business.


The email marketing software company began as a side project for founders Ben Chestnut and Dan Kurzius, and it did not take off until the partners quit their full-time jobs to focus exclusively on the company in 2007.

Since then, they have grown massively without any outside funding. In fact, they have repeatedly turned down venture capitalist offers so they can focus on serving their customers.

In a New York Times interview, Chestnut said, "Everybody we talked to said, "You're sitting on a gold mine, and if you pivot to enterprise, you could be huge.' But something in our gut always said that didn't feel right."

Related: How to Start a Business With (Almost) No Money


If you have never heard of eClinicalWorks, that's because it doesn't grab salacious headlines on tech blogs. However, the company has actually been around since 1999 and is one of the pioneers of electronic health records. It has remained private since that time -- something CEO Girish Navani has vowed to never change since bootstrapping the company himself.

By remaining untethered to investors, the company says it is able to "listen to what our customers say and respond to their needs."

Related: 8 Reasons a Powerful Personal Brand Will Make You Successful


No celebrity investors or expensive TV campaigns for this mattress startup. Co-founder Ron Rudzin began the company with his own money. He focused on building a healthy infrastructure and a product customers would love before worrying about name recognition.

While its growth has been slower than its rival, Saatva still amassed millions in revenue in 2016. Rudzin attributes the success to bootstrapping. In a New York Times interview, Rudsin said, "People who raise money, rather than be self-funded, tend to spend wildly because it's other people's money and they throw a bunch of stuff on the wall and see what sticks. I don't do it that way. I'm much more meticulous and efficient. I might go a little slower, but in the end I believe I win."

It is possible to build a product customers love without empty promises and hype machines. That is why I advise the company founders to avoid the venture trap if they can. I know the billion-dollar beast is exciting to read about, but let me repeat: Unicorns are not real.

Let's retire the unicorn talk and start a conversation about how to create meaningful value for real people.

Brian de Haaff

Founder and CEO

Brian de Haaff seeks business and wilderness adventures. He has been the founder or early employee of six cloud-based software companies and is the CEO of Aha!, makers of product roadmap software. His last two companies were acquired by Aruba Networks and Citrix.

Editor's Pick

Related Topics

Growing a Business

What It Takes to Build a Best-In-Class Company — 3 Essential Elements

The journey to excellence is not a matter of chance but a deliberate pursuit to shape the future and raise the bar for all who follow.

Business News

McDonald's Is Making a Major Change to Its Burgers in 2024

The beloved Big Mac will also be getting a big makeover.

Business News

A Judge Blocked a U.S. State's Attempt to Ban TikTok for All Residents — Here's Why

Montana residents would have faced $10,000 fines for using the app.


5 Tips for Helping Your Book Stand Out In an Overcrowded Niche

Writing a book is one thing. Getting people to read it is an entirely different kind of challenge.

Growing a Business

Serial Entrepreneur Turned VC Reveals 4 Numbers You Need to Know to Scale Your Company

If you're looking to attract investment or simply seeking to scale your business, there are four key numbers you should use as your guiding light.

Growing a Business

Queen Latifah Says Female Leaders Need to Do These 4 Things to Succeed

The celebrated actress, entertainer and entrepreneur has strong advice for women in business.