Get All Access for $5/mo

5 Quick Tips for Better Bootstrapping From SXSW The founders of popular image-hosting service imgur on what it takes to launch a tech startup without seeking outside investors.

By Bryan Keplesky

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you've ever clicked on a link to see a picture posted on a site like reddit, Twitter or Facebook, more than likely it was hosted on imgur (pronounced "image-er"), one of the most popular image-hosting services on the web. At SXSW Interactive, founder and CEO Alan Schaaf and COO Matt Strader presented the San Francisco-based company as a case study for how to successfully bootstrap a startup.

Here are Schaaf and Strader's five tips for launching a tech company without seeking outside investors:

1. Leverage a community you're already involved in.
Schaaf created imgur in 2009 out of his college dorm room because he was active on reddit and thought there wasn't a good way to share pictures. He decided to create an image host that "didn't suck," he said -- one where a user could anonymously and simply upload an image, and be able to share a link to any web platform. It publicly launched as a post on reddit, and for the first six months imgur was able to operate on user donations alone.

Related: Insider's Guide to How to Fund Your Startup

2. Develop multiple revenue streams as early as possible.
Strader said he knew the initial donations were going to dry up, so from the beginning he thought about ways imgur could make money. The solution: online advertising in the form of banner ads -- one per gallery page. Schaaf and Strader partnered with online advertising firm Rubicon Project, which they said has brought in dozens of new ad channels and makes up the largest percentage of their overall revenue.

But Schaaf and Strader didn't want to rely on just one revenue stream. So, in 2010, they created imgur Pro, a paid yearly subscription that gives members more hosting space, higher quality image uploads and no ads. The site has also started implementing commercial hosting for larger websites, most notably for sections of Yahoo! Sports. Additionally, Schaaf and Strader launched an imgur store, with branded items such as shirts.

3. Learn rapidly and improve.
A disadvantage to not having professional investors is that every problem that arises has to be solved by the founders, or outsourced at cost. In the beginning, Schaaf admitted he didn't know everything about image hosting but discovered he was was able to diagnose and fix bugs or technical glitches by scouring Google until he found a solution.

4. Build a team with a balanced skillset.
Schaaf, the engineer, and Strader, the marketer, attribute the success of imgur to their complimentary skills, despite having different types of personalities. In too many cases, a startup can be technologically sound but incapable of selling itself to users, or vice versa, they said.

5. Stay lean.
With 10 full-time employees, imgur is still a lean company. Schaaf and Strader describe their headquarters as modest, and they hire only when it financially makes sense. When it doesn't, imgur will bring on part-time workers to help with workflow.

Schaaf and Strader said that staying lean and not having outside investors has enabled them to do what they want, be less formal (there's no board of directors to report to) and move at their own pace. "Not slow," Strader said, "just deliberate."

Related: The Young Founder Behind a $100 Million Luxury Travel Business

Bryan Keplesky

Art director, designer, writer

Bryan Keplesky runs his own creative studio in Austin, Texas, working in design, branding, art direction and writing.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Business News

How to Be a Billionaire By 25, According to a College Dropout Turned CEO Worth $1.6 Billion

Austin Russell became the world's youngest self-made billionaire in 2020 at age 25.


Taylor Swift Has a Lucky Number. And She's Not the Only High Performer Who Leans Into Superstitions to Boost Confidence.

Even megastars like Swift need a little extra something to get them in the right mindset when it is game time.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.


SEO Trends You Need to Be Aware of Right Now, According to a Seasoned Pro

Navigate the future of search engine optimization to elevate your online presence and drive meaningful engagement.

Health & Wellness

4 Habits I Cultivated to Become a Healthier, More Effective Entrepreneur

By the time I hit mid-life, some of my bad habits were becoming a risk to my long-term business goals — and my health. Here's how I was able to change them.


Guide Fellow Entrepreneurs to Success with an Exit Factor Franchise

Exit Factor franchisees play a vital role in the entrepreneurial community. As a business advisor, franchisees offer valuable guidance, solutions, and expertise to clients seeking to improve their business for a future exit.