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Lessons From 'Once a Bootstrapped Startup, Now a VC-Funded Machine' Many entrepreneurs begin as a bootstrapped startup, and if they succeed, they move into a VC-funded operation. Both phases present challenges and hardships.

By Sharel Omer Edited by Chelsea Brown

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In business, adapting to different situations is a constant. In a world with no guarantees, one of the few constants for managers is that you always have to adapt yourself to changes all around you. Many entrepreneurs begin as a bootstrapped startup, when they have to advance themselves without any outside help, and if they succeed, they move into a VC-funded operation. Both phases present managers with challenges and hardships.

Related: What I Wish I Knew Before Bootstrapping My Startup

How we moved from "bootstrapped" to "VC-funded"

Development of our customer intelligence platform started out a few years ago as a bootstrapped startup, which later evolved into a stand-alone project for a major company. When you run your own project, you maintain ownership and control over the development direction. At the same time, you lack funding and certainty. But at the center of it all is the entrepreneur's responsibility to build a business that really works and then convince others that it does.

When you develop a service, you must cover all the bases if you want to offer consumers a comprehensive solution to their pains. The best way to do it is by taking a step-by-step approach and having a certain "test group" that gives you feedback as you advance and add more options and features.

The company that hosted our project believed in us and gave us the necessary "go." They were our customer, investor and most importantly, supporter. Working on further developing our product with them and getting their constant feedback made it possible for us to have better focus. It also helped us streamline our platform and as a result, offer a better product. That opened up the road to add more investors into our product.

Affogata is already in its fourth year of operation, and it is a VC-funded company. Gone are the days of being a bootstrapped operation. Having many clients now and a better developed product, we do not rest on our laurels but keep working hard to better serve our existing and new clients. Our shareholders help and support us as we keep growing our business. With growth comes more responsibility towards our clients, employees and ourselves.

Related: Fundraising Vs. Bootstrapping: How To Decide What You Need For Your Tech Startup

The lessons I learned

Since our business revolves around analyzing customer feedback for our clients, we view our clients' wishes and wants with the utmost attention. Their feedback helps us give them not only a better service but also serves as a roadmap for us as to what new areas to delve into. They lead us into building a business that really works and gives all of us a sense of accomplishment. So, lesson number one is to never lose focus of how your product can best serve your future customers.

In addition, it is every company's wish to grow faster with data, but many of them ignore what customers already say, and they do not analyze such responses. Eighty percent of the organizational data is an unstructured customer voice, and once we understood that, it helped us shape our vision and change how businesses work with tech. We figured that in order to put the customer at the center of organizational decisions, all of the company's teams need data as well as an adjustment to every other department's use case.

A second lesson is to understand that ideas for new features come and go, and it is part of the process to see if they work. But as usual, not all ideas evolve into actual features, and if an entrepreneur understands that tossing out some ideas is a part of the process, this would not seem as a failure by all means. Testing and yet more testing is the name of the game, until your product shapes up into something worth the attention and usage of your customers.

A third lesson relates to focus. You can't be all things to all people all the time, and you must figure out what strengths your product has and how to translate it for market leadership. In our case, we decided to solve challenges for specific industries. That meant focusing, for example, on the gaming world and offering our AI analysis capabilities in areas such as player product feedback. Another great market for us is fintech, where consumers manage their finances with minimal human intervention, which makes it crucial for such businesses to figure out their users' discussions and complaints about such services.

The fourth and final lesson is, and this is true for the bootstrapped as well as the VC-funded stages, that it is all about people. If you have good people around you, both professionally as well as from a friendship perspective, your chances of success grow. You may not agree on everything, but you have to keep an open mind to hear new and sometimes differing opinions. If all conversations are being carried out for the sake of benefiting the customers, entrepreneurs and their partners will view each other's ideas as contributions to the overall product and keep a positive attitude towards the process and their peers. Keep all that in mind as you develop the next great startup idea.

Related: How to Raise VC Funding When the Odds Are Against You

Sharel Omer

CEO & Co-founder

Sharel Omer is an entrepreneur whose passion for personal connections & building relationships has made him dedicated to bringing the consumer voice's power to organizations. He's the CEO & co-founder of Affogata, a customer intelligence platform that enables brands to be truly customer-obsessed.

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