The Bootstrapped Founder

Arvid Kahl, Founder and Editor at The Bootstrapped Founder

Hi! I’m Arvid.

Welcome to The Bootstrapped Founder, a resource for everyone who wants to bootstrap their own business.

The Bootstrapped Founder is the home of đź“—Zero to Sold: How to Start, Run, and Sell a Bootstrapped Business, the Bootstrapper’s Bookshelf, the Bootstrapped Founder Podcast, and the Bootstrapped Founder Newsletter.

Additionally, you can find the following series on this blog: The Emotional Journey of a Bootstrapped Founder and Tales of a Bootstrapper.

Learn how to start, run, and sell a bootstrapped business from the Bootstrapped Founder Newsletter.

Here are my most recent blog posts:

Preparing for the Sale From Day One: Getting the Documentation Right

Reading Time: 4 minutes Before any acquisition can happen, many prerequisites need to be in place. There will be an extensive due diligence process. Commonly, “buyer-side due diligence” is the procedure of an acquirer making sure that everything is in order with the business they are about to acquire. It’s a detailed investigation, making sure that everything you claimed … Continue reading Preparing for the Sale From Day One: Getting the Documentation Right

At a Crossroads: The Different Kinds of Exits

Reading Time: 5 minutes Companies get acquired for a few reasons: they’re interesting economically, they’re interesting strategically, their employees are attractive, or they are a thorn in the eye of the acquirer, a foe to be vanquished. Depending on why someone wants to buy your company, the deal and the whole process of selling the company may be radically … Continue reading At a Crossroads: The Different Kinds of Exits

A Unified Voice: Staying Consistent When You Grow

Reading Time: 3 minutes At a certain point, it won’t be just you talking to your customers anymore. Your employees will be the first touch-points for customer interactions, co-founders and directors, and partners and other businesses. What once was a unified voice—your voice—is now a chorus. If you want to have a company that is consistent and aligned, you’ll … Continue reading A Unified Voice: Staying Consistent When You Grow

How I Self-Published Zero to Sold, a Bestselling Book on Bootstrapping

Reading Time: 21 minutes Two months ago, I self-published a book called Zero to Sold: How to Start, Run, and Sell a Bootstrapped Business and released it on Twitter. Within twenty-four hours, I sold 350 copies. Within another twenty-four hours, the book was #1 on Product Hunt and already a category bestseller on Amazon. After a week, 1000 copies … Continue reading How I Self-Published Zero to Sold, a Bestselling Book on Bootstrapping

Positioning Is Where It’s At

Reading Time: 5 minutes You can position your product in different ways in many different markets. You may have started describing your product in a certain way, only to find that your customers understand it very differently. Many first-time founders make the mistake of iterating on their product but keeping their positioning the same. Even if they’re capable enough … Continue reading Positioning Is Where It’s At

You Want a Tribe

Reading Time: 4 minutes According to Seth Godin, a tribe is a group of people that are connected to each other, an idea, and a leader. Tribes are supercharged communities. They are dense networks of people who bond over specific interests or goals. These interests range from the mundane to the most personal and exciting topics. No matter if … Continue reading You Want a Tribe

When You Reach Your Limits: Growing a Company Beyond the Founder(s)

Reading Time: 4 minutes If you’re coming from a professional background in salaried positions, the chances are that you’ve never hired anyone before. And even if you have, hiring someone for your own business will be a daunting task. It certainly was for me. I thought that I could manage all that work by myself just fine, so why … Continue reading When You Reach Your Limits: Growing a Company Beyond the Founder(s)

The Power of Omission: Killing Features for Fun and Profit

Reading Time: 7 minutes If you add features to your product indiscriminately, you will end up with a gigantic bloated mess of software. One way to deal with this is to be very careful when deciding if new features should be added. Another rarely used approach is to remove unused and outdated features. Removing the cruft from your SaaS … Continue reading The Power of Omission: Killing Features for Fun and Profit

Made to Stick: Shaping an Extensible Product

Reading Time: 8 minutes It won’t take long before customers start asking for one particular kind of feature: integrating into other tools that they use all the time. They have adopted your product into their routine and their workflow, only to notice that something is missing. Some steps need to be taken to get your product to seamlessly join … Continue reading Made to Stick: Shaping an Extensible Product

Standard Operating Procedures: Managing Your Future Self

Reading Time: 5 minutes Delegation is most effective if there is an Operations Manual for the company. Michael E. Gerber calls this the “Turnkey Revolution” in his book The E-Myth Revisited: the idea of documenting your business like a franchise. Build your business in a way that you could hand it over to someone else, and it would still … Continue reading Standard Operating Procedures: Managing Your Future Self

Roadmaps and You: Building a Future Together

Reading Time: 4 minutes It’s great to know where you are going. It’s even better to know that your customers approve of that.  Both goals can be reached by establishing roadmaps. Usually, that’s a document that lays out what you want to do in the future, ordered by when you want to do it, with more or less accurate … Continue reading Roadmaps and You: Building a Future Together

Customer Retention: How to Keep Them Around

Reading Time: 6 minutes When it comes to customer relationships, momentum is on your side: it is much easier to retain a customer than it is to find a new one. Once the initial inertia is surpassed, the effort that needs to be put into keeping a customer is significantly lower than acquiring and onboarding another customer. And a … Continue reading Customer Retention: How to Keep Them Around

Customer Exploration: Seeing Through Your Customer’s Eyes

Reading Time: 4 minutes At this stage of your business, you have a mostly mature product that is used by many customers. You can expect that for most of their use cases, it is good enough. But instead of guessing, I recommend setting aside some time every few months to do some customer exploration.  Consider it to be continuous … Continue reading Customer Exploration: Seeing Through Your Customer’s Eyes

Being Small Is a Benefit: How to Leverage Being a Bootstrapper

Reading Time: 6 minutes Many founders feel they need to act bigger than they are. They expect only to be taken seriously when they appear to be a mature company. It turns out that this is no longer the case in many industries. Depending on the size of your customers, the fact that you are a small business with … Continue reading Being Small Is a Benefit: How to Leverage Being a Bootstrapper

Spreading the Word: How to Do Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

Reading Time: 5 minutes One beautiful thing about a niche is that there is a certain similarity between the people in it. They are likely to frequent the same social media, read the same blogs, visit the same websites. They often are organized in communities where word of mouth spreads quickly. You can leverage the density of these networks … Continue reading Spreading the Word: How to Do Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

Seller Beware: Pricing Models That Can Break Your Business

Reading Time: 5 minutes There are a lot of great ideas when it comes to optimizing your pricing to attract more customers or keep them retained. Two pricing models can be hazardous if not implemented carefully: freemium accounts and lifetime accounts. The Risks of Freemium Accounts A freemium pricing model can be great to get people to use your product, integrating … Continue reading Seller Beware: Pricing Models That Can Break Your Business

Not All Subscriptions Are Equal: Offer Yearly Plans from the Start

Reading Time: 3 minutes Most bootstrapped businesses offer monthly subscription plans. The revenue that is generated from your customers that way is incredibly reliable. If you know how many customers you have, you know exactly how much money will come in this month, next month, and the future, provided you keep your customers or replace the ones that quit … Continue reading Not All Subscriptions Are Equal: Offer Yearly Plans from the Start

Not All Subscribers Are Equal: How to Deal with Plans That No Longer Work

Reading Time: 3 minutes You may have started with subscription plans that turn out to be problematic. At FeedbackPanda, we had started with a $5/month plan. After a few months of offering that, we sunset that plan because we noticed that it attracted a kind of customer we did not want to serve: bargain shoppers. The customers on that … Continue reading Not All Subscribers Are Equal: How to Deal with Plans That No Longer Work

Profit-Sharing as Employee Compensation for Bootstrappers

Reading Time: 5 minutes We don’t often talk about employee compensation in the bootstrapped space, as many businesses have few employees, and only start hiring when it’s absolutely necessary. So making sure our employees are properly compensated for their work beyond their regular salary isn’t one of the most prominent themes we have to think about. In a recent … Continue reading Profit-Sharing as Employee Compensation for Bootstrappers

Price Is Not Set In Stone: Strategies For Increasing Your Revenue

Reading Time: 7 minutes It’s important to understand that you can always change your prices.  You own your business, and you can change everything about it. Most payment providers allow you to have an infinite number of plans, and you can add (and remove) as many as you like at any given time.  There is no reason to stick … Continue reading Price Is Not Set In Stone: Strategies For Increasing Your Revenue

You May Be Barking Up the Wrong Tree: Re-Evaluating Your Audience

Reading Time: 6 minutes While most of your customers will likely enjoy your product, some won’t. Some customers will be complaining a lot, asking for features that you don’t intend to ever build, or are generally very hard to please. When you notice that something is wrong, you can usually trace it back to one or more of your … Continue reading You May Be Barking Up the Wrong Tree: Re-Evaluating Your Audience

Build for Value, Not for Applause: Product Management Under Heavy Constraints

Reading Time: 5 minutes A bootstrapped founder will have very little time to devote to building things that don’t matter. Everything you do in your bootstrapped business should have a meaningful impact on moving your company towards a state of stability and growth. Bells and whistles are the least of your concerns when you’re trying to get to profitability. … Continue reading Build for Value, Not for Applause: Product Management Under Heavy Constraints

First Things First: Feature Prioritization Frameworks

Reading Time: 6 minutes A business is an ever-evolving thing. Luckily, you will be at the steering wheel as the founder of your business. You will adjust your processes as needed along the way, and you improve your product over time. Often, inspiration strikes at the most random times. You read an article on an industry blog, or you … Continue reading First Things First: Feature Prioritization Frameworks

Our MicroConf Europe 2019 Talk “Optimizing Your Way to a Dream Exit”

Reading Time: < 1 minute Danielle and I had the wonderful opportunity to give a Attendee Talk at MicroConf Europe 2019 in Dubrovnik. We spoke about the many optimizations and processes that we implemented during our time growing FeedbackPanda to $55.000 MRR, and how those affected the sale of the business. A recording of this talk is now available in … Continue reading Our MicroConf Europe 2019 Talk “Optimizing Your Way to a Dream Exit”

Forget Goals, Create Systems: Foundations of a Sustainable Bootstrapped Business

Reading Time: 7 minutes When you’re starting with your business idea, you will be looking at how successful businesses have accomplished their success. You will see a lot of different sizes, markets, and business models. But they all have one thing in common: they’ve built a system that works. Their long-term and short-term goals may have changed through the … Continue reading Forget Goals, Create Systems: Foundations of a Sustainable Bootstrapped Business

The Boring Truth of Successful Products That Survive

Reading Time: 6 minutes Most products that you will see staying on the market have something in common: they do one thing very well. And not much else. Weber sells grills that are fantastic at grilling. The furthest they strayed into new territory so far has been by adding an app-readable thermometer. Still, that gimmick and anything else about … Continue reading The Boring Truth of Successful Products That Survive

Making Tech Choices: Don’t Add Risk to an Already Risky Business

Reading Time: 7 minutes As technical founders, we’re supposed to choose the technology that works best for us and our business. But we often let the cargo-culting around the newest, hottest tech stack get to us. Many technical founders see a new startup as an opportunity to figure out a modern tech stack. That is a dangerous move. Not … Continue reading Making Tech Choices: Don’t Add Risk to an Already Risky Business

Surviving a Recession as a Bootstrapped Business

Reading Time: 13 minutes Just a few weeks after the beginning of the Coronavirus outbreak, the first SaaS businesses are reporting cancellations. The bootstrapped SaaS world may not be affected by the pandemic as much as other industries, but we are already seeing second-order effects appearing. For example, you may not be affected by the temporary closure of bars … Continue reading Surviving a Recession as a Bootstrapped Business

How to Release as a Bootstrapper: Often, Early, and Safely

Reading Time: 11 minutes We had “Software is never finished, only abandoned.” While this is true, it doesn’t tell us anything helpful. So let’s rephrase this into something we can act on: “Software is never finished, only released.“ Let’s talk about releasing your product, and what makes this process special for bootstrapped founders. In most cases, technical founders will be … Continue reading How to Release as a Bootstrapper: Often, Early, and Safely

The Do’s and Don’ts of the Minimum Viable Product

Reading Time: 9 minutes Leonardo da Vinci supposedly said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” This is definitely true for software as well. The only antidote to abandonment is to put your work in front of other people, even when it’s not perfect yet.  The startup industry has coined the term of the MVP, the Minimum Viable Product, to … Continue reading The Do’s and Don’ts of the Minimum Viable Product

The Myth of The Finished Product

Reading Time: 11 minutes Before the internet made transferring large amounts of data cheap and easy, software used to be distributed on CDs or DVDs. For any given application, there was the “Golden Master,” a final version of the software, ready to be copied millions of times. These days are over. Every day, millions of software updates get dispatched. … Continue reading The Myth of The Finished Product

Solution Validation Doesn’t Happen In a Vacuum: How to Talk To Your Future Customers

Reading Time: 7 minutes As entrepreneurs, we are good at coming up with ideas. We envision solutions to the problems that trouble the audience we have chosen to help. We think deeply about a problem, mentally shape a product, and see how much it would benefit the quality of life. Then we get to work and build the prototype, … Continue reading Solution Validation Doesn’t Happen In a Vacuum: How to Talk To Your Future Customers

Make It Sell Itself: On Referral Systems

Reading Time: 12 minutes One year into running FeedbackPanda, we released a referral system. It was an immediate success, and it stayed that way ever since. When we sold the business, around 40% of new signups came through our referral system. Immediately after turning on the user-facing parts of the referral system, we started seeing results. Our social media … Continue reading Make It Sell Itself: On Referral Systems

Problem Validation: Making Sure You’re Talking To The Right People

Reading Time: 8 minutes “Talk to your customers,” they say, “because that’s the only way to build something people want.”  The collective wisdom of the bootstrapper scene is not wrong. But talking to your customers is only half the truth. It’s just as important to speak to the right kinds of customers as it is to ignore the rest. … Continue reading Problem Validation: Making Sure You’re Talking To The Right People

Finding the Most Painful Problem in a Market

Reading Time: 10 minutes When you’re looking at a niche market, you will find many people having a large number of problems. However, people will only pay money for a tiny subset of those: the excruciating problems. You can solve many problems but still fail to build a business if you’re solving the wrong ones. Your chances of success … Continue reading Finding the Most Painful Problem in a Market

The Power of the Niche

Reading Time: 9 minutes If you were to found a company that makes and sells beer today, you would probably start a craft brewery. You’d start a small operation, find the people who enjoy your product and slowly expand your business. You would not try to compete with Bud Light and Heinecken for shelf space. You would prefer to … Continue reading The Power of the Niche

Do You Need a Co-Founder?

Reading Time: 8 minutes Building a business alone can be daunting. You might lack a few skills; in fact, I am sure you do. There is a lot to learn when you start a company, and you will never stop running into unexpected challenges that require the acquisition of new skills and knowledge. So, should you find someone to … Continue reading Do You Need a Co-Founder?

So You Got an Offer: How to Do Due Diligence on Your Potential Acquirer

Reading Time: 11 minutes There is almost no better and, at the same time, terrifying feeling than when you receive an email from someone who wants to acquire you. There was great joy when that happened to us at FeedbackPanda. Immediately after, we started to think about the level of risk we were about to expose our company to. … Continue reading So You Got an Offer: How to Do Due Diligence on Your Potential Acquirer

Your Initial Pricing Will Never Be Right, But Try Anyway

Reading Time: 6 minutes When you’re just starting, finding the right pricing model for your young business seems very hard and almost entirely arbitrary. That’s because, at such an early stage of your business, it is impossible to find the “correct” price for several reasons. At the beginning of your business, revenue serves one purpose before any other: validation. … Continue reading Your Initial Pricing Will Never Be Right, But Try Anyway

Churn, Retention, and Revenue: What Makes Customers Stick Around and Why That’s Important

Reading Time: 7 minutes Retaining a customer is easier than finding a new one. You already have an open communication channel. They’re already interested in hearing from you. You also know their behavior patterns, and you can infer how much and how effectively they use your product from your metrics. On average, a 5% increase in customer retention leads … Continue reading Churn, Retention, and Revenue: What Makes Customers Stick Around and Why That’s Important

Continuous Validation: Staying in Touch with Your Market

Reading Time: 7 minutes I first felt that we truly had a validated business when we had our very first yearly subscriber. That level of commitment for a young product such as FeedbackPanda two months into our existence showed us that people wanted what we made and were ready to put their money on it. However, validation is always … Continue reading Continuous Validation: Staying in Touch with Your Market

Too Many Eyes: Why Bootstrapped Companies Stop Being Transparent (Eventually)

Reading Time: 5 minutes When Buffer started being radically transparent, the entrepreneurial community was enthusiastic. A brighter future of collaboration, shared learning, openness, and lifting the disadvantaged was on the horizon. Revenue, Salaries, Compensation: everything was made public for everyone to see. Recently, Buffer closed off its public revenue dashboard. Other bootstrapped companies such as Transistor.fm have gone through … Continue reading Too Many Eyes: Why Bootstrapped Companies Stop Being Transparent (Eventually)

The Bootstrapper’s Plight: The Social Headaches of Building a Business

Reading Time: 6 minutes Many founders choose to create a lifestyle business. They have read the 4-Hour-Workweek by Tim Ferriss and now want to build a company that can sustain a life of travel, enjoying the world, and spending time with their loved ones. Gone will be the days of overtime, the excruciating commutes, the pointless teambuilding weekends. Well, … Continue reading The Bootstrapper’s Plight: The Social Headaches of Building a Business

Finding the Critical Problem: How to Work on The Right Things

Reading Time: 9 minutes You start a new business that solves a problem. You create a unique solution to help your audience deal with a pain they’re feeling. Yet the company fails to take off, even though you have a good solution and excellent marketing material. People don’t want to pay for it. Why is that? I believe that … Continue reading Finding the Critical Problem: How to Work on The Right Things

How to Do Maximum Customer Support with Minimum Effort

Reading Time: 8 minutes When you are running a bootstrapped business, you have to do everything. Building the product, dealing with financials, marketing your solution. And then there is customer service. People are reaching out with questions. Sometimes they are frustrated because they have a deadline. Sometimes they want to chat. In any case, it will eat up your … Continue reading How to Do Maximum Customer Support with Minimum Effort

The 5 Books That Helped Build and Sell a Bootstrapped SaaS in Under Two Years

Reading Time: 11 minutes When I started out my career as a bootstrapped software entrepreneur, I wish there would have been something like The Bootstrapper’s Bookshelf. All I knew is that there were a lot of books about the wild world of Venture Capital and how to structure your startup so you could get some of that juicy venture … Continue reading The 5 Books That Helped Build and Sell a Bootstrapped SaaS in Under Two Years

Real and Imaginary Responsibilities of a Bootstrapped Founder

Reading Time: 8 minutes As a founder, you will encounter many expectations. Founders have to have a mission. They have to care about their customers genuinely. A great founder is a leader, a visionary, an expert. Sometimes you just want to be you — the entrepreneur who had a good idea for a business and then worked on it … Continue reading Real and Imaginary Responsibilities of a Bootstrapped Founder

Determining the Size of Your SaaS Market

Reading Time: 7 minutes When you’re starting a bootstrapped SaaS business, you have to find a painful problem to solve. For that, you have to find an audience first. But how do you figure out if the audience is big enough to support your business today and five years from now? There are three different approaches to determining this … Continue reading Determining the Size of Your SaaS Market

From Founding to Exit in Two Years: The FeedbackPanda Story

Reading Time: 2 minutes In 2017, my partner Danielle was teaching English as a Second Language online to Chinese children. She was working 12-hour days teaching while I was working as a Software Engineer for a German company in the IoT space. After teaching, Danielle would work for two extra hours to write Student Feedback for the parents of … Continue reading From Founding to Exit in Two Years: The FeedbackPanda Story

Scaling Your SaaS Without Scaling Your Anxiety

Reading Time: 8 minutes I started getting anxious whenever I heard the sound of an email coming in. What began as a genuine curiosity when we founded FeedbackPanda was now a feeling of dread. Was it another error message? Is the database having trouble again? Was it another customer reaching out? Were they writing in because some parts of … Continue reading Scaling Your SaaS Without Scaling Your Anxiety