The Bootstrapped Founder Newsletter Episode 20 – March 27th 2020

Dear founder,

With everyone writing about the pandemic, I won’t talk about it today. Instead, I’ll continue with my regular programming: learning how to start, run, and sell a bootstrapped business without burning out. This week, I’ve been looking into my experiences with building things that other people have already made.

This week, I’ll talk about the dreadful consequences of following the “Not in House” approach blindly and reinventing the wheel within your own business by building things that other developers have created before you, often much better and more reliable.

Of course, most of your product will consist of things that you had to build because that’s why you started your business, to begin with: no one had solved this particular problem in this specific way before.

But there are things that we often build even though there are perfectly viable solutions out there. Often, we shy away from paying $15/month for a solution that costs us weeks of our time to build. Why is that? Why do we have to make yet another set of authentication views and password reset routines? Isn’t this a solved problem?

It definitely is, and whole businesses and even industries have formed around those problems and their solutions. Why then, do we still feel compelled to build it ourselves?

I believe that there are two hazardous reasons for this: a) we want to save money at all costs and b) we are too interested to learn how things work.

The financial reason is quickly debunked because even thinking about a login system for a few hours is more expensive than just implementing something like Auth0 and paying for the service for a few months. Our time as founders is so valuable that any existing solution to our problems will be much cheaper over time than spending a week on building it ourselves. After all, this week could have been used to build something that is uniquely ours and would give us a competitive advantage over the competition or the status quo.

But our desire to understand things is much more dangerous: if you’re a technical founder, every technical challenge looks interesting to you. It’s hard to know which challenges are worth taking if they are all interesting.

Let me make it a bit easier for you. Here are the things you should never build for yourself, and why:

  • Never build an Authentication System. It will be limited, insecure, and very hard to maintain. Don’t risk your users’ private information on your ability to implement cryptography.
  • Never build a Payment System. Compliance is extremely complicated, and you don’t want credit card information anywhere on your servers. That’s just painting a prominent target symbol onto your company’s infrastructure.
  • Never build an Invoicing System. Taxation is hard to get right for non-internet-enabled businesses. As a SaaS, it will be impossible to maintain both your product and a fully-fledged invoice-with-proper-tax-calculation system. Also, it’s super boring.

I know, some of these are no-brainers, but when you look at others, you might feel a bit like for your specific use case, it would be nice to have a custom solution. Don’t fall into that trap. Experts in their fields have built the existing services. Unless you want to develop a competing product, they will always produce better things faster than you ever could. After all, they focus solely on the issue that is is just one of the things you need to solve your customers’ problems.

Don’t waste your time. Bite the bullet and shell out a few dollars for a solution that you can use right here, right now.

You can find more details and an actionable Risk Analysis Framework for building things yourself in the full article for Not in House: On Reinventing the Wheel on The Bootstrapped Founder Blog.

Links I Found Interesting

John Saddington wrote A Letter to his 22-Year-Old Self on Entrepreneurship in which he talks about building up the entrepreneurial muscle while staying in touch with yourself. Health, Faith, Money, it’s all in there. What a great way to condense the learnings of a decade into actionable advice.

With everyone being cooped up in their homes right now, starting your own podcast is becoming an alluring option to pass the time. Several Indie Hackers shared their Podcasting Tech Stack, which should remove the last obstacle in your way to sharing your journey with the world.

In the wake of mandatory stay-at-home policies or recommendations, many businesses have chosen to let their employees work from home, while other companies have been asking their employees to come into the office still. Lists are appearing heralding the Good Companies and exposing the others.

The SEO company ahrefs has released its Blogging for business course for free. It’s a 5-hour video course with densely packed information about content marketing and how to reach your goals. If you want to learn how to build a blog that grows naturally, check it out.

SaaStr also has a few fascinating courses on its SaaStr University platform. Among them is Bridging the Gap: Ideas For Tougher Times, walking you through recession-related issues like cancellations, slow growth, or delinquency. Right now, founders can use all the help they can get. The lessons in this course are very down-to-earth and actionable.

New tools are springing up to facilitate remote work. One of them is around, a video call solution for collaboration. What I like about this service is that it focuses on the faces of people, and keeps the distracting details out of view, both for video and audio. They did something hilarious to explain this on their marketing page, so please check it out.

Bootstrapping Success Stories I Noticed

Anne-Laure Le Cunff launched a membership portal for Ness Labs, the community behind the Maker Mind newsletter. That lead to the first MRR and $1k on launch day. This learning club and online community of like-minded founders and thinkers promises to be a place to discuss mindfulness, productivity and living a wholesome, creative life.

Anna Grigoryan had 48 new communities being added to the Community Finder tool, part of her Engineering Growth newsletter. This is turning out to be a veritable list of fascinating tribes that are providing a lot of value to their members. I am in quite a few of those groups myself, and every single one has been precious to me and my projects.

In the category on delightful solutions to clear problems, Yusuf Qabil has had a lot of success with his personal page service One Profile: he reached 2000th User with $800 in revenue with the business that he started in June 2019 and pivoted multiple times. I recommend reading through the history of the project on Indie Hackers, as it shows how crooked a founder’s journey can be, yet still ends in revenue and success.

Thank you for reading this week’s edition of The Bootstrapped Founder. If you like what I wrote about, please forward the newsletter to anyone you think would enjoy it too.

If you want to help me share my thoughts and ideas with the world, please share this episode of the newsletter on Twitter or wherever you like, or reach out on Twitter at @arvidkahl.

See you next week!

Warm Regards from Berlin,