Inspire me with your best personal entrepreneurial story
May 27, 2008 3:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for practical, first-person, inspirational stories of how to launch/bootstrap entrepreneurial ideas with little or no resources. The more specific and detailed, the better.

I'm in a life-phase right now of working hard to pay off some significant debt. During the slow and painful process, I'm building up a stack of creative ideas that I'm pretty sure would be successful if I only had the resources to nurture them. (I have no delusions of going "rags to riches", I'd just like to go "rags to being-able-to-pay-my-bills" before I turn 40.)

I hate to let the ideas stagnate, but there are weeks I can barely afford to eat, much less anything else. I just have this sinking feeling how much it will suck to hit 40 and look back to see all those ideas that died on the vine. (I also am starting to resent being referred to as the "guy with a bunch of ideas who never does anything with them" because I'm totally NOT that guy, but I have no resources to prove otherwise.

I realize the pragmatic answer for me (at the moment) is to keep doing whatever I can to get out of debt, but I'm hoping other MeFi's will have some inspirational stories of times you were at the bottom, and found creative ways to jumpstart one of your favorite ideas. Bonus points to anyone who started their own in-house business and eventually moved to it full time.
posted by jmnugent to Work & Money (6 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
For inspiration I recommend Paul Hawken's book: 'Growing a Business.'
posted by ericb at 3:40 PM on May 27, 2008

Great stories, great information, great advice, and a community: check out Escape From Cubicle Nation. These people get their rocks off helping people like you.
posted by milqman at 4:04 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have an online, at-home business that supports me full time. Basically, I'm a consultant in a business niche, but I'm currently developing downloadable info-products as well so I'll have a more scalable income. I'm about to complete my first year of being 100% independent, and it looks like I'll make more than twice what I ever made as an employee.

It's working great, but it wasn't the sort of thing where one day I thought, "Hey! I have an idea for a business service! I'll start the company now!" I was already working in the field, and it was more like: "Gad, I hate having a job. I can do this way better on my own. But first I'll need experience in X, Y, and Z." So I schmoozed my way into projects that gave me experience that would look good to potential clients. I also made sure I had no debt and 3 months of expenses saved up, and I lined a client with a big project. Then finally I left the job.

Money was tight when I was employed because I accepted pathetic pay and kept quitting jobs. Money is no longer tight, and I'm starting to hire people to do stuff I used to do myself. Because I started a service business and run and market it entirely online, I had almost no startup expenses and have been bootstrapping everything. Professional web and logo design were my biggest expenses, followed by legal stuff (contract writing and review).

The main thing that I'd caution you about is that yes, the idea is important, but HOW you implement the idea is far more important. You need an idea that you can indelibly brand in a way that (1) can't be copied and (2) justifies a decent price. Consulting or a similar highly person-centered service can do that. A product or less personal service idea is a lot more risky, because someone can easily copy it as soon as you make it public.

It's also really, really important to have good money management skills when you're self-employed, because cash flow is almost always a problem. You might have $13,000 in receivables out there, but that's not going to buy the septic pump you need right now. So as you get out of debt, keep going until you have a good cash reserve, and then fiercely protect that reserve.

You asked about creative jumpstarts. Mine was my blog. I get almost all my work through my blog, which has become semi-popular in my niche. I focused it carefully and picked a (usually) funny tone that attracts the kinds of clients I like to work with. I'd be scrabbling and doing much more boring and lower-paid work if I didn't have my blog.
posted by PatoPata at 5:50 PM on May 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Mefite J. D. Roth has recently been able to quit his job and become a full-time blogger. It took a few years to build up the audience, but once he was ready, he took the leap.

He's written several entries about the process and his progress so far, although I don't see a tag for that in his categories list. Maybe he'll pop in here with some more details.
posted by kristi at 6:02 PM on May 27, 2008

Founders at Work is very good, especially the interview with Woz. You can preview it here.
posted by harmfulray at 8:29 AM on May 28, 2008

Some examples in Seth Godin's free ebook The Bootstrappers Bible
posted by Ness at 4:00 AM on May 29, 2008

« Older Children's Book Filter - What was this book?   |   Ain't there nothing I can take, I say, to relieve... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.