Nicolas Cognaux - Tech entrepreneur & engineer

I share about development, productivity, open source and entrepreneurship.

Bootstrap a company with Saas & opensource

2021-05-19 Nicolas Cognaux 5 min readEntrepreneurship

When starting a company, we often read or ear about bootstrapping. I’m a huge fan of bootstrap and think it’s the best way to start a company that can grow organically.

What is bootstrapping?

Bootstrapping refers to the launch of a company with no (external) funding. The idea is to start with cheap implementations, to start making money and use that money to grow the business with more efficient (and more expensive) tools and processes. The opposite way of bootstrapping is venture-backed companies that start by raising money before generating any money.

In my entrepreneurial journey, I experienced both ways. I started CovEvent and AppeaLink in pure bootstrapping. For Seety, however, we raised money pretty soon in the company’s history. Bootstrapping is not easily applicable on every market and project but I find it more healthy and less stressful. A B2C project is really complicated to bootstrap as it usually generates less money per user and needs a super polished experience. Whereas in B2B, you can start by a service company that generates money from day 1, and then develop the product gradually to reduce the service part.

Marketing & Sales

When starting your project, you need sales and marketing. There are easy tools to start getting attention and traction without investing much. Those solutions are perfect for bootstrapping and scaling but those can take time to implement and scale.

Emails

An easy way to start selling and attracting customers is using emails. First, start with handwritten emails. Don’t go for an email automation tool. Those are only useful when you have tons of emails to send. The first sales are done 100% by hand.

When the volume increases, there are tons of emailing platforms with free tiers. I prefer Mailchimp as it has a generous free tier and allows to design and send newsletters. Ho, by the way, did you know that Mailchimp was boostrapped?

Emails are particularly efficient in B2B and with really niche customers.

Social media

If you are in B2C or want to target a broader audience, social media can be a great free channel. Facebook has groups for any types of topics you can dream of. Just post links to your landing page there. Tools like AppeaLink can help you get more clicks by comparing previews.

Social media can also help you validate your product by posting surveys etc.

A good way to get the first customers is to behave like you discovered the product and want feedbacks about it. People will try to give you advice and will subscribe to understand what it offers exactly. Some of them will even pay if they like your product.

SEO: Search Engine Optimization

SEO is also a powerful free acquisition channel. Millions of people are searching the web every day, a portion of them is looking for your product. Create blog posts, articles on Medium, Quora, or other platforms describing your product.

Try to optimize the keywords you use to rank your posts accordingly in Google. SEO is really powerful on the long run: you won’t see the difference directly but more in 3-6 months. At Seety, we followed this strategy and grew our traffic by more than 2000% (20x) in less than a year.

Ads

Finally, when you already have some revenue, don’t hesitate to re-invest it in (Social media) ads. Those are effective to target really specific audiences with small budgets. You can set your own budget and adjust it easily. Google Ads and Facebook Ads are the two big players today.

Some other social networks can be considered as Reddit Ads or even Snapchat and TikTok if your audiance is younger.

Product Development

Developing a product doesn’t mean writing code. I already wrote about the no-code solutions to develop a product. But this topic is really important for bootstrap. You don’t want to burn tons of money in developing the product.

Tools such as Airtable, Coda, Zapier or Landbot can help you with your MVP that will generate your first revenue.

In B2B especially, you don’t need a super polished design. Your customers want a solution to a specific problem, they don’t always want a super slick UI and experience, just solve their problem.

New tools such as Figma can even allow you to create working flows for your website or apps online.

Selling online

If you want to sell online, there are 3 popular solutions:

  1. You want to sell digital goods and integrate the sales process on your website without coding much, go for Gumroad.
  2. You want a dedicated e-commerce platform: Go for Shopify, they are the leader in the market
  3. You want to integrate the payment deeply in your product, go for Stripe, but you’ll have to code a bit.

Personally, I use Gumroad and Stripe for their simplicity. Gumroad allows to easily sell PDFs and access to files. Stripe is better if you want to implement payment in your product.

Cloud Hosting

If you’re a dev and want to host your project online, go for a cloud solution. Those are priced based on usage. You’ll not pay much at the beginning and you’ll be able to test your service with customers before hitting your first invoices.

I love OVH as they are really inexpensive. Especially if you only need a small VPS and don’t need much. For example, CovEvent is hosted on a 3€/month VPS for 4 years without any difficulties. You don’t need more at the beginning.

If you need more than a VPS, and want to handle specific needs or usage peaks, go for Google Cloud or AWS, they offer tons of services and both have free tiers. I created Notnow, an email and tweet reminder on AWS for Free thanks to the free tier.


I hope this article will help you, don’t hesitate to give me feedback about it!

Don't miss an episode!

Nicolas Cognaux (Gp2mv3) - Tech entrepreneur & engineer

About Nicolas Cognaux

Entrepreneur and CTO. I’m an electrical engineer and passionate about software development. I post about technologies, entrepreneurship, projects, and geeky stuff. Follow me on social media to stay updated.

Don't miss an episode!