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Bootstrapped to $1K in MRR: Lessons along the Way

Achieving a long-held goal inspires a kind of confidence typically reserved for the heavily intoxicated. It prompts even the most disciplined among us to engage in irrational acts of exuberance, like eating an entire Tupperware container of extra-large cookies after losing 60 lbs. (guilty).

These moments can also inspire more productive behaviors, like reflection. It can be a time to take stock of the things that got us here, and how we can improve to reach our next goal.

As we’ll soon discuss below, one activity I don’t find productive is turning to external circumstances.

I recently read that it took similar businesses nine months to reach this point on average. It’s taken us twenty-five.

When we use a metric that measures our progress relative to other people we often come up disappointed. We can always find some way we’re performing poorly relative to someone else.

This is why reflection is best spent focusing on the things we can actually influence, which just so happens to be contained within our businesses and minds.

Here are some of the most important things we’ve learned along the path to our current milestone.

Build for a Specific Customer

So much depends on the customer you’re building your business for. It determines how and where you sell your product, what the price should be, and ultimately how viable the business is.

Everything is a lot simpler when you know which audience we're targeting.

I attribute most of our success so far to the fact that we designed our product from the ground-up with our end customer in mind.

We knew the problem they were experiencing, how they were solving it, and we knew we could do a better job.

When you build a product for what Seth Godin calls your “tribe,” they tend to take more of an interest in helping you figure out what’s working and what’s not. Our customers have been instrumental in helping us understand how the product needs to evolve.

Enthusiasm is Temporary

It’s easy to get sucked into the “hot” new trend and daydream about building a unicorn over the weekend. That’s where all the excitement is, after all.

However, I’ve found that excitement tends to wane in the face of adversity. Every business faces holy-shit moments, and enthusiasm won’t be there to help get the job done as you stare into the abyss.

This is why it’s important to care about the problem you’re solving. Caring about the problem provides a more justifiable foundation for doing something as stupid as starting your own business.

Caring can even provide a competitive advantage. If your competition isn’t thinking about their business in the shower, you will always be a step ahead, improving at a faster rate.

It’s probably the only reason I’m still working on this business, as growth hasn’t exactly been viral.

Skills aren’t created Equally

Bootstrapping requires you to learn things you’ve never done. You’ll figure out whether you’re any good at blogging, design, customer service, finance, coding, management, negotiation, sales, or any other number of possible activities required to run a business.

There can be no progress in the business unless you, and your team, progress personally as well. Nothing grows by staying the same.

Just be careful what you spend your time doing. Certain activities are more valuable than others, and just because we’re good at something doesn’t mean it’s pushing the business forward.

Values Determine Focus

I don’t believe in the “passive income” movement, and I especially don’t buy that you need to be a unicorn or VC backed to be successful. These seem like opposing ends on a spectrum of ridiculous expectations.

Everything requires work, and there are big businesses that have never taken outside capital.

If the values driving my business decisions were based on status or money, then I would be treating these measures as the ends to be achieved.

The problem is that external measures of success often tend to be the consequence of doing things in a certain way. Producing a better product, providing better customer service, solving bigger problems. These are activities that don’t have a specific destination. They’re moving targets, and as we get better at doing them, we unlock higher levels of performance.

This means we never reach the ultimate goal of “success,” as it evolves alongside us. It also means there’s always room for growth. These kinds of values seem more fulfilling, and more likely to produce external results if that’s what you want.

Action Follows Thought

It’s possible that you’re holding yourself back without even realizing it. I certainly was, and probably still am.

We all have a continually running narrative in our minds that chimes in to confirm that we’re acting the right way or believing the right things.

Often we adopt these beliefs from the people around us without even questioning whether they’re true or not. We then go on to make decisions based on these questionable beliefs, piling new beliefs on top to reinforce the things we already believe.

There’s a name for this cycle, and it’s called confirmation bias. We’re wired to accept information that fits neatly into our worldview and disregard information that doesn’t.

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t care whether you think you can’t code or aren’t good at sales.

The only thing that matters is whether we get the job done.

I delayed creating this blog partly because I hate my own writing. Now, it drives a majority of our traffic, and we likely wouldn’t be making any money without it.

Why do I hate my writing? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I didn’t do well in school as a kid, who knows.

One of the hardest parts about starting a business is identifying and overcoming our limiting beliefs. When these beliefs lie closer to the foundation of our world-view, a lot of other beliefs can come toppling down. It’s not a comfortable thing, but it’s required to progress.

About the Author
Brandon is Co-Founder and CEO of Poindexter. He enjoys questioning his own existence and convincing strangers we're trapped in a simulation.