While attending a startup event in 2006, I first heard the term ‘bootstrap’ used conversationally. I didn’t really understand what it meant, but knew someone had bootstrapped their business—an apparently amazing feat—without outside help. Never having started something from scratch myself, I was curious to learn what this term meant for business owners.
For other curious types out there, the word ‘bootstrap’ comes from the early 19th century figure of speech “pull oneself over a fence by one’s bootstraps,” an obviously impossible task. Colloquially, the term refers to getting into or out of a situation using existing resources and in business it means starting one affordably without much outside assistance.
So, assuming you have a good business idea, what comes next? Here are the first two steps to successfully bootstrap your product idea:
Start with Great Design
Good design is preceded by thorough research. Google and Pinterest are amazing research tools. It’s important to understand your market and learn how that market is currently being served.
Next, talk about your idea as much as you can. There are many ways to conceptualize an idea without selling the farm (i.e. asking for a Non-disclosure Agreement). Create low friction opportunities to discuss and get feedback on what you aim to create. Look at it as a game and work it into conversations.
- How do people respond to it?
- Are responses consistent?
- Is feedback in line with your findings on Google and Pinterest?
How much did all that information cost you? Nothing. You now have a wealth of information at zero cost and are prepared to lead the development of your product.
Once your research and conceptual conversations are validated, it’s time to design! This is when things get fun! The goal now is to translate all your knowledge into a visually tangible deliverable.
Many people at this point go to a friend for help, but I typically advise against it. You want to work with someone in the know, someone with experience in a professional development environment who is working on many product ideas over a structured schedule.
Once you’ve found this person, begin the design process, which should end with the creation of two key deliverables: Professional design sketches and 3D Renderings.
Professional design sketches should be a culmination of your product concept up to this point. They lead latter stage product development and allow you to go back to all your previous contacts and repeat conversations with exciting news, “Remember that great idea I told you about? Check these out!”
3D Renderings are as good as professional photography in many ways. They are a photorealistic version of a previously sketched product concept. By this point you should know whether you have a good idea or not. If you find people rallying behind you and following up on your progress, it’s time to start prototyping.
At this stage, a little elbow grease with a touch of craft garners respect and often precedes greatness. This is where you build the majority of value in your product. Now’s also the time to convert your 3D Renderings into a manufacturable file.
If you’ve read this far you’ve probably heard of 3D printing, a popular and less expensive way to touch and feel a product prior to mold making. 3D prints are appropriate for many, but not all, products. Don’t get too distracted by the 3D printing buzz and first decide if it’s the correct prototype option. This depends on the product and required materials. For example, textiles and other soft goods require a similar, yet different process for show-and-tell prototypes.
Also note that there are less expensive alternatives to 3D printing to get photo ready prototypes using soft tooling or CNC Milling for injection molded products. If this is your first time prototyping in this manner, consider working with a professional experienced in prototyping to create the best model possible.
If you can successfully knock out these two steps, you’ll be in a position to intelligently vet and validate your product idea. It’s very possible to bootstrap this entire process with no (or very little) help from others, and using this approach increases the value of your work while mitigating financial exposure.
Kyle Muir served as President & COO of ArmorActive Inc from 2011-2014, and over a three year period was instrumental in leading company growth without funding to include a team of 30 individuals before the company’s sale in 2014. He’s a partner at HyperActiveCapital and owner of Swoob Inc, a company focused on female activewear. Kyle is currently a partner leading client growth strategy at Klugonyx Group, LLC.
Article provided by Klugonyx Group, a full service maker studio. They design, engineer, and build products and venture strategies. Their team is made up of passionate builders, creators, and entrepreneurs with strong industry networks from successful past ventures. They aim to make your dreams reality.