Spearheading my business with little more than a dream, passion, and a whole lot of hard work was one of the most fulfilling endeavors I’ve ever taken on. But that isn’t to say it’s an easy journey—just the opposite in fact. There’s just no denying how scary being a first-time founder can be, and when you’re getting started on your own means, with few resources and investors backing you up, it can feel as though you’re up against the world. A lot of first-time founders make the mistake of thinking they can’t start their business without borrowing money or securing investors. And while many companies have soared to incredible heights by focusing their growth strategy on fundraising, I’m here to say that it’s not the only way to start a business. For many, it’s not even the best way.
The truth is, fundraising isn’t accessible to everyone—women-led startups receive less than three percent of all venture capital investments. And with many investors predicting startup valuations will continue to decline this year, it might be worth considering another option. For me, bootstrapping from the get-go was what got my company off the ground and into 100 cities worldwide. It’s also what gave me the power to shape my business into the kind of company I had always dreamed of. 
Bootstrapping, or self-funding, might sound easier said than done or even impossible if you aren’t financially well off, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to protect your long term interests and financial well being. It’s important for founders to consider what they lose when they gain outside funding.    
I like to think of it this way: you could spend just as much of your time trying to fundraise and be left in the end without any investors, or if you succeed, having to split many of your business decisions with outside interests who aren’t you and might not have your vision, or you can take all of that time and invest it directly in building the company you’ve envisioned. You can spend most of your time trying to bring in investors, or you can use that time to bring in clients. That isn’t to say, of course, that the former isn’t a great option for many founders, but you shouldn’t limit yourself and your business to that single, narrow path. 
Just because investors aren’t knocking on your door doesn’t mean you don’t have a winning idea. This is especially true for those often overlooked and underserved by VCs. With so many founders vying for limited investment dollars, the odds simply aren’t in your favor. But that’s okay—you can make your own luck by betting on yourself. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the steps to successfully building a business through bootstrapping.
Always know that you are your biggest resource.
When I started my first company, I was a broke twenty something who’d just quit her job and was living in a cramped NYU dorm room with my co-founder. If I was lucky, I could scrounge up enough change between my couch cushions to get a decent cup of coffee. I quite literally lived on instant ramen to the point that eating anything else was a luxury. So when I say I started my company with almost zero resources, I mean it. Here’s the thing though, there was one resource I did have, and that was myself. I could take advantage of my know-how, my time, and my labor for the low, low cost of terrible coffee, instant ramen, and maybe a little treat as a reward every now and then. 
Knowing that I was my biggest resource meant I had to use myself in the most efficient way possible. And so I did everything I could to get my company off the ground. I put every ounce of myself into bringing on clients, delivering the highest quality work to wow them, and continually growing so we could become a highly profitable business. Investing myself in my company is what made it a billion-dollar business.
Don’t ever underestimate what you’re capable of—with passion and a willingness to put in the work—you can land that first client or sale, no investors required. 
Sell, sell, and then sell some more.
I can’t say it enough—when building a business, set your sights on sales right away. From the beginning, it wasn’t a question for me—I focused on sales over fundraising. It’s how you generate revenue and get your name out there. You want to know the truth behind how I made my first sale from that humble, little dorm room? I made cold calls every single day and night. I wrote and signed hundreds of pitch letters. I answered the phone every time it rang praying it was a potential client. And you know what? I eventually did it, I landed my first client, and I was able to do it again and again after that until I could afford my first hire.
You can’t make money without sales. It’s as simple as that. If you focus on generating revenue and delivering results, you can continue to grow without the need for outside investment.  
Tap into the power of forging valuable business relationships.
If making sales is one of the most important steps to starting a business bootstrapped, building relationships isn’t far behind. In the early days of my business some of our first big name clients came from word of mouth because of the work we did and the relationships we forged with our existing clients. 
No one can do it entirely on their own; you need a strong inner circle and support network that has your back. Healthy, meaningful professional friendships are so critical to your success as a founder and your own personal fulfillment. So put yourself out there. 
Attend business events and trade shows. Join groups for entrepreneurs—there are numerous out there specifically tailored to women and other underserved communities. Your network is a powerful channel, don’t be afraid to build authentic connections and meaningful business relationships.
Look, I get it. It’s hard not to get FOMO—and a narrow idea of what success as a founder looks like—when you see headline after headline detailing a media darling startup’s meteoric rise from a prestigious accelerator to buzzworthy Series A, B, and C rounds all the way to a frenzy-inducing IPO. But that path isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t without its drawbacks and limitations. Starting a company without cash, investors, or loans is very doable. You don’t need to wait for someone else to give you permission or open the door for you; with enough might, you can pry it open all on your own. The only person you need to start your dream company is yourself.


Liz Elting