Bootstrapping a startup via Consulting gigs ? The Big Question

Every startup requires cash. It’s not built on thin air as early stage investors think. Money for paying the lawyer, government fees, hiring developers and more importantly paying your rent, food, fuel, etc. An entrepreneur starts with a calculated risk of investing (or burning through) his savings for that 6 months period with an assumption that either a customer would start paying or an investor would bet on it.

[Guest article by Indus Khaitan, Partner at theMorpheus. Indus takes a shot at one of the most important question every bootstrapped startup faces, i.e. of finding the right balance between consulting gigs and product development].

Every startup requires cash. It’s not built on thin air as early stage investors think. Money for paying the lawyer, government fees, hiring developers and more importantly paying your rent, food, fuel, etc. An entrepreneur starts with a calculated risk of investing (or burning through) his savings for that 6 months period with an assumption that either a customer would start paying or an investor would bet on it.

In reality, a startup takes longer than the original time frame in most cases. If you planned for 6 months, you’ll take 12 before anything comes out of it. A PPT or a paper napkin plans writes you cheque when you already have money in the bank or sold two startups in the past.

bootstrapping_startupSo what do you do? You start doing consulting gigs! Smart entrepreneurs do it all the time. Some short gigs here and there. A lot of entrepreneurs I have known do it to get started after quitting their job. Paul, Bill & Co. did the same in their formative years. The most famous of the consulting stories is how Evan Williams consulted for a year at HP while building Pyra Labs which eventually got acquired by Google. Muziboo is a good example in India where the founders did consulting to bootstrap it.

As an entrepreneur, how do you manage it; where do you draw the line as to not getting distracted completely. There is a chance that consulting gig’s sweet money just takes over your primary passion.

I have compiled a list. Also, including some interesting nuggets from a thread on Hacker News (yeah, I love reading it. More gyaan than a single post anywhere!).

  • Do a high impact consulting where a gig of 3 months can cover you for 9 months. The math is 3x.
  • Try to do a gig at a stretch instead of a 2 days in a week stint. It kills the output of your startup but then when you are done, it is easy to just do a complete switchover rather than continuous context switches
  • If you are doing consulting, treat your own startup like a client, as there may be other people working on this
  • Throttle your rates, depending on the project and desperation for moolah
  • Know your deliverable. Pick up hourly rates or visits per month Remember, you have your venture, you do not want to get caught in fixing a bug for days and goes beyond your original estimate.
  • If you know something and you want to learn more which may help your startup, maybe charge a little less. A counter thesis is that pick up a gig which you are a rockstar at and you can do in your sleep and get paid as well.
  • If you are doing couple of days in a week, then restrict it to only certain days
  • Make sure you show up at client’s desk for the work and not really do the consulting gig from your home or wherever your startup is located. This helps you keep it clean and juggle them well
  • Keep the IP clean. Good idea to let the recruiting manager know that you have other gigs. Of course, sign an NDA as required
  • Do combined gigs with other friends with complimentary skills
  • Keep your other team members informed or at least they know that you are not available certain days in a week
  • It’s easier to do technology consulting than “strategy consulting”

India is a tough place to raise money for your venture — though it gets better by the day; the number of ‘pre-series A’ venture deals are still in double digits every year. Consulting is one way to bootstrap it.

Have you done consulting gig while bootstrapping your startup? What are the things you did to keep it clean? What else?

[Reproduced from authors blog]

Related Question: Consulting while product development ?

[img credit: picman1108, via flickr]

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