Bootstrap to Avoid the Overnight Success Trap

small business

In the aftermath of the DotCom Bust, bootstrapping is an in topic. These days it is almost trendy to be bootstrapping your business.

Of course, millions of entrepreneurs have known that all along and concentrated on quietly building their businesses.

Bootstrapping takes time. Your growth is limited by the cash you have coming in the door from customers. Since your available cash is limited, you have to keep your expenses low. That means you cannot hire and expand as quickly as you might like.

With bootstrapping, the chances of having your business be an overnight success are lower.

That’s why marketing guru Seth Godin’s comments on being an “overnight failure” resonate so. He notes:

” … some people have trained themselves to believe that the only kind of success worth having is overnight success. That if you don’t hit #1 the first week, you’ve failed. That if your interface isn’t perfect out of the box, or if you don’t get 5,000 people standing in line at the opening of your new store, you’ve failed.

* * *

The challenge for observers, investors and partners (like the publisher who took on Kathleen) is to avoid the temptation of buying the media infatuation with the overnight success story (which rarely happens overnight). The challenge for marketers is to figure out what daily progress looks like and obsess about that.”

Smart bootstrapping entrepreneurs do not buy into the hype of needing to be an overnight success. Instead they revel in running a business that is an “overnight failure” that gradually turns into a success over time.


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

7 Reactions
  1. I can tell you that we have been working hard to be an “Overnight Failure” a la Seth’s post. Friday, we’re having our anniversary lunch in celebration of five years and counting!
    My favorite part is the relationships we’ve cultivated among ourselves and with our customers.

  2. Anita,
    great post. When I started my current firm in 2000, I had no choice but to bootstrap…there wasn’t any money anywhere for a software startup. People thought I was crazy. Sure enough, customer by customer, employee by employee, we’re celebrating a wonderful anniversary this summer. We now have over 500 clients using our platform and 16 full-time employees. We’re not “over the hump” but we are in our third year of profitability. All of it without a dollar of outside investment.

    Not sure if I could have actually run a company if I had the added pressure of trying to make VCs or investors a return.

  3. It’s interesting that you would write about this today. Just a few days ago I received a book by Kimberly Stansell called “Bootstrapper’s Success Secrets: 151 Tactics to Building Your Business on a Shoestring Budget.” Patience is extremely undervalued by those entrepreneurs who only see dollar signs. Those who have a long-term perspective about building their businesses and are willing to make short-term sacrifices will be better off than those who are just trying to make a big splash. True business builders are not expecting to be 1-hit wonders or just a flash in the pan. Patience is still a valuable virtue. This may be the 21st century, but old-fashioned wisdom never goes out of style!

  4. Bootstrapping is a topic near and dear to my heart, a topic I’ve covered on my blog before and an experience I’m currently living through with 2 companies.

    If being an “overnight failure” is my path to long-term success, then bring on the failure!

    One month into my latest venture and we’re learning a ton, experimenting/testing/fine-tuning and collecting as much feedback from our customers, friends, contacts as possible. All in the name of failure…wait, success!