Bootstrapping Builds Leadership Muscles…

boot strap

Over the years I have “boot strapped “on a number of occasions both personally and professionally. Boot Strapping is defined as: a self-sustaining process that proceeds without external help. However I prefer to refer to it as:

Eating what you kill


It is during these times of watching every dollar that market leadership muscles are developed.

The question I have is; are we doing a disservice to our future leaders when we do not require them to experience the rush (and often pain) of bootstrapping?

Boot Strapping builds a unique appreciation for strategically balancing business decisions today that provide immediate return, as well as investing in your organization for future market leadership.

Last weekend I moved my son into his first apartment at college. Last year we gave him a budget that was marginally larger than the cost of the dorms and he recruited two room mates and found an apartment. Apartments sure have changed from when I went to school. At the risk of sounding like a parent that walked to school barefoot in the snow uphill both ways, it is noticeably a different experience today.

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My son’s apartment is beautiful. (it’s like a resort) It has a pool with fountains, a hot tub, theater room, weight room and it has gated parking. When I entered the apartment I was impressed how clean the rooms were and freshly painted. The apartment he chose is furnished and although basic, the furniture is very nice for three college guys.


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The roommates were quick to set up the TV my wife and I gave them (so I could get the one I wanted…smile…) with surround sound speakers and their video game machine. My wife asked I put their kitchen together. I unpacked new pot and pan sets from Bed Bath and Beyond, a new silverware set, and a knife set. (my wife later went back and rearranged it correctly … smile… for all those married guys out there)



Flash back to my first apartment… It was on the 7th floor of apartments just off The Kent State campus. When I moved in I had a mattress on the floor, the silverware that did not match anything in my mom’s silverware drawer, and old pots and pans. I had a small black and white TV from my mom and dad’s kitchen with rabbit ears. I had some old end tables from our basement that were in style in the 1950’s as well as a few old lamps that did not match. Overtime I acquired furniture from Goodwill( more function than style), and my couch came from the dumpster outback as a graduating senior threw it away as he did not want to move it.

My first night in my apartment I learned the electricity does not magically come on; you need to call ahead of time and they do not work on weekends. Although dark, I thought I was really living as my apartment had a balcony and I could see the entire KSU Campus. I thought I was really living! At about 2:00 a.m. I was hungry and the only food I had (as food like electricity,phone, does not magically appear) was the two layered chocolate cake my mom made. So I made my way into the small kitchen and with moonlight I found my way to the cake and cut myself a large piece. Were my eyes playing tricks on me or is the cake moving?…cockroaches!….they covered the entire cake! I have never lived with cockroaches …how do I deal with this? So I took the cake and threw it and the roaches off my balcony. I learned how to turn on my electricity, and the cost of fumigation ate into my funds planned for a stereo.


Over time I learned about balancing what I wanted versus what I needed. I made some good decisions and I made (many) mistakes. Like finally buying that stereo instead of a warm winter coat for the Ohio winters. I could have asked my parents for help at any time , and I know they would have helped like the day my father showed up and surprised me with a down jacket.

Flash forward… I have about a two hour drive home after helping my son move in and the experience gave me pause…

As a parent am I robbing my son of the bootstrapping lessons I learned, often the hard way?

In my desire to set him up to win am I not allowing the life experiences that teach you to… “eat what you kill?”

As I drove I also thought about how some of my best lessons were taught in the market while bootstrapping businesses and divisions of larger businesses.


Bootstrapping builds leadership muscles that give you a unique appreciation for return on investment and how to balance the immediate need for revenue with positioning your organization for future market leadership.

Pankaj Arora offers five tips while bootstrapping:

Tip #1: Start your business out of your home.

Rent is one of the biggest expenses for any business. If you can, start your biz in your home office, basement or garage (think Bill Gates).

Tip #2: Think before you buy.

While it’s tempting to run out and buy new office supplies for your new business, use what you have around the house first. And consider renting or buying used equipment when you can.

Don’t justify initial over-spending with “long-run” thinking. If you do, there won’t ever be a long run!

Tip #3: Learn to barter.

Barter everything you possibly can. Think outside the box–like the editor who trades her proofreading services in exchange for an ad for her business in a local trade publication.

Tip #4: Start small.

You don’t need a huge start-up marketing campaign with the local NBC affiliate. Start small and ever-so-slowly work your way up. That’s the way most lasting corporations are built. Keep in mind that a moderate expenditure for an established business can be an outrageous one for a start-up.

Tip #5: Be creative.

 One of the keys to keeping start-up costs low is to find affordable and creative ways of doing what you need to get done, rather than just spending cash to hire someone else. For example, save money by making your own fliers and business cards, instead of getting them professionally designed and printed. All you need is a PC, a few sheets of business card stock from your local office supply store and a little creativity.

How about your organization…..

Are you providing your up and coming leaders an opportunity to boot strap a project or two?

How about business owners who are transitioning the business to their children, how are you planning on helping your children build their bootstrapping muscles?

Have you boot strapped a business or two? What lessons did you learn?

And more importantly, if you had to do it again, would you want someone to make it easier or did the adversity of bootstrapping build your leadership muscles for today?

My son did find this apartment and stayed within budget. Each day he is making decisions and learning to balance his wants with needs. He is demonstrating much more maturity than I had at his age, and I am very proud of him.

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