Bootstrapping secrets: 10 years in

In Insanitek’s 10 year history, we have been bootstrapping all of them. It hasn’t always been easy, or even serious building. But here’s our story and two secrets.

The first incarnation of Insanitek was a truly atrocious forum type of site. My cofounder, Ali, was obsessed with them, and he created a PHP forum to discuss science. I was working on my undergraduate thesis at the time, so it didn’t bother me. I didn’t put any effort into it, but I knew it wasn’t where I wanted Insanitek to go. I had an ill-defined mission, but we were working on the details between our classes and work.

Over the course of the years, I fought with Ali over the direction of Insanitek and how to realise our mission, the question came to money. We often pulled things out-of-pocket, but we were always looking for revenue since neither one of us are rich. Alas, not being rich also means either you must have a really good business plan and know people to invest or you bootstrap.

I choose to bootstrap since I didn’t want to be beholden to anyone. I didn’t want a single person breathing down our necks while we did our work, telling us to tweak things in order to make a bigger profit for them. Insanitek has always been about the science, doing science, and helping people.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been intentionally building Insanitek via bootstrapping for 10 years. 

It’s taken Ali and I 10 years to get Insanitek this far because neither one of us has money. Ali paid for the web hosting and domain, then the occasional web or branding based thing when it struck his fancy. He, personally, worked hard on the web designs through the years, first in forum form, then our first WordPress. I wish we had brought in enough money to pay him fairly for these donations. Alas, I barely brought in enough money to pay for me to get back to tutoring, let alone to pay him for his services. Ali abandoned Insanitek a year ago, leaving anything he paid for up to me.

And me? In those first years I did all the client work. I would do some freelance science writing while in school, then after I found a single person to tutor, then another. I would pay for my petrol to get to and from these appointments and car maintenance. I would also write all the content marketing for Insanitek, market research, business planning, all the administrative tasks, and trying to find new clients.

It takes more patience than you realise.

I admit that I fell for the whole “you can build something and make a killing in a few years” idea. If we hadn’t been focused on school and way more decisive at the beginning, we might have gotten further than we did. After all, I didn’t get serious about my dedication to Insanitek until 2014. Since then things have really started to grow.

In 2014 I graduated with my master’s degree and couldn’t find a job in corporate. So, I dedicated time to growing Insanitek. It started with content marketing (blogging), freelance science writing, and tutoring. Within a year I had outsourced some of the writing, acquired another client, and started doing soil work for individual home owners as they went through troubleshooting why their plants wouldn’t grow.

You need to know your mission, goals, and stay true to the big picture.

With every step towards growth and expansion, you have to keep the goal in mind. I want Insanitek to be more than me. I want it to be a haven for independent researchers and science lovers of all experiences. I want more tutors and teachers helping to instruct and pass on the skills. I want more machines that researchers can use, and even a campus of buildings to house them. All this is going to take a lot of time to achieve.

The secret here a faithfulness to the vision of what Insanitek could be. 

This is made easier when you plan. I’m not talking about the daily plan, nor the sales funnels, nor the content upgrades, or any of that. That’s the busy stuff. We’re looking at the strategy, big picture stuff.

Plan where you want your ship to go, and learn the skills you need to get it there. I’m a geochemist/archaeologist by training. I know how to write academic papers, do research, and help others learn how to do research. I’m fairly decent at writing a grant, too. I have enough common sense to be a project manager and how to work with a team. But I didn’t know how this was related to running a business. I’m not a natural salesperson (I’m way too honest), nor did I know all the things that would go into making a successful run of it.

The solution? Know what you don’t know, then seek a part-time job that will teach you the skills you need. You get the money you need to keep going and the translatable training all in one. But, you get more than that. You build your network, get more ideas, and get affirmation if owning your own company is the right choice for you.

I cannot stress this enough: Don’t pay a business coach an exorbitant fees for what you’ll find is pretty much common sense. If you work a part-time job, you’ll see that it’s common sense. You don’t need to pay someone to tell you those things. Instead, you’ll have money to spend on coaches that can teach you skills.

And that’s the second secret.

Select your opportunities with optimism, look for opportunities to learn and grow, and make sure you don’t pay for things you could be getting paid to learn hands on.