Bootstrapping With A Paycheck

4/18/13Follow @sramana

Entrepreneurs looking to launch their startups are often faced with myriad difficult decisions, chief among them being the question of seed financing. If you’ve ever found yourself asking, “How can I fund this?” or “Can I fund this on my own, while I’m still holding my current job?” the answer is yes—you absolutely can.

Vasu Akula and his two cofounders launched Voziq in late 2011 with one simple goal in mind: to help companies who purchase advanced analytics and business intelligence solutions better utilize the information they gained access to.

What makes Washington, D.C.-based Voziq unique is that Vasu and his partners didn’t utilize outside investors in order to bring Voziq to life. Rather, they funded Voziq themselves while holding on to their day jobs.

Vasu and his co-founders had originally toyed with several different ideas (such as offering both consulting and products). However, Vasu took my advice about bootstrapping Voziq’s business through services, while holding on to his paycheck. It was a great way to bring immediate value to the customers, learning about their needs, all the while building a product with the long-term view in mind. Yes, the product has been on a slow-burner, but invaluable customer relationships have already been established, key customer inputs gathered, and of course, cash has continued to flow in.

The idea behind Voziq started with Vasu and two fellow IT professionals, all of whom had spent fifteen-plus years working with over 100 Fortune 500 companies. Vasu realized that, while most companies utilized some form of data analysis, they didn’t often move past that point. By his estimation, 95 percent of companies that purchased advanced analytics and business intelligence solutions weren’t utilizing the data to its full potential. Technology was sitting on shelves, not delivering value.

Vasu realized that there was an untapped opportunity there, and Voziq is the platform that he and his associates built from the ground up. It focuses on social media analytics and helps to reveal the insights in large volumes of data. Using categories, benchmarks, and custom reports, Voziq transforms the voice of the customer, the voice of the client’s competitors, and the voice of industry influencers into actionable scenario-based information for various departments within the client’s organization.

As a self-funded start-up, Voziq’s finances were always tight, and so its co-founders decided to retain their day jobs until they had achieved reasonable validation with actual customers. Vasu says that Voziq was able to reach this goal by utilizing oDesk and other freelance contractors outside of North America, where they were able to obtain quality work for a relatively lower cost.

Voziq’s situation illustrates the scenario of a startup with two or more co-founders. Vasu notes that not all of the startup’s founders needed to move out of their day jobs at the same time; one or two could continue working while others are firming up the business plan and reaching out to prospects. This way, he says, you can fund your company through your paychecks while others are executing the core ideas of the startup.

He also emphasizes the importance of being willing to sacrifice when first validating the business idea. Since each of Voziq’s co-founders maintained their day jobs, they each took a chunk of business and product development tasks and executed these during evenings and weekends. Once they began to see some traction, they each took on roles as independent consultants in related areas to continue to earn a paycheck while they continued to focus their outside efforts on Voziq.

Voziq’s priorities have shifted today. The company’s three co-founders have contributed heavily to consulting services and have leveraged external consultants to continue product development. Most encouragingly, Vasu says that he and his associates plan to transition into Voziq 100 percent this year, as they bring in more customers and revenues.

While getting off the ground and becoming profitable are the ultimate goals for any venture, these are especially significant milestones for a self-funded startup. With these goals within reach, Vasu says that Voziq plans to continue to follow the 1M/1M methodology, looking to customers rather than investors as a way to further bootstrap and validate their work. They currently have over 250 business users and have successfully transitioned into a cash flow-positive scenario, and are ready to take Voziq to the next level of success and profitability.

What I find gratifying about the Voziq story is that it can be a template for numerous other entrepreneurs that we hear from constantly. Hundreds and thousands of professionals around the world harbor entrepreneurial dreams. Most of them lack capital. For these entrepreneurs—heavy in expertise, light on funding—bootstrapping with a paycheck is a fine path to get going!

Sramana Mitra is the founder of One Million by One Million (1M/1M), a global virtual incubator that aims to help one million entrepreneurs globally to reach $1 million in revenue and beyond. She is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and strategy consultant, she writes the blog Sramana Mitra On Strategy, and is author of the Entrepreneur Journeys book series and Vision India 2020. From 2008 to 2010, Mitra was a columnist for Forbes. As an entrepreneur CEO, she ran three companies: DAIS, Intarka, and Uuma. Sramana has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Follow @sramana

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