No funding? No fear. Three female founders share their tips for starting up despite lacking in capital. By Ritika Puri (Founder, Storyhackers)
The hardest part about starting a business is simply that – getting started. For many aspiring founders, entrepreneurship can feel like a distant dream. The biggest barrier to taking the jump?
In addition to keeping yourself afloat throughout your entrepreneurial journey, you need funds to build your product, build up your marketing presence and manage your operations. Venture capital can help, but companies can’t always bank on finding outside funding: VCs won’t be the right fit for every business, and the process of fundraising is, in itself, a full-time job.
Lack of capital, however, shouldn’t hold you back from pursuing your entrepreneurial ambitions. There are techniques and revenue models that make self-funding a realistic possibility — regardless of your background and economic circumstances.
Here are three tips from entrepreneurs who started their businesses with zero outside capital:
1 . Start Small, with Clearly Defined Checkpoints
Tip nominated by: Carin Luna-Ostaseski, founder at SIA Scotch Whiskey Location: San Francisco, California
After 17 years as a creative director and graphic designer in the tech industry, Carin Luna-Ostaseski realized her true calling was to step away from the computer and create something that would allow people to connect in real life. That’s when she set out to create a blend of Scotch Whiskey for today’s palate.
“I’m passionate about whiskey because it’s such an elegant drink that is rich in heritage as a sit-down, slow-down and have a conversation kind of drink,” says Luna-Ostaseski.
She knew that starting a brand of spirits would be capital-intensive but had no idea how much it would actually take to get SIA up and running. Before making a big investment and seeking outside capital, she first validated her product idea by hosting whiskey tasting events to learn about brands, meet people in the spirits industry and figure out what it would mean to be ‘all-in.’
Meanwhile, she took on extra design work to build a 9-month runway for living expenses. The investments that she made into her business were structured around small experiments that would help her reach her next milestone.
“Throughout my production, I did a lot of research on materials cost, and found the best quality I could find for my new product at the best prices,” says Luna-Ostaseski.
“I did the smallest run that I could to test the waters and make sure there was interest (and no defects) before I turned up the volume for a bigger order, which I did later that year.”
As a result of starting small, and through methodical planning, Luna-Ostaseski launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to generate an extra boost of capital to bring her product to market faster.
“Without Kickstarter, I might have delayed that process or been a bit shyer about sharing SIA with the world,” says Luna-Ostaseski. “Because it was so well received, by people all over the world ready to give their dollars towards a product that had not yet been created, I knew there was space in the market for SIA Scotch Whisky.”
2. Embrace, Invest in and Market your Superpowers
Tip Nominated by: Rayanne Buchianico, founder at accounting and consulting firm ABC Solutions LLC Location: Dunedin, Florida
Rayanne Buchianico started her a career as a front desk receptionist at a CPA firm. Beginning as an administrator, she was quickly promoted to work directly with clients in accounting and technology roles. While Buchianico thrived on success through continued promotions, she never imagined that she would one day start her own company.
“All my life, I was raised to believe that my goals in life were to graduate high school and become a secretary,” Buchianico says. “College was not an option presented to me or my parents – it was a waste of money and a path that only ‘smart’ people pursued.”
After a series of life transitions and a divorce that caused Buchianico to ‘lose everything,’ she filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, eventually taking on a second job to keep her bills paid.
“My career had begun to stagnate,” says Buchianico. “I had not received a raise in two years, and the firm where I was working had increased my billing rates to my clients without compensating me accordingly.”
With $50 in the bank, she decided to start her own practice.
Buchianico began working from her living room, joining every free networking group in her city. She asked clients for referrals and regularly contributed to newsgroups online.
“I did everything I could to get my name out there,” she says.
One major problem that she faced, however, was that she lacked the certifications required to represent her clients in front of the IRS.
“I didn’t even have an Associate’s Degree, let alone enough credits to sit for the CPA exam,” she says.
But she persisted anyway, downloading past test questions and practicing everyday. Months later, she took the test to apply for Enrolled Agent status and passed.
Since 2005, Buchianico has moved into an office, built a team and expanded her business. She eventually sold her tax practice of 300 clients to a local CPA to pursue consulting.
“I built my business on a shoestring and turned it into a viable, marketable company with loyal customers,” she says.
3. Find a Partner
Tip nominated by: Sujata Tibrewala, founder at Arterie Fine Arts Location: Chicago, Illinois
An engineer and artist by trade, Sujata Tibrewala is passionate about the therapeutic effects of art.
“Art gave me a second life when I was crippled due to an illness and had to resign from work,” Tibrewala says. “I want to do everything possible to encourage art and serve as a catalyst for other people to create it.”
With a $2,000 investment, she was able to get her art gallery up and running in an inexpensive but strategic location. But cost was still a major challenge. So what did she do?
“I found a partner who believed in the same things that I did and was able to, as a result, share costs and responsibilities,” says Tibrewala.
After six months, Tibrewala and her business partner, Merike Adams, were able to break even.
“As partners, we complemented each other,” says TIbrewala. “I am a risk-taker, whereas my partner is extremely practical,” she says. “For the time that we worked together – until I had to move to pursue a new engineering job – we kept each other in check.”
Even though Tibrewala has moved on, Arterie continues to operate under the leadership of Adams.
Risk shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your dreams. There are plenty of businesses that you can start that utilize your best assets. Get creative, and create a business that you want to build. Grow at your own pace, and don’t let capital hold you back.
How have you raised capital for your business?
Photo credit: Laborant via Shutterstock.
About the guest blogger: Ritika Puri is an accidental entrepreneur who founded Storyhackers, a company that helps business create impactful and inspiring content programs. She enjoys writing about data, teaching others things that she’s learning, and helping other entrepreneurs succeed through her involvement as the speaker curator for The Lean Startup Conference, expert liaison at Clarity.fm and advisor to Sortly.