Mostly Bootstrapped Startups in The Great Lockdown

topsy-turvyLife during The Great Lockdown is topsy turvy. I don’t have to explain that to you any more than I have to check GoDaddy to know thegreatlockdown.com was snapped up long before I became aware some clever person coined that term for the COVID 19 pandemic.

Speaking of feeling topsy turvy, I’m confused by never being in the office somehow morphing into a feeling that I’m always at work because suddenly, my home is the only place where I can work. And I can’t compute wanting to hug someone who I haven’t seen in a long time, while also feeling repulsed by the idea of being close enough to hug that person.

One thing I can easily understand: I’m more fortunate than millions of people across the US and around the world. Some of the things I have┬áto be thankful for:

  • my friends and family remain healthy and safe
  • I have a comfortable home and enough to eat
  • I can wear a mask to the grocery store without someone fearing I’m a criminal
  • no one from my company has been laid off
  • essential workers bravely continue to go into work every day
  • and so many more blessings in this time of great hardship for many.

Please forgive me for going on; there’s one more thing I want to share from my gratitude list, and it’s a little specific. Bear with me. I promise I’m going somewhere with this.

In essence, I’m grateful because I work in a mostly bootstrapped startup.

It’s been hard – occasionally very hard – to succeed as a lightly-funded startup competing with companies that have raised more than $10mm in outside capital. But that “lightly funded” part was often the difference-maker for us. We had to be thrifty, we had to sacrifice, but someone – literally an Angel in many cases – always had our backs when we really needed help.

There have certainly been moments when I’ve wished we were located in one of the major startup hubs, where capital seemingly has flowed to growing startups like the mighty Mississippi flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. Smart people have said human beings are lazy by nature — we prefer easy over hard. True to human form, I would have preferred “easier” and “more,” where fundraising is concerned.

However, I’ve come to realize there is a big silver lining to being a mostly bootstrapped startup during The Great Lockdown: we are used to doing more with less. These may well be times when being used to Struggling can be a gift, and being used to Easy can be a curse.

Mostly bootstrapped startups seek out inexpensive office space, use plastic folding tables for desks, and decorate our breakrooms with hand-me-down furniture. We’re careful about every decision we make, because we know we have less cushion for costly mistakes. We have to hire slowly because we have no other choice. We have pot luck Christmas parties instead of extravagant ski trips. We keep our focus on doing the right little things for long-term growth because we don’t have the cash to blitz the market about everything we’re doing right.

And, mostly-bootstrapped startups have people who have our backs when we most need them to.

Suffering and death are happening all over the world as I write this, and this is an article about being grateful for experiences that can best be described as a white man’s observation of limited First World problems. Hence, it’s time for me to wrap this up.

I’m genuinely sorry for startups that have gone bankrupt because their funding has dried up. I ache for people who have been laid off or lost someone to COVID 19. I’m a little sad for a future in which startups don’t have as easy access to capital, and Unicorns with crazy ideas will become rare once more.

But I’m oh-so-grateful that mostly bootstrapped life has prepared my startup to survive, and perhaps even to thrive, in these difficult times.

I hope there might be something about The Great Lockdown, some aspect of life that is incredibly difficult for people today, that will make us all stronger when we’re on the other side of this crisis.

In the meantime, may we all be fortunate enough to have the strength and find the resources to be someone else’s Angel, to help them be mostly bootstrapped. Maybe topsy turvy will work for us, and while we’re more separated from each other than we’ve been in any other moment of history, now will be when we realize how much we need to come together.

On Life and Startups

What do you say to re-introduce a website that hasn’t been active in nearly 10 years? The basics, I suppose.

My name is Mac Bartine, and I’m a high growth startup CEO living in Knoxville, TN with my wife and twin step-sons. I like lots of different things – including growing businesses, and I enjoy thinking, talking and writing about my passions.

Primarily, in this blog I’ll be writing about my experiences in entrepreneurship and my intention to live well in the time that I have. And, I’ll share resources I find that help me in those pursuits.

Life…

As I mentioned before, it’s been a while since I used this domain for anything. Beginning in 2007, I used bartine.com to inform friends and family regarding the progress of my then wife April’s struggle to survive breast cancer.

After 2 years of being an inspiration to everyone around her, working full time until she went into the hospital for the final time, and going out with a party instead of under a physician’s care, April passed away in August of 2009 at the much-too-young age of 35, and I stopped writing here shortly thereafter.

I share this part of my life so you know I’ve seen the valleys of life, just like you and everyone else. We can all agree: those periods suck. I can also attest that the valleys – whether personal or professional – still have their moments and are worthy of our attention, so I won’t be skipping over them here.

Fast forward to today: I’m very happily re-married to an amazing woman, have twin stepsons who I adore, and we’re a successfully “blended” family – the boys’ biological dad and I even coached their basketball team together a few years back! Life is good.

Noah, Jill and Owen

It’s taken me 10 years to return to writing about what’s important to me, and I have to say: I’m excited to be back!

I credit the fact that I’m generally happy these days to very good fortune and to my study of psychological research.

Specifically, I’ve studied and am interested in peer reviewed research on what has been proven to help people to thrive and live well, which is also known as the “Positive Psychology” field of study.

You can count on me bringing in research and facts to my posts here, and I’ll welcome good resources you suggest as well.

A few years ago I combined some of my favorite life lessons and positive psych research into a response to a question on Quora, “What are the top 10 things I should experience in life?”, which got picked up as an article by Inc.com. I wouldn’t say that article encapsulates everything I believe is truly important, but it’s a good list if I do say so myself, and I expect to occasionally expand on some of the article’s 10 subjects here.

Summing up, I want to write here about life and all its facets. I may also occasionally share a personal creative project that I’m particularly excited about at a given moment in time.

Startups…

My first real job out of grad school in 1996 was at a startup that made statistical process control software. The company had a creative solution that customers liked, was filled with talent, and was battling to win against bigger companies with worse technology. You could say it was a classic startup experience.

While that company didn’t “make it”, the time I spent there gave me the startup bug, and I’ve stoked the fires of that passion ever since.

Over the last 23 years, I started multiple solopreneur businesses, had a lot failures and a few successes, learned a little about business management, more about working with people, and a lot about promoting products and ideas online.

In 2010, I became a partner in a great digital marketing agency called VIEO Design. There, I learned a lot more about business and the importance of having a great team. Nearly 10 years later, I’m very proud to remain a silent partner at VIEO. They’re better than ever with a variety of clients ranging from advanced aircraft manufacturers to thought leadership in the psychology of influence.

In October of 2015, I became CEO of SmartRIA, a SaaS (software as a service) startup that simplifies compliance for the wealth management industry.

I was fortunate to take over leadership of SmartRIA after our founder spent considerable time and money to build a solid beta version of the software and get dozens of trial accounts in use.

Nearly a year later, we officially launched in August of 2016 and had 39 paying users by the end of that year. 2 1/2 years later, we have grown to thousands of paying users and our reputation within our industry is growing rapidly.

I’ve learned several very interesting lessons at SmartRIA, had some great victories and plenty of failures too, and I expect to discuss some of the best moments that are appropriate for sharing here. More frequently though, I’ll be talking about the high growth startup experience in general, and sharing what I observe to work well to solve problems in the startup environment.

Combine the Two: Life and Startups

What I really want to think about and write about here is where the subjects of living well and working in a high growth startup environment intersect. Sometimes, they mix like oil and water. Sometimes, they come together like the best birthday party guest list ever.

I’ll also write about regulatory compliance, the arts, and other topics that are important to me and my business.

Here’s to living well and starting up new adventures!