After reading several articles about the “draconian” cost-cutting measures some heavily funded Silicon Valley startups are facing — such as cutting out company chefs and perks — I am reminded that startup life may look very different from one company to another. I am also reminded that while capital is vital for survival, too much of it can prevent founders from being hungry enough to be scrappy.
It was such a stark contrast to the way we launched our own startup or the way my cofounders launched or operated their previous startups, that his post actually inspired me to begin a list of entrepreneurs who took bootstrapping and being scrappy to a new level.
One Computer, One Bedroom and One Annoyed Girlfriend
Today, TYT Network is said to be the largest online news show in the world — with 215 million views (that’s almost 1,000 years of viewing time) each month. But the early days of developing that online presence were anything but glamorous for founder Cenk Uygur.
“We did the show out of my living room for over a year. It was a one bedroom apartment, so my girlfriend would sometimes come out in her bathrobe in the middle of the show,” says Uygur. “She would also ask in the middle of the program when we were going to be done — because we were using the only computer in the house and she needed to write a paper.”
And when TYT Network’s launch party in 2006 ended up being poorly attended, Uygur refused to toss the leftover food. “We were so poor. I didn’t want to waste any of the money we had spent on that party, so I ate the sandwiches and finger food from the party for the next month.”
He adds, “Food poisoning is the least you can do to get your company off the ground.”
Bootstrapping the online news network also created challenges when interviewing guests. “We would sometimes have guests come into our “studio” only to find out that is my living room. I’m pretty sure a couple of them thought that we were going to kidnap them and hold them for ransom once they saw that dingy apartment off of Sunset.”
Today, the Young Turks Network, has an easier time attracting guests. Their recently broadcast one-on-one interview with Bernie Sanders generated more than 640,000 live views on YouTube and Facebook and more than 1 million views in less than 24 hours.
Scrappy Travelers: Gaming the Gaming Industry
George Heinrichs says that he and his cofounders struggled in their early days of bootstrapping their new startup, SCC Communications, to fund the expensive trips required to demo their technology to potential clients of their startup which sold large systems to government agencies.
“We always gave them a choice: Cleveland, St Paul, Nashville, Las Vegas. They almost always picked Las Vegas,” says Heinrichs. “This was in the days before all the tracking systems implemented by the casinos, and we figured out it we took $5,000 out of our checking account (which was a lot of money to us).”
“We bought chips and then traded them in immediately at a different window. They would flag us as big gamblers and would comp our rooms and meal. We did that for a couple of years just to keep the darn company afloat with all the travel and the long sales cycles.”
Heinrichs has since retired from the company and now invests in other startups.
Founder, CEO (and Part-Time Janitor)
When Alexa von Tobel founded LearnVest, a fintech company based in New York City aimed at making financial planning ‘affordable, accessible and delightful’, her office space was not quite up to par with some of the fancier digs of other startups.
“During the early days of LearnVest, our office was part of a co-working space that wasn’t exactly beautiful. This was pre-WeWork or any of the trendy spaces that exist today,”says von Tobel.
“Before any major meeting, I would scrub the bathroom floor tiles, wipe down the walls and mirrors, arrange flowers in our shared bathroom … anything I could do to make it feel the teensiest bit more professional — and clean. Entrepreneurs joke that they’ll do any job to get the company off the ground, but I literally cleaned the bathrooms.”
Von Tobel raised nearly $75 million in financing for LearnVest before being acquired by Northwestern Mutual in May, 2015, in one of the biggest fintech acquisitions of the decade.
This article originally appeared on Inc.