From bootstrapping to fund-raising: 10 things I learned as Founder
We've secured a $15M second round investment led by Five Elms Capital with participation from our first round investor Join Capital.
Our business was bootstrapped until 2017, when we raised our first round. This second round now, and this new phase of our business is a good time to take a look back at the road we've paved for ourselves.
The founding team: Jean-Bernard, me, and Geoffroy (L to R)
If you're currently thinking of leaving your job to start a business, then you're in the same boat I was in many years ago. So you may find some of my learnings helpful.
And if you've been using our visitor management system to transform the way you welcome your visitors, then you might have wondered from time to time about the people behind the product. So you might find these learnings useful.
10. Bootstrapping is a long-term game
Few businesses take off like wildfire.
Or, as the legendary mountaineer Andy Cave shared with us at our 4th Annual Remote Working Trip in Chamonix, there are no shortcuts to the summit.
Andy Cave Keynote—Proxyclick in Chamonix, December 2019
Bootstrapping is hard. But if successful, it helps you build both a solid foundation for your business and a healthy relationship with money.
And I was determined to build a SaaS solution that people needed and that businesses would pay for. If you believe in what you do, then never give up.
Note: There's no presentation that captures the long slow SaaS ramp of death better than Gail Goodman’s amazing 2012 presentation. It’s a must-watch.
9. Your business idea isn't what matters. It'll inevitably change
The most difficult part of starting a business is deciding to leave behind the familiar—your stable paycheck with good health insurance and company car. The older you get the more difficult it is. But believe me when I say that you're also better-equipped to take up the challenge.
It's never too late to get started!
- Pick a (large) industry,
- Pick a problem that needs solving, and
- Get started.
Countless discussions with office managers convinced us to move from one to six modules. We built an employee-centric SaaS facility management platform.
This "donut" graphic is infamous in Proxyclick history:
Our initial offering
Well, in 2014 we decided to focus on only one of those six modules: visitor management.
8. Listen to the market. It'll point you in the right direction
Focusing on visitor management was actually an easy decision.
Security and facility managers at innovative companies like Apple, Airbnb, Palantir, Tesla and Facebook were showing interest in our product.
Initially, the problems we solved were around efficiency and branding at the front desk. Our earliest customers voiced frustrations about how much time they wasted calling around looking for meeting hosts. The ugly paper logbooks at their reception were outdated and becoming eyesores.
Thanks to our early adopters who believed in us, and their continuous feedback, we were plugged into the market every step of the way. We improved our product accordingly.
My co-founder and product owner Geoffroy, and the entire team at Proxyclick, spent thousands of hours to understand two fundamental things:
- What users wanted, and more importantly,
- Why they wanted it.
We applied Steve Blank’s customer development approach from his book, Four Steps to Epiphany.
Fast forward to present day, we're now working with the largest property managers, property owners, and global companies. And we've heard the message loud and clear:
It’s time to seriously address company security and visitor privacy at the entrance of thousands of offices and production sites around the world.
7. Competition is good for your business
It’s not a good sign if you're alone on your market.
If nobody else is trying to solve the same problem, then there's probably something wrong with your idea.
Your product and your growth will inevitably be impacted by competition, and in the end customers will benefit!
One of the many inspiring LinkedIn posts from Jason Lemkin
People are often surprised to hear that I've had drinks and dinners with fellow CEOs in the same industry. But I really recommend that you get to know your competitors personally. You will, after all, share the same goal.
And if we're all going to be on the same roller coaster ride, then it’s great to feel we're not alone.
6. An investor is a like having a new in-law
Once you raise money you change the structure of your bootstrapped business forever. You're not on your own any more. You've got someone on board who sees your business differently than you do. This is all normal, but you need to be ready for it.
Investors bring a fresh set of eyes to your business. They challenge you, they compare you, and they help structure your company.
Just like your in-laws, they want to help to make you become the best version of yourself. And just like with in-laws, you learn to appreciate them over time.
For me, my co-founders, and the rest of the team, raising money means it's a time for us to change gears, accelerate our product development, and our market presence.
5. Forget the 4-day work week
It's not exactly a secret. The work you put in to building and growing a company never stops. It's always in your head, and there's always something happening. There's no such thing as a 9-to-5, and sometimes it feels damn near impossible to disconnect.
But that's okay.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s perfectly fine as long as you're having fun.
If you want to build a great product, you have no choice but to work hard.
How you'll find my co-founder, Geoffroy, on any given day. Because some things never change...(2013 vs. 2020)
4. No matter which stage you are at, it’s always the beginning
Every year at every big milestone, it’s that same feeling all over again: it’s only the beginning!
The company gets bigger, the challenges multiply, but the excitement remains the same.
If you're excited and enthusiastic about what lies ahead, then you're on the right track.
3. Resilience and luck are the two key success factors
Entrepreneurship can be merciless. There are always reasons to quit and do something else with your life. After all it’s only business, right?
Well, the only way to make it to the next level is to keep believing in yourself, in the people you work with, and in your growing organization. Having that kind of grit is already a big step toward success.
Once you've started the business and created conditions for success, then luck should make its way around to you. You're the creator of your own luck.
I was lucky enough to meet the Hildes, the Florences, and the Patricks and Toms who introduced me to companies like DYMO and Electrolux, Danone, and MetLife. Each and every one of those connectors are innovators within their respective businesses.
You could even argue that I was lucky to have met each and every employee at Proxyclick, who bring their talents and skills to the table.
The list goes on and on because luck is an essential part of your business. Seize it!
2. Family support is critical
You can't have in-laws without a family. And day after day through the ups and downs and inside-outs, your home is your backbone.
If you have the support of your closest family during your toughest months when money is scarce, then your chances of success rise.
You need their support like nothing else. And it leads to the #1 learning I've had through the years...
1. It’s all about the people
Your business partners, your very first recruits, your first management team, and everyone that helps bring the company to the next level make up your single most important success factor.
At our Remote Working Trip in Chamonix last month, we announced to the team our ambitious plans for 2020. We then distributed Post-its and asked everybody to place one on the flipchart in the middle of the room.
The top of the page on the flipchart was labeled "Super Excited" and the bottom, "Freaking Out." We asked for their honest feelings about the year to come.
The results were fun to tally.
No doubt that the Proxyclick team stands behind the plans for the future!
Thank you to all those who believed in us so far.
It’s only the beginning!