Bootstrapping: Meaning, Phases, Advantages, and Disadvantages

Bootstrapping: Meaning

Bootstrapping is a process of establishing and developing the business from the 0th level without borrowing any funds. Here the owner of the business finances the business with his/her personal funds. Under no circumstances investments from investors or debt from debtors are entertained here. In rare cases only minimal external capital is acceptable.

Under this method, whether it is an expansion or establishment of a new outfit, financing of all such things takes place from the personal funds of the owner(s) only. Here the sources of finance are either the contribution from the owner or partners and the revenues generated from the company or personal resources (including sweat equity) of the owner, there is no other way out. Apart from cash also, there is no borrowing or any other support for the business. Bootstrapping is not only applicable to the startups. However, any business at any point in its growth cycle can opt for this method of financing.

Understanding the term: Bootstrapping

Tracing of the term ‘Bootstrapping’ goes back to the 18th and 19th Centuries. At that point in time, the meaning of the term was some impossible assignment or unattainable task. Eventually, over the years, there has been a lot of evolution in the term. And today it means developing and expanding business from almost nothing or without any external financial help. In the current ecosystem that is slowly becoming though not impossible but difficult to execute and attain.

Various elements useful for bootstrapping

These are few elements or areas or sources that help the business owners to manage their finances in a better efficient way and thus avoid the need of any external borrowings. Apart from personal finance and plowing back the profit, these sources are also useful for enhancing bootstrapping.

Trade Credit

Trade Credits given by the suppliers at the time of supplying goods is the best method for managing short term finances. This credit is given for 30, 60 days and  may even stretch upto 90 to 120 days. The quantum and period of trade credit depends upon the relationship with the suppliers. Thus the businesses can avail interest-free credit (finance) for few days to months.

However, the Trade Credit can only remain useful in the short term. In the long term, the business owner ultimately has to pay to the suppliers. Moreover, a huge amount of dependence on the trade credit given by a particular supplier is also not good. It has its own many shortcomings.Thus at times, this method or source can turn costly.


It is a method where the commercial finance company buys the receivables at 80-95% of the face value of receivables. As a result of this, the business owner gets the money instantly and also has not to bear the risk of default. Even after recovering only 80-90% of the selling price, the business owner can still make profits if there is a high margin on the products.

Thus this method avoids taking debt for meeting working capital or any other short-term requirement, by instantly getting the money on the one hand. On the other hand it frees the owner to spend time and efforts for recovery, rather he can concentrate on business growth.


In the initial set up, the businesses would like to conserve the resources. Hence they prefer not to put a huge amount of money in arranging the fixed assets like land, building, machinery, equipment, etc. Thus instead of borrowing loans and making outright purchases, they would prefer leasing these assets. And that works the best in such circumstances. The business owners take such fixed assets on leases for a long duration of time and thus avoid any interest payments or blocking large investments. In Leasing, payment is only made for the portion which is used and not for the full fixed asset.

Letter of Credit or Advances

This is another source which can loosely be referred as self funding. Under this either the big customer placing a large order on continual basis can issue a Letter of Credit in favor of the business. This Letter of Credit becomes a much needed security for various purchases required for the business. Another way is partial or full advance payment by the customers, depending upon the demand of the produt cna credibility of the owner, the customers may be making advance payments to the business.

Thus, this becomes a sort of working capital financing by the customers and the business can buy, produce and use these funds to operate the business and sell the product ultimately to the customers.


Phases of Bootstrapping

Phase 1

In the first stage, all establishment activities of business take place. Here, in the beginner’s phase, the business owner has commenced its business with personal saving money or borrowing from friends. Here it might be possible that the entrepreneur is still working in a company and starting a side business like this.

Phase 2

In the second phase, the establishment task is over. Now the business owner focuses on expansion and modification. At this stage, investing back the profits and earning takes place. The business owner, after investing a lot of personal finance, now starts investing a certain portion of profits. The other name of phase 2 is the ‘Customer-funded stage’.

Phase 3

Till the time, businesses reach this stage, it is in a good state. The business owner tries to upgrade technology, staff, and working as well. It even tries to enhance its products and services. Now looking to the potential even business would like to hire a team to manage the increased business affairs. And all that requires good amount of funding, which may not be possible with the existing resources any more. At this stage the business owner needs to take a conscious call, whether to continue at the current scale and avoid external funding arrangement or to make a change in the funding policy to achieve the potential and scale up the business.

Therefore, at this juncture or cross roads many  a times, businesses takea conscious call and decide to dilute their bootstrapping and allow venture capitalists or other investors to invest. The other name for phase 3 is the ‘Credit Stage’.

Advantages of Bootstrapping

  • The owner of the business has full control over the business.
  • The requirement of disclosure of all business details to the shareholders, investors, and debtors is not seen here. As a result of this, the maintenance of secrecy in the business prevails.
  • The Entrepreneur solely makes all the business decisions without taking anybody’s approval. Or without getting influenced by the advice and guidance of others.
  • All the budding entrepreneurs invest a lot of time and energy in finding prospective venture capitalists or prospective angel investors for raising funds. Thus Bootstrapping saves a lot of such time and energy.
  • It allows the business owner to do enough experiments with the products, to finally come up with the best suitable product. Thus there exists completely no pressure from the investor’s end.
  • It makes interest rates payments almost nil, thus reduce the cost of debt.
  • There are high chances of getting positive cash flow by following this method.
  • Lack of funding at times leads to creative thinking.
  • When the business reaches in the third stage and expects to fund, it becomes very easy. Venture Capitalists give preference to Bootstrapped businesses.

Disadvantages of Bootstrapping

  • All financial risk is borne by the business owner only. Dilution of risk amongst investors and debtors doesn’t takes place.
  • In Bootstrapping limited growth opportunities are seen, because of limited resources available.
  • At times the quality of products and services also gets hampered due to a lack of monetary, physical, and technological assistance.
  • Family assets and personal assets are at high risks here.
  • The Credibility of the business is very low in bootstrapping. A business with investors, shareholders and debtor is more credible than the business following bootstrapping.
  • Bootstrapping is only suitable for small or medium scale businesses. As the business expands, it becomes really difficult to rely only on personal finances.
  • The business owner can face stress, depression, anxiety, or even a nervous breakdown in such a situation.
  • An owner may not be the expert of all the fields of the business and hiring that skill may be a costly affair for the business at such low operating level. And thus, the business can not take advantage of advice and suggestions of experts.


Most of the entrepreneurs and business owner adopts Bootstrapping method at the start up and expansion stage of the business. Thus, according to experts, the financing of almost more than 80% of start-ups, takes place on personal finance only. As a result of its several positive factors, despite limitations, it is still one of the best ways to finance the business at an early stage. So the business can contribute and work on with the core idea and in the process develops the idea. And also get the hang of the other surrounding needs. So once the initial phase is over, the owner has a credible past, rich exposure to manage the business. All this bodes well for next level of funding arrangement and for both the parties – promoters as well as financiers.

Last updated on : October 17th, 2020
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