Bootstrapping, only for the brave

News from the conference room: this is a series of blog posts in which blogging experts briefly review key Tech4Africa 2010 talks and panels from Day 1 and 2.

Day 2

Some of us are entrepreneurs and some of us will always be employees. There are merits in both but nobody can deny the unmistakable allure of being able to say ‘I own my own company’. Today at Tech4Africa, Brett Haggard of Hypertext media chaired a panel of four remarkable entrepreneurs who are ‘Bootstrapping’ their way to success.

Before he began, Brett defined Bootstrapping as ‘starting and running a business without external financial contribution’. This definition, although contested by some of the panelists, set the tone for the session beautifully.

Barbara Mallinson, founder of which is, in Brett’s words “Facebook for schools” says she chose to bootstrap as it’s very hard to find funding initially then, as the equity grows, it’s easier and seems more ‘worth it’ to carry on independently.

Andy Higgins from told his remarkable story at how at 24, he had a large balloon of VC funding which popped along with the dot com bubble. He tells of sitting in his corner office overlooking Sydney harbour thinking “the guy selling bagels at the corner is making more money than us”. Astoundingly, his company survived by bootstrapping and focusing on 2 core sites. Now, bidorbuy is South Africa’s largest auction site and his company is growing stronger every day.

Eve Dmochowska is perhaps the most inspiring of the panel as she challenges the thinking that you are own your own as a startup owner. She recently formed Crowdfund which sources capital from the South African public for South African startups. She said that our situation is one that makes tech entrepreneurs a rare breed. “If you want to get money, you need to get it from friends, family or fools, the banks and the government will laugh at you” so to get a startup off the ground, you need help from your peers.

Another initiative from Eve is GeekSpace, a communal working area where freelancers in many fields can not only work together in the geographical sense, but also barter services with each other to compliment their respective businesses.

Gareth Knight could be called a serial bootstrapper. He organised this phenomenal conference and is currently on his 8th startup. When asked why he chose to bootstrap, he said “When you have passion for something you don’t want to see it die, you need stamina that pushes that passion through but you ask yourself, ‘how do I do this in a way that will allow me to have the privilege of being my own boss?”, if you want to enjoy the view, you have to climb the mountain”.

As someone who does not consider myself a born entrepreneur, the session today made me think: It could be worth one day following in these amazing individuals footsteps and starting my own business. It may fail, it will almost certainly be hard, but maybe‚ just maybe, it’s worth being brave, taking that leap off the cliff and hoping like hell I can fly.

Heidi Schneigansz