What Founders Learn From Growing up Broke

"Are there any benefits to being a Founder who came from nothing? What kind of behaviors or expectations might they have which are an advantage at a startup company and why?"

October 14th, 2020   |    By: Wil Schroter

Growing up broke was one of the most valuable assets to shape me as a startup Founder. At the time it didn't feel too valuable (it sucked) but I'd come to learn later that it burned specific traits into my behavior that served me insanely well in building startups from scratch.

Many of us have had the same challenges, coming from disadvantaged upbringings that felt like a setback at the time but also became crucibles of learning and adaptation that actually made us far more capable when our skills were put to the test later on.

We're Forced to Become Experts

When we're broke, we can't afford to pay anyone to do anything. Plumbing breaks? We become a plumber. Car won't start? We become a mechanic. We just don't have a choice, so it forces us to learn and act outside of our comfort zone all the time.

In a startup, this kind of gumption is invaluable. Instead of trying to find an expert at Instagram marketing, we have to become an Instagram expert. We become pitch deck experts, product development experts, even web developers. Being broke means being forced to do things yourself, with no other choice, which becomes a powerful ally over time.

A lot of people don't know this, but at Startups.com I'm the CEO, CFO, our copywriter, social media author, product strategist, M&A lead, legal lead.. the list goes on. I learned all of those things from not having the money at some point to pay someone else to do it for me. Now I get to tackle almost every area of our business with first-hand experience.

We Can't Afford to Say “No”

It's really hard to say "no" to work when you have no other way to feed yourself. "No" is a luxury we get when we've got another means of paying our bills. But building a startup, especially a bootstrapped one, means we have to say "Yes" to any work we can get, and any bit of effort it takes to do it.

Client needs you to work insane hours for this project? Yes. The marketing person quit so we have to take all their work on in addition to our current workload? Yes. The office kitchen is filthy and the trash needs to be taken out? Yes.

Startups thrive on Founders (and staff) who are willing to just say "yes" to everything and go. No hesitation. That behavior is something that those of us who have grown up with nothing instinctively have, and it's a huge asset to us at a time when it's almost all work we'd prefer to say "no" to.

We Treat Every Dollar Like it's Our Last

When you're super broke, you rarely have an idea where your next dollar is going to come from. "Not Broke Folk" are used to steady paychecks and reliable income streams. Incidentally, startups often look more like broke people's income - good today, gone tomorrow — so we tend to treat every dollar we get like it's our last, and plan accordingly.

Startups often face the same challenge. We have a hot streak one month where a ton of money comes in, so we assume that's our new income stream, and we spend accordingly. But for those of us who know what it's like for that faucet to be turned off (often), we cherish those dollars coming in and do everything we can to make them last until we know for sure that the next dollar has landed. That tends to serve us well whether we're bootstrapped or funded, as in both cases making every dollar last is a critical life support function.

How many of you identify with this? I'd love to hear what shaped you — tweet me @wilschroter and let's talk about it.

In Case You Missed It

How We Built an 8-Figure Business by Saying “No” We always hear about brazen Founders making big bets on the future — the big "Yes!" But what about saying "No"? Sometimes saying "no" is the best thing we can do for us as Founders, as well as for our startup.

How do We Tell Our Staff We’re About to Run Out of Money? The key to communicating with our staff about money is to do it early and to get everyone on the same page.

Why No One Tells Founders, It's Over, Move On (podcast) Wil Schroter & Elliot Schneier break down the failure of their company AffordIt, what actually happens when you run out of VC money, and when you should drop the ego & focus on doing what’s best for your mental health instead.

About the Author

Wil Schroter

Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes BizplanClarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.

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