For those who aren't familiar with internet start-up talk, "bootstrapping" refers to a business that doesn't take on any investment capital. As Wikipedia explains, "Such startups fund the development of their company through internal cash flow and are cautious with their expenses."
The Offbeat Empire is a bootstrapped company. I started it with money out of my own pocket, and have never taken on any investment dollars or venture capital. This means that by necessity, the Empire always has to function in the black — simply put, the company must be profitable, because there is no other money other than the dollars coming in via our business.
For the most part, I love bootstrapping. I have lots of dear friends who've gone the venture capital route, and while it's awesome to get a big infusion of cash to start a company, I've seen how stressful it can be to race against the money running out. But there are times when bootstrapping is a serious challenge, and the Offbeat Bride Tribe migration from Ning to self-hosted BuddyPress was one of those times.
Facing down the project, I could see that it was going to cost about $10,000 in development to make the change. I pooled up as much money as I could going into the project, and then totally lucked out by having a developer I've worked with for over a decade who was willing to let me pay her off in chunks over the course of a few months.
In part as a result of that $10,000 I spent six months ago, finances have been tight all year. I had to lay off an editor when her site wasn't being profitable, because I didn't have any funds to fill in the gaps. I had to fire my accountant and hire a new one who would make sure my taxes actually got paid on time. And, perhaps most difficult, I've had to do membership drives to encourage the Offbeat Bride Tribe members to support the site that supports them.
See, while Offbeat Bride Tribe membership will ALWAYS be free, we do offer a few premium levels for members who want more. For $5/month or $50 lifetime, they get some sweet benefits like photo uploading, free classified ads, free eCourse materials, and special avatars — and also the warm fuzzy feeling of supporting the site.
Thanks to two membership drives, the Offbeat Bride Tribe has now officially made back the $10,000 I invested in migrating it to a new platform. The fact that it only took six months to earn back its start-up cost is pretty remarkable, really. What's even more remarkable is that the majority of the Offbeat Bride Tribe members who've come on as Lifetime Members do so AFTER their wedding. They don't even really take advantage of the benefits we offer… mostly, they just want to voice their support for the site. This blows my mind and makes me so thankful… it may have been a financially tight six months, but knowing that the investment has MORE than paid off in happy community members makes it all worth it.