Bootstrapping, Tribesmaids, and earning back a $10,000 investment

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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.

Comments on Bootstrapping, Tribesmaids, and earning back a $10,000 investment

  1. I’m not surprised. I’ve noticed that anyone who hires me through Offbeat Bride LOVES Offbeat Bride. They don’t just like it a little, they LOVE it. So really: well done you. That is no easy feat.

  2. YAAAAAAAAAAAY *Empire dance*

    But seriously. This is Good Good Good. 🙂

  3. I have a question for you, Ariel. Well, question/compliment really. I’ve learned a lot about how to run a website from reading your Empire blog posts, and always tune in to see what I’m going to learn next. I think you’ve said in the past that isn’t really your thing, but I would love to see you blog in more detail about the how-to’s of making a website-based business work. I would happily pay for that content!

    • I did a big post about monetizing, and there’s always this 2008 post, The Business of Offbeat Bride. Meg from A Practical Wedding has told me several times that that second post is what she built APW’s business model from (and we all know how that’s worked out!), so most of what I could share is already out there for free. 🙂

      Unless — do you have specific questions? I’m always happy for most post fodder.

      • Hmmm … not quite sure what to ask you to teach, apart from “Things I don’t know yet.” Would you be willing/interested in looking at my site and doing a consult on how to improve it?

  4. Great information as always, Ariel!! I have been following for a while and have noticed you in the ever vast wedding blogosphere too and can really relate to what you are doing. I too have started my site and magazine with just my own money and fill that it is oh so hard to keep it going while still trying to maintain your household. So from someone who completely understands and admires your triumph, CONGRATS!

  5. Is there a way to just give $$? I don’t use the tribe, but I like all the content and dialogue across your sites, so I’d be willing to give some dollars as a not-not subscription fee. Did that make sense?

    • I’m not running a charity or a non-profit, so I’m not comfortable accepting donations from readers (although Tribesmaids can donate here).

      90% of the Offbeat Empire’s revenue comes from advertising, so the best way for readers to support the sites is to click every single ad you see, and to email businesses you love suggesting they consider advertising with us.

  6. As anyone who knows me would attest, I love OBB and OBH. I follow OBE for advice on pretty much everything that makes a bootstrap project/startup tick: building readership, advertising, publishing, the sucky side of being a boss… all the ins and outs and what have yous that I have little patience and aptitude to figure out or keep up with.

    Thanks not only for three awesome sites, but for being willing to share behind the scenes stuff like this.

    I can’t wait to be an advertiser this fall.
    Meanwhile, I plug the OBE every chance I get.

    <3 <3 <3

  7. Oh thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. I’ve bootstrapped e.m.papers from the git go, and at the moment I’m making a massive (for me) investment in upgrading my eCommerce platform and internationalizing my site so I can scale into Europe/show the site in multiple languages/accept multiple currencies. This meanscustom Joomla development, hiring German-language copywriters, getting my little sister to do data entry remotely and just generally being FREAKED OUT!

    After quitting my day-job it is the second biggest time I’m keenly aware of what a risk/gamble I’m taking…so it’s nice to hear behind the scenes stories from those who have survived (and thrived) to tell the tale…

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