Bootstrapper's Bootcamp

A new class offers training to businesses growing without outside investors.

Bootstrapper's Bootcamp web
By: J Holt
Download Audio
Audio Playlist
Bootstrapper's Bootcamp web

If you're running your own company and looking to grow, but need a bit of help learning how to go about it, you might want to look out for the next Bootstrapper's Bootcamp. WNPR's J Holt has the story.

Right now we're standing in the east hartford office of Bad Elf, with company cofounder, John Cunningham

Cunningham- "We've got our testing area, our packing and shipping area, our inventory cage, the executive suite…"

Bad Elf, which manufactures and sells GPS accessories for mobile devices. Cunningham serves as president and CEO. And, those different areas he just told us about? He's also responsible for the work that goes on in all of them. His two partners in the company each live in different states, so between staying in contact with each other, filling orders, and corresponding with customers and suppliers across X continents

Cunningham- "It's a busy day." 

Cunningham and his partners chose not to seek outside investors when they started Bad Elf, so they've been bootstrapping their business, paying for and running all aspects of it themselves, since they launched in 2009. And so far it's worked for them. The business has been turning a profit since their first product run sold out in just 30 days, and they've grown their product line and their revenues in the years since.

Cunningham- "But it's been really, really, really hard, and there's got to be a better way to be doing it than we're doing it." 

But it turns out, for a company like Bad Elf, finding that better way can be a challenge.

Seiffer- "There's a big gap in entrepreneurial education."

That's John Seiffer. He owns a company called CEO bootcamp, and has been coaching business owners for 20 years.

Seiffer- "Most of the stuff that's taught in universities is aimed at MBA's, or people who are going to go work in big companies. The other stuff that's taught in entrepreneurism is geared toward investable companies." 

Seiffer says those companies that attract outside investment account for only a quarter of new businesses started each year. Despite being some of the most celebrated in the media, those that attract venture capital, are just over one percent.

Seiffer- "People don't realize it's so small. That leaves quite a number of companies that need to bootstrap, and there's not a lot of entrepreneur education for people like that."

With backing from the state's start up initiative, CTNext, and New Haven's Grid, Seiffer is trying to close that gap with a specialized version of his CEO Bootcamp class.

Seiffer- "And this particular class is a Bootstrapper's Bootcamp, so we're working with companies that have a product in the market, they're past the startup stage, but they're growing without outside investment at this stage."

Over the course of it, Seiffer hopes bootstrappers will come away from the class with the tools to run their businesses better, and to grow them as large as possible without needing to seek outside investment. As soon as John Cunningham heard the description of the class,

Cunningham- "I said, 'Hey, that's us. I could learn something.' And I felt like this could be our ticket to get off the plateau we're on and get to the next level."

Bad Elf is one of 5 companies participating in the class this summer, and the others range from software developers, to an online deals website, to a New Haven based women's clothing boutique. And while many aspects of bootstrapping are common to all of them, Seiffer, who spent time talking with each of them during the application process, works their differences into the class discussions as well. After the first session, Cunningham is impressed.

Cunningham- "It's been a great experience, and I'm looking forward to the next four sessions to see what other pearls of wisdom he has for us, because I know there's a lot that I have yet to learn."

This is the second time Seiffer has held the Bootstrapper's bootcamp at The Grove in New Haven, and a total of nine connecticut companies have participated.