The Poverty of Inspiration and the Richness of Want
There comes this strange time in the growth of a business. You have hit your stride. You are building momentum. Things are starting to make sense. The time has come to grow but you can't because the resources you have available do not match up to the need in your vision. When your side gig becomes your main squeeze there is no extra income. Every dollar I make I have to decide, is this dollar for me or does it go to the business? A growing business is a hungry baby and a good business is always growing. While I find this unimaginably frustrating, I have also come to see this as a boon. Bootstrapping is a cerebral art. There are never any easy answers. When you learn how to make do with what you have you distill what you are capable of. When there are no obvious solutions you are forced to come up with more unique answers. Answers that only you could have arrived at. A strong business is built with novel solutions rather than just following the well traveled path before it.
I can't begin to tell you how many times I've decided that I needed to buy a new piece of equipment in order to get something to work. Then I've gone on and figured out a better way to get by without it.
Here is a real life example. I'm ready to start producing bags. I've spent the time designing them. I've built the perfect bag in my head. I made a prototype. It works the way I wanted it to. When I tried to get them into production I discovered that hand-stitching the way I was hoping to do was not going to be feasible. I came to the obvious conclusion. I will have to buy an industrial sewing machine. But honestly, the money I'd have to spend on one could be used in a million different ways. A growing business is a hungry business. That also doesn't account for the investment of time and patience required to master the thing. Not to mention a machine stitched seam is not nearly as strong as one done by hand. So my lack of available resources has driven me to abandon that design and try to come up with a more novel approach.
I started to redesign the bag with no stitching. While I'd like to claim this concept as my own, I have to give credit to some of the forebears of leather working. Machined thread is a newer creation and stitchless bags are an old design. I had passed on this idea a long time ago because all the versions I've ever seen of it were really poorly made. In my head stitchless bag equals shoddy craftsmanship. With industrial scale stitching out of the question I took another look at the design. I began to see ways to improve it. I began to see how easy it would be to repair over time. How nice of a shape it makes when it comes together. How it makes a stronger seem than one that is stitched. So now I have a better bag. I truly feel that it is a much better design than what I was trying to push into production before. More importantly it is held together by a bunch of novel little solutions I was forced to come up with. Little novel solutions that will make the design my own. If I had the resources that I wanted I'd be machine stitching bags at this very moment. Yes I'd have a finished product, but it probably wouldn't be very interesting. I'd have spent all that time and money to create something just like everyone else.
So next time you feel the like the only way to grow your business is to make a big investment take time to decide what type of investment you are going to make. Are you going to throw some money at it for a quick fix or can you tap into the resources you already have and come up with something better? Sometimes the really valuable answer requires an investment that you must make of yourself.