How We Bootstrapped Our Way to a Multi-Million Dollar Business


When Courtney and I decided to launch Socialfly in May of 2011, we knew we were taking a big risk. Neither of us had attended business school, neither of us had launched a company before, and we didn't have a presence in the NYC entrepreneur bubble.

We were in our mid-twenties and, truthfully, we were naive - we didn't even know that raising money for our business was an option. We built our now-multi-million-dollar social and digital marketing business entirely from scratch using our own money, strategic networking, and a handful of scrappy techniques that helped us fill in the gaps that we had in experience, resources, and know-how.

Here are 5 ways we grew our business without taking in any outside money:

We waded in cautiously and cut overhead as much as possible. Although Courtney and I were both 100 percent committed to launching Socialfly, we knew that we couldn't quit our day jobs until we had invested the time in developing our brand and landing enough clients to keep us afloat. For the first 10 months, we kept our day jobs and spent our early mornings, evenings and weekends building Socialfly. We also knew that we needed to keep our operation as streamlined as possible - all we needed were our laptops, phones, and our apartments to get done what we needed to, so, at the beginning, the only money we spent was on web hosting services and an inexpensive web developer to build our site. When we needed extra people to help, we hired interns in exchange for college credit.

We bartered with other entrepreneurs for essential services we knew the business needed. Early on, we didn't have the capital to invest in many services that we knew we would need in order to scale our business, so we had to get creative. We met a number of entrepreneurs through our networking groups who needed social and digital media help, and so we were able to exchange that for services including office space, legal consultation, and even public relations help. Over time, as we began to see success, we tapered off this practice. Eventually, the amount of time that we were spending on providing services in exchange for another person's services became more valuable to us than the service itself, and we began paying providers outright.

When we did spend money, we spent it in ways that we knew would have a direct ROI for the business. We invested in networking groups and found that the monthly or yearly dues to join were well-worth the cost. We joined a group for under-30 founders called The Strategic Exchange, where we surrounded ourselves with other entrepreneurs who shared knowledge and resources and supported one another. Through that group, we not only developed a team of informal advisors who helped us immensely along the way when we had questions or needed guidance, but we also landed some of our first clients. We found significant value in Vistage and BNI, too, and today, shared workspaces like WeWork and Luminary offer office spaces, networking and learning opportunities as part of a membership.

We invested in our personal brands as well as Socialfly's brand. Early on, we realized that in today's business environment, forging a memorable identity and brand for your company's founders is just as important as building one for the company itself. Once we had enough income coming in from our clients, we were in a position to take stock of where we stood in the marketplace and where we wanted to be and invest in that. In 2014, we decided to invest in writing and self-publishing our book, “Like. Love. Follow. The Entrepreninsta's Guide To Using Social Media To Grow Your Business." This project was a massive undertaking for us in terms of woman-power hours as well as capital, but it had a huge impact on us almost immediately. Not only were we able to say that we literally wrote the book on social media and business, but it gave us immediate credibility and a news hook for business and technology reporters to grasp onto. Even today, we still give that book out to every potential client we meet with.

The reason that we share this story now is twofold; one, we want young women just like us to understand that you don't need to have a ton of money or give away a portion of your business to an investor in order to succeed. When you get creative and stretch your resources as far as they'll go, you can do it on your own.

Two, we live in a current business culture that celebrates the investor-investee relationship - perhaps too much so. Far too often we see entrepreneurs who trade their IP for a cash infusion and a board of directors, and while that may seem like an attractive thing at the time - in the end, you're giving up a lot of your autonomy as a leader in your business, not to mention future income.

Instead, we believe that business culture should spend more time celebrating the self-made entrepreneurs, like us, who grind it out day in and day out to build the company of their dreams - without sacrificing their equity or control.

Since we launched nearly seven years ago, we've been approached many times by individuals and groups who have wanted to invest in our business, but it has never felt right for us. While the idea of raising money is definitely not off the table (we never say never to anything - you have to have options and have an open mind), the benefits to bootstrapping a business have, in our minds, outweighed the potential benefits of bringing in investors.

As a bootstrapped founder, you have all the control, you're your own boss and you don't have to report into someone - three areas that are very important to Courtney and I. You also have the power to plan your own future and pivot the company whenever you need to without asking permission.

While we understand that many people want that extra cushion and want that direction from an investor, for us, we've enjoyed being able to lean on each other and build our business on our own terms.

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Michael Bloomberg Can’t Handle A Woman With A Voice (aka Elizabeth Warren)

Elizabeth Warren majorly called out "arrogant billionaire" Michael Bloomberg for his history of silencing women through NDAs and closed-door settlement negotiations. Sound familiar? Probably because we already have a president like that. At this point, Bloomberg may just spend the remainder of his (hopefully) ill-fated presidential campaign roasting on a spit over a fire sparked by the righteous anger of women. A lesser punishment than he deserves, if you ask me.

At last night's Democratic debate, Michael Bloomberg could barely stammer out an answer to a question on whether or not he would release any of his former accusers from their nondisclosure agreements. His unsatisfactory response was basically a halting list of what he has done for certain nondescript women in his time at City Hall and within his own company.

But that certainly wasn't enough for Elizabeth Warren, nor should it be, who perfectly rephrased his defense as, "I've been nice to some women." Michael Bloomberg is basically that weird, problematic Uncle that claims he can't be racist, "Because I have a Black friend." In a society where power is almost always in the hands of straight, white, cisgendered, men being "nice" to a lucky few is in no way a defense for benefiting from and building upon the systematic silencing of all marginalized communities, let alone women. Stop and frisk, anybody?

Here is a brief clip of the Warren v. Bloomberg exchange, which I highly recommend. It is absolutely (and hilariously) savage.

But let's talk about the deeper issues at hand here (other than Warren being an eloquent badass).

Michael Bloomberg has been sued multiple times, yet each time he was able to snake his way out of the problem with the help of his greatest and only superpower: cold, hard cash. Each time these allegations have come up, in Warren's words, he throws "a chunk of money at the table" and "forces the woman to wear a muzzle for the rest of her life."

As reported by Claire Lampen of The Cut, here are just a few of his prior indiscretions.

  • Pregnancy discrimination—Bloomberg reportedly told a former employee of his to "kill it," in reference to her developing fetus.
  • Sexual harassment—You could literally write a book on this subject (someone did), but for the sake of brevity...
"I'd like to do that piece of meat" - Michael Bloomberg in reference to various women at his company.
  • Undermining #MeToo—Not only did he defend the accused, but he went on the disparage accusers every step of the way.
  • Defaming transgender people—Though he claims to support trans rights, he has also been qupted multiple times as referring to trans women as "some guy wearing a dress."
Yeah... That's not a winning formula for me, Mike.

Furthermore, Warren points out the simple fact that if, as Bloomberg claims, these instances were simply big misunderstandings (He was just joking around!) then why go to all the trouble to cover them up? Does Michael Bloomberg think women can't take a joke? Or can we only surmise that the truth of these events are far darker and dirtier than we could even imagine?

Certain commentators have called Elizabeth Warren's debate presence "agressive," especially in regards to this instance but also continually throughout her entire campaign. If asking poignant questions to known abusers who are seeking to further their own political power is considered "aggressive," then I am here for it. Bring on the aggressive women, please and thank you.

Calling a woman aggressive for being confidant and direct is a gendered complaint. You don't see anyone whining that Bernie is "aggressive" when he goes off on a screaming tangent. Also, have you seen our president? He's basically the poster boy for political temper tantrums. But still, it's Warren that is deemed "aggressive," for honing in on the exact issues that need to be considered in this upcoming election.

This type of derisory label is another aspect of how our society silences women—much like Bloomberg and his NDAs. Because "silencing" is more than just putting a "muzzle" on someone. It's refusing to listen to a person's cries for help. It's disregarding what a woman has to say, because she's too "aggressive." It's taking away someone's power by refusing to truly hear their side of the story. Because if you aren't listening, responding, or even just respecting someone's words, they may well have said nothing at all.

"Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard." - Renecca Solnit

Nondiscolusure agreements are a legal gag for people who have experienced harassment and abuse at the hands of those above them.

Gretchen Carlson, possibly the most famous person subject to an NDA, is one of these people. Her story is so well-known that it has even been immortalized on film, in 2019's Bombshell. Yet she is still forced to maintain her silence. She cannot tell her side of the story even when Hollywood can. She was cajoled into her current position after facing harassment in her workplace. She didn't have the power then to do more than accept her fate. And now, she doesn't have the power to tell her story.

She was, and still is being, silenced.

After her experiences, Carlson was moved to fight for all women to have the power over their truths. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times she declared: "I want my voice back. I want it back for me, and for all those silenced by forced arbitration and NDAs."

Carlson may still be tied to her NDA, but there are those who go a different route. Celeste Headlee, who wrote an op-ed on SWAAY about her experience, chose to break her nondisclosure agreement. Though doing so undoubtedly opened her up to numerous legal ramifications, she knew that she could no longer "sign away [her] right to justice."

Because that is what an NDA is all about, signing away a person's right to justice. Their story is their justice. Their NDA is a lock and key. Headlee may have broken through that lock, but she must face the consequences.

Neither Carlson nor Headlee are any less brave for how they have handled their journeys. They are both actively working to shift the cultural and political norms that led them here, and their work will, with hope and time, lead to real change. But they are just two drops in an ocean of women who are held hostage by their nondisclosure agreements, by men like Michael Bloomberg, and by a society that would rather silence them than let truth and justice be had.