Bootstrapping is a classical way to build businesses but it requires a lot of tenacity, unflinching passion and perseverance. Of late, many entrepreneurial successes in India came about without external investment. The trend, however, seems to be taking a backseat now in the light of tech companies raising risk capital from venture capitalists (VCs).
While we read and hear about well funded startups in media every now and then, bootstrapped startups seldom make headlines. We at Entrackr are launching a series to celebrate bootstrapped startups and in the first edition of the series we will talk about Wingify.
Started in 2009 as a side project by Paras Chopra, Wingify makes SaaS products in marketing that help businesses increase orders, enquiries and sign ups from their website by analysing user behaviour and interactions.
Since its inception, eight years ago, the Delhi-based company hasn’t raised any investment and stuck to the B2B segment only. When asked whether the decision of not raising any capital is a deliberate one, Chopra says: “We could raise funding and compete like other VC-funded companies, but we chose not to. The constraint of remaining bootstrapped has and will continue to force us to experiment more and discover a unique approach towards competing globally.”
Unlike many Indian startups which are often inspired by the Silicon Valley playbook, Wingify aims to spend time and effort and grow deliberately. “Despite having the option of raising capital, we want to remain bootstrapped, create our unique path and then take on the world with it,” adds Chopra.
Launched in 2010, Wingify’s flagship product Visual Website Optimiser (VWO) allows marketing professionals to create different versions of their website, and check which produces maximum conversions.
Currently, VWO is being used by over 4,000 businesses across 80 countries. With tools like heatmaps, visitor recordings, surveys, et al for collecting visitor behavioural insights, and best-in-class testing capabilities, VWO is looking forward to being the default solution for all optimisation needs.
The company’s second flagship product – PushCrew – was launched in 2015 to enable marketers to engage subscribers by sending push messages via web browsers. Push notifications help in building a loyal and marketable subscriber base and retain them effectively. It has over 1,400 customers and is one of the leaders in the space.
Wingify had launched PushCrew after five years of launching VWO. Again, on the lines of VWO, the target market was B2B. Was this also a deliberate decision – to cater only to the B2B segment? Chopra answers flatly: “Our decisions are based on years of experimentation. We did build a few products which were not in line with our experiences. These were in segments like consumer and hardware products, and out of our eight MVPs, only PushCrew (a B2B SaaS product) worked.”
For Chopra, it was clear that the only product that was successful for Wingify was the one that leveraged its strength and experience in SaaS. “We learned from our attempts, realised that B2B is better suited for us and chose to stick to the B2B segment,” he says.
Wingify recently hit monthly recurring revenue of $1 million, and has blue chip clients including Microsoft, General Electric and Walt Disney Co.
Challenges in bootstrapping
The biggest challenge that Chopra faced was not having mentors or coaches. He was a first-time CEO, without a board of investors to be answerable to. It was rather testing not to get lulled and fall into chasing local maxima. “I had to push myself repeatedly, learn everything first-hand, and keep acting like a VC-funded company,” he outlines.
Since Wingify competes with fast-growing VC-funded companies, it needed more markets to grow. But, not having an external VC investment and lack of capital meant that some markets were out of its reach, and therefore untappable. “It took us a while to move upmarket,”says Chopra.
Bootstrapping means that you’re operating with limited resources and a small team, which is why you need a capital-efficient way to hire. It is also important to be in a segment where rivals can’t compete.
“My advice to all bootstrapped founders is to create something sufficiently different to have a sustainable edge that can help you withstand competition,” adds Chopra.
Advantages of bootstrapping over raising investment
Chopra believes that obtaining funding only makes sense if you have a fail-safe plan on how it can help you scale. No amount of financing can create a promising product; it’s merely a means-to-an end. In fact, funding comes with the moral obligation to pay back investors multifold in the future, he warns.
“Bootstrapping means a lot of freedom in decision-making, and the lack thereof (as in the case of funding) makes you lose focus on getting the product right,” he concludes.