Can you start your own business without investors? This is a question that crosses the mind of many “would be” veteran entrepreneurs (Vetrepreneurs!) prior to starting any business. In many cases, this lack of capital, combined with fear of the unknown and lack of income stream, puts a damper on what might be an exciting prospect. Here are four steps any veteran can take to increase their odds of success in starting a business with zero money from investors.
1.Moonlight on your idea/start-up venture:
While you are in the service you have several amazing assets you probably undervalue. One is a steady paycheck and health benefits. While you have these in your pocket, do as much work as you possibly can on your project to move it closer to a minimum viable product. Evenings and weekends are plenty of time to start on all of the required tasks needed to complete early validation of your business model. At BestReviews we found this method particularly useful in our the early days. The further along you are when you jump out, the closer you may be to generating revenue.
2. Save your money
In many cases with the low costs of basic start-up infrastructure (think Amazon Web Services) and other low-cost models, your salary and others you pay is one of the major costs of your new venture. If you save your own money while you have a steady paycheck via frugal living, you can actually fund the business yourself for much longer than you might imagine. Another approach is paying early employees in part with vesting equity versus cash. This is something to approach carefully, and yet another way to drastically decrease your costs early on in the project. Inside of BestReviews this is a part of our DNA. We always look for the low-cost hacks and push against spending until no money goes out the door that we do not believe has a strong chance of coming back ROI positive.
3. Utilize veteran resources
Instead of paying for fancy networking events and draining funds into money-losing efforts, utilize resources from places like G.I. Jobs, the VA, the National Veteran-Owned Business Association and the many other pro-veteran resources out there. If carefully planned, a veteran can create a lower cost structure business than many competitors on the backbone of the many assets that are already out there waiting for utilization. The veteran community has proven supportive to BestReviews time and again, and we believe it can for many others as well.
4. Talk to customers
Never underestimate the insights you can gain from the customer. While still in uniform or even recently transitioned, many customers are readily accessible, and in many cases the trust and integrity of your service will be helpful. If your product is not yet available, have a visual aid to help show potential customers what you are working on (even a simple sketch can prove effective). If there is some version of the product in market, then showcase that example. The iterations can take time, and deep knowledge from customers will only speed the pace and increase the quality of your final product. In most cases, there is no final product anyway, just the latest shipped version. Without amazing and constant feedback from our customers, BestReviews would never have become the company it is today, or the company we are striving toward becoming in the future.
While each of these proved incredibly helpful to BestReviews, and to many of our friends as well, they are only four of many ideas. Certainly consider carefully the assets that you have both inside the military and veterans community, as well as outside. Leverage those resources you have, and always look for ways to create even more.
Even with all of these tips and many more, your new venture may eventually require capital to reach the scale or vision you have for it. That is OK. I would still argue that in many cases the further you can push without taking any outside capital the better off you are. Any investor is one more stakeholder to manage, and precious time taken away from building a world-class business. Good luck!