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Lessons from Styline: Bootstrapping to growth

Styline Collection, the Dhaka-based modest fashion startup, has turned one in April this year. Founded by Khobaib Chowdhury, the startup has experienced a pretty fast growth in last one year. Recently, it has been accepted by MaGIC, an accelerator program supported by Malaysian Government, for its 2016 Cohort. A graduate of Founder Institute Dhaka Chapter, it has been selected for Founder Institute’s special graduate assistance program FounderX 2016.

Of all these, the most important news about Styline is that it did not raise any venture money yet except for a couple of small friends and family rounds. It has remained a bootstrapping case.

Ecommerce is a cash hungry business in nature. Many people consider raising money is imperative to a startup’s success despite the fact that raising money is not a success. Moreover, people assume that it is hard to grow without raising money.

Styline, despite its relatively small scale, has proven the common misconception wrong. It has shown that you can bootstrap and grow. The startup has successfully bootstrapped to growth. It has been able to maintain a consistent growth without raising money and survived for a year.

Recently, we asked Khobaib Chowdhury about his experience of and take on bootstrapping to growth and solicited a couple of lessons that other startups can use to their advantage while bootstrapping and growing.

Find your market: Figuring out your audience/customer is the most important job for any business. It leads to the business model, launch strategy, and many major decisions. Styline started as one stop online hijab shop for young Muslim women in Bangladesh. It targeted a very specific customer segment that is willing to pay for its products and rely on it for service.

“I learned from my previous startup experience that you have to find a market for your business, said Khobaib, “and that is the most critical criteria you should meet before looking further”.

Build a passionate team: Startups are demanding organizations. Unlike major corporations, it requires a greater level of involvement and dedication from its people. Moreover, building a startup is a team effort. Unless you have a great team, making progress would be difficult.

“You should put a lot of effort in collecting and putting together good people,” said Khobaib, “people who are ready to learn, passionate and ready to work harder.”

Be dogged: ‘Be persistent’ is a very common advice but that does not make it any less important. Your ability to stay in the game for a longer period of time no matter how hard it is or regardless of ultimate outcome makes all the difference. Entrepreneurship is a long and difficult journey. The only people who succeed are the people who continue to work harder for years.

“There were months I felt like giving up every day”, said Khobaib, “I felt like this is not going to work and I’m going to fail but then something small happened and again I pulled myself up and returned to work. It is important that you learn to co-exist with daily failures and disappointment and find a way to keep yourself motivated.”

Stick to the basic: Most startups fail to focus. Instead, try to do many things at once despite the fact that startups should do only one thing at once. Instead of running after many things, work hard on your product and sales. Take care of your bottom line day in day out. Take care of your customers. Rest should just be fine.

“Maintain a financial sheet and work on it regularly”, said Khobaib, “I used to maintain a Google sheet of our daily expenses and revenue and check and update it on a daily basis. It tells me everything about what’s going on at the company.”

A common misconception many people share about startups is that it is imperative to raise money in order to build a successful company. But in reality, it is not. Raising money is neither good nor bad in and of itself. It is more about how you use that money. And it is not imperative to your success. It is rather an auxiliary force.

There are companies that raised millions and failed and there are companies that succeeded without a single outside penny. Many founders spent an unnecessary amount of time in worrying about and trying to raise money instead of building the business in the hope that money would make business easy. But it never does. You can build a profitable business without raising money and it is wise to do so than running after funding.

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Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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