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TECH TALK: Bootstrapping a Business: A Little History

October 18th, 2005 · No Comments

The dictionary definition (from Answers.com) of bootstrap is as follows:

1. A loop of leather, cloth, or synthetic material that is sewn at the side or the top rear of a boot to help in pulling the boot on.
2. An instance of starting of a computer; a boot.

tr.v., -strapped, -strapping, -straps.
1. To promote and develop by use of one’s own initiative and work without reliance on outside help: We’ve bootstrapped our way back with aggressive tourism and recruiting high tech industries (John Corrigan).
2. Computer Science. To boot (a computer).

1. Undertaken or accomplished with minimal outside help.
2. Being or relating to a process that is self-initiating or self-sustaining.

by (one’s) (own) bootstraps
1. By one’s own efforts.

Dave Winer had this to say about bootstrapping in the context of software:

Bootstrap is an ancient computer science term. When you turn on a computer it bootstraps, or “boots.” First it loads the most ancient bit of code, probably written in the 1970s. It runs a program written in the 80s, which in turn launches a program written in the 90s. Each of the levels loads only for the purpose of loading the next bit of history. Doug Engelbart was the first to use the term in the context of this piece, as far as I know. All engineers bootstrap all the time. To understand bootstrapping is to understand software, imho. It’s the process that matters, not the bits, or system requirements.

When engineers build a suspension bridge, first they draw a thin cable across a body of water. Then they use that cable to hoist a larger one. Then they use both cables to pull a third, and eventually create a thick cable of intertwined wires that you can drive a truck across (actually hundreds of trucks).

That’s a bootstrap. First you take a step you know is on the path, learn from it, and use it to lift up the next level. And unlike the designer of a suspension bridge, software developers must be more flexible, because the pace of innovation in our art is so rapid. We don’t know exactly what next year’s trucks will look like, how much they weigh, or how many wheels they have.

That’s why networking technology comes in layers and why they must be designed with more power than they need to get today’s job done.

Wikipedia explores the usage of bootstrapping across many areas.

In the entrepreneurs world, this (also from Answers.com) is more relevant:

A situation in which an entrepreneur starts a company with little capital. An individual is said to be boot strapping when he or she attempts to found and build a company from personal finances or from the operating revenues of the new company.

Investopedia Says: Compared to using venture capital, boot strapping can be beneficial as the entrepreneur is able to maintain control over all decisions. On the downside, however, this form of financing may place unnecessary financial risk on the entrepreneur. Furthermore, boot strapping may not provide enough investment for the company to become successful at a reasonable rate.

Tomorrow: John Hagel and Brad Feld

TECH TALK Bootstrapping Business+T

Tags: Tech Talk

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