(*This post was written while I was in college in 2012.)
Nearing my 1 year mark from when I started my company Athletes Brand, it has finally started to stand on its own and I’m seeing my dreams slowly shift to reality. I often receive emails asking me how I got the money and investors to start an apparel company while in college. My answer… “I didn’t”. It’s more than possible to start your own business with no money and I and hundreds of other people are living proof. The most common followup question that people usually have is “what’s your trick?”
There is no “trick” that can cure everybody’s problems in business. And trust me, everybody has problems in business. 9 out of 10 startups fail. Yes, that’s 90% of every business that people try to start just crash and burn. They go up in big firey tragedies full of devastation and lost dreams. It’s a cruel reality but if you think you want to be an entrepreneur, then you better grow a pair and get passed it. But, I’ll tell you how I’ve funded my startups, or I should say, how my startups funded themselves. Realize though there are far more efficient ways to start your company than the way I did it, but I was a broke college kid so I couldn’t just slap my nonexistent life savings down for what I needed or get a bank loan with my poor credit.
That’s right… I’ve had my startup fund itself. Everybody has this vision of their product or their business idea and everybody’s visions are usually crazy big. Why pursue something if you don’t want it to be the best right? So what’s the first thing we do? We figure out how much it will cost to get that crazy big vision up and going and then a lot of people pull a stupid “pre-valuation” of the company out of a hat and get so excited they lose sight of reality. Phew, I about lost my breath there. First off, valuing a startup before you have a product and company established and on the market is unrealistic… and in every sense of the word, stupid. There is no way your company is worth $850,000 today when you don’t even have sales to show for it. You may have the best idea for a company that anybody has ever heard of, but until you can prove that your idea sells and has a demand, then it’s all hogwash.
So how do you start a company with no life savings, still in college, banks giving you the finger, and to much pride to swindle $20k from your uncle? You start small. You start real small and let your company pay for itself. What I’ve done with Athletes Brand is tap into resources. I never asked for money, I asked for help. I networked like heck and let my passion throw my pride in the back seat.
I started as small as small gets and used nothing but free resources and resources I already had. I began to start my own business with no money on a website called Skreened.com. I wanted to own a clothing line, so this was my personal solution to make that happen. Skreened.com allows anybody to sign up for a free web store on their site where people can upload their own t-shirt designs and get paid every time somebody buys that design from their site. It’s pretty cool seeing money magically appear. Plus I never had to invest in a bulk order of shirts or anything. It allows you to set how much money you get from each sale as well (given, the price of the shirt rises every time you raise your profit up.) Not only did I set up a store to sell my designs from for free, but I designed my shirts for free too. I didn’t buy an awesome graphic design software, I didn’t even take any graphic design classes. I found a free image editing website called PicMonkey.com and created the first 12 months of shirt designs on there for free. I basically taught myself to be an artist and people were paying up to $38 per shirt to wear my art. Haha, my art that I made on a free online website (graphic designers always laugh when I tell them that.)
Your startup can’t fund itself if you don’t have a product or service that people would pay for. It doesn’t matter how much passion or money you’ve invested. If people don’t see the value of your idea then your idea sucks. My product that I was selling was my art, brand and lifestyle and people were willing to pay for that. Every time I sold a shirt on Skreened.com, I made $10. Eventually those earnings funded a cheap website so I was able to start AthletesBrand.com and officially register my business with the state. Once the website was built revenue began to pick up as I used social media to plug the brand. Every form of advertising for the first 12 months of the company has been free.
There are two ways I have marketed Athletes Brand. 1) I wrote blogs and used search engine optimization to drive traffic to my site. 2) I made an account on every popular social media account I could think of and started spreading the word. I only used free accounts, I never paid for memberships for anything. Once I had the website that was funded by my designs and people buying into the brand on social media, I was able to start changing gears to turn my vision into reality. I now had the sales to start to show a valuation for my big vision of the company and had the money to start switching gears to actually start the company I wanted to start.
The first 12 months are make it or break it for most startups. If you don’t start seeing profit in 12 months, then you should usually kick your startup to the curb or reevaluate your company and find a new direction to take it. See, my startup funded itself, so I saw profit in the first day. I continued to see nothing by profit the rest of the year since I had no money tied up in anything. I had my daytime job where I worked (and still do) with my brother on his startup that paid the bills (I’m very passionate about that company as well), and I had my night time job which was building my own startup company.
To start your own business with no money can be done for a lot more businesses than just clothing companies. I just used a clothing company for an example because it was my biggest personal experience.
6 Steps to Start Your Own Business With No Money
*Remember, this is if you can’t or don’t want to fund the business yourself.
1) Have a product or service that people see value in. Without this, all other steps will fail. Usually you have to experience steps 2 – 3 first to know for sure.
2) Create your product or get the minimal tools necessary for your service. (ex. Free wifi at Starbucks, recycle items, borrow, get with another company, do lots and lots of research to find options for your goal. You may have to do a lot of work to create your product or service for free or affordably depending on what it is.)
3) Find any way possible to sell that product or service 1 single time. Whether it be door to door, selling through another company, farmers markets etc… just find a way to make a profit off of your product one time. Then once somebody has found value in it and paid for it, then do it again, and again, and again. It’s usually not easy.
4) Don’t be spending your earnings from your product or service on personal needs such as movies, groceries, gas or your car payment. SAVE IT, since without these earnings you can’t scale up to start earning more $$$. Work another job to pay for your personal needs and bills.
5) Once you’ve earned enough from your small time hustling, slightly scale up. (Build a cheap website, register your company name, use Fiverr.com as your life blood.) Expand and hopefully your profit starts to rise.
REMEMBER YOUR GOAL RIGHT NOW IS TO EARN MONEY AND PROVE YOUR PRODUCT OR SERVICE HAS VALUE IN OTHER PEOPLES EYES THROUGH SALES… YOUR GOAL IS NOT TO START YOUR BUSINESS YET.
6) Once you’ve hustled, used every cheap resource you can, and earned enough to add the professional touch to your business, it’s time to bust out your step by step road map of how you’re going to build your dream company. You should now have a realistic number of how much money you can earn if you scale up to your full business you had in mind. Don’t even begin to start your new company until you know step by step how you will reach your end goal. Map it out, A, B, C, D etc of how each step will lead to the next step which eventually gets you to your end goal. Without doing this you’re setting yourself up for failure, plain and simple. (ex. buy a professional website, get an employee, seek legal advice, rent a store front, etc)
Hopefully that can give you some ideas for how you can get your own idea in the works and to start turning your dream into reality… or to show that your dream is in fact one of the 9 out of 10 instead and you can move on to your next idea. Stay positive, kick some butt, and make sure to stop and grab a a good heff (or smell the roses) every now and then and enjoy yourself. Your goal with your company is to experience happiness right? So never lose touch with enjoying life throughout the process. And always remember to take pride in all that you work for.
P.S. Are you wanting to start up an apparel line? Check out this article titled: Startup-Smackdown: Your New Apparel Line Is Not Unique by Michael Greeves.