The story of a bootstrapped startup
Trail Systems Ltd provides a cloud-based equipment management solution, Trail, globally to its customers in various industries. Trail’s journey started from the Finnish National Opera and Ballet’s need for flexible equipment management software.
Trail’s founders Marko and Antti developed the initial solution specifically to fit the needs of the Opera. Luckily, however, the product was developed so that the software was scalable from the very beginning. It turned out that Opera was not the only company that was struggling with equipment management challenges, such as not knowing what equipment exists, how the equipment is maintained, and where the equipment is found. Now, Trail had the perfect solution for that, and the word about a versatile equipment management solution started spreading.
The most affordable funding for growth comes from sales
What we see as one of the key learnings from our journey so far, is that the most affordable funding comes from the customers. With the initial revenue income, we were able to start growing the company and developing the Trail product further. Sweat equity (read: we founders did everything ourselves for a long time) allowed Trail to grow without any outside investment in the company.
” By keeping the costs to a minimum, we could build a solid financial base for the company before growing the team. When the time was right and the customer base strong enough, we were able to hire our first colleagues. They were developers who further developed the product to fit the needs of wider market potential. “Antti Kirmanen is the Chief Sales Officer of Trail Systems Ltd
With the stronger product, we were able to attend the tendering process for the equipment management solution for the Emergency Services of Central Finland, and we won. Winning allowed us to grow the team even more and hire the first de-facto salesperson. This, in turn, escalated growth and allowed for long-term plans.
Freedom through ownership
Fully-internal funding has given Trail freedom in operations. All decisions can be made flexibly in the best interest of the company in mind, and its operating team. For example, appointing a new CEO was a huge effort, but we were able to ensure that the CEO was the perfect fit for the team. We evaluate the pros and cons of various funding methods constantly as tools to accelerate growth in the future. But with a market-proven product, profitable business model, evolving SaaS product, and history of steady growth, Trail is in a good position for weighing options.
Obviously, bootstrapping a startup means that the growth might not be as aggressive as with external funding from the Seed Stage onwards. Also, external investors often bring extensive expertise to the company with them, which for bootstrappers, must be sourced elsewhere. However, bootstrapping a startup gives more control over the company and its strategy, and ensures that the control is fully owned by the operating team. Successful bootstrapping gives a startup a good position to choose the tools and methods for accelerating growth.