How to Build a Startup Without Funding

I think Peter Levels doesn’t need an introduction. He’s the guy behind Nomad List, Remote OK, and Makebook. He’s a serial maker and has been building profitable startups for years now. He’s also a big advocate of building startups without funding.

There’s quite the well known talk from him from six years ago on YouTube.

Here’s a quick guide on how to create startups based on the key points from the talk:

  • Idea: Solve your own problems. Look for problems in your daily life that need solutions. Be original by exploring new subcultures and niches. Start small, not with grandiose ideas. Keep an idea list to track potential startup concepts.
  • Build: Learn to code yourself using online resources like Google, YouTube, Stack Overflow. Avoid coding bootcamps. If you must, use no-code tools like Typeform or Carrd. Limit development time to 1-2 months max for a prototype.
  • Launch: Launch on platforms like Product Hunt, Hacker News, Reddit to get initial users and feedback. Prepare the visuals, copy and be active in the comments. Find niche forums specific to your target audience as well. Build in public by live streaming development.
  • Grow: Focus on organic growth, not bots, spam or paid ads. Engage users with a feedback box. Capture emails to re-engage later. Keep launching new features and versions to stay top of mind.
  • Monetize: Charge money early on to validate the business. Experiment with different premium features and pricing. Recurring revenue is key. Consider sponsorships, patronage, and limiting free usage. Put buy buttons on everything.
  • Automate: Use scheduled scripts, APIs and other automation to run the business so you can focus on improvements. Hire someone to monitor the automation.
  • Exit: Have a goal to eventually sell the business. Typical multiples are 4-5x annual revenue. Factor in your personal attachment to the project.

The overall process is: Idea > Build > Launch > Grow > Monetize > Automate > Exit. Trust your intuition, be nice, and keep shipping new projects to find what works. Coding and self-learning are essential skills.