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Best of Bootstrapping: From Laid-off Engineer to Successful Startup CEO

Posted on Friday, Apr 24th 2020

Michelle Munson was CEO and Co-founder of Aspera, a company she began after being laid off. Aspera was her realization that she could not only control her own career path but also create jobs for other people in a culture she established. This story is great inspiration for the thousands who have been let go by their employers. Aspera was acquired by IBM in 2017.

SM: Michelle, where does your story begin?

MM: I grew up in Kansas, on a farm. My family is a five-generation farm family that raises Angus cattle as well as wheat, corn and soybeans. There is a long-standing family tradition in both the line of business and the location. My mom is a retired university professor. I grew up in Kansas, went to school there and went to college at Kansas State University. That is an interesting point with me; I was accepted to MIT and went to Kansas State.

Growing up, I liked all subjects but had a particular interest in math. I also enjoyed English. I was very serious about school, and by the time I was going to college I had scholarship opportunities that made it possible for me to go to school anywhere. I went to school at Kansas State for a couple of reasons. I had a full-ride scholarship, and I had taken several courses at the university during high school and had great professors. I was convinced that this could be a way I would be happy.

After that I went to graduate school. I did a Fulbright at Cambridge in the UK. Between those two I was involved in starting an ISP in this rural area where we did not have them. There was no AOL access because it was too small for AOL to justify putting in service.

SM: What did you study in college?

MM: I got two degrees. I did a physics degree out of interest. I enjoyed the subject but was also very much an electrical engineering student and called myself an engineer. I ended up doing graduate study in computer science. I picked a one-year master’s program out of interest. The Internet was just starting then. My undergraduate work was focused more on semiconductor technologies. To the extent that you have a focus [at that point], my internships were around semiconductor materials. Netscape was released the last semester of my senior year in college, and I was enamored by it. I realized I needed to make a shift into software if I was going to make a shift into this world. At that point and time I made a conscious decision to do graduate work with software so that I could be part of the Internet.

I was involved with starting this ISP my last year of college and took a year off to develop that. I ran it, but it was a very small business. It was totally different from a technology business like we have at Aspera. It was an interesting thing to do and to understand what the Internet meant. There was no clear future in that at all, which solidified my desire to go to graduate school.

SM: How long did you operate the ISP?

MM: One year. We kept it for three years, and we did finally sell it. The first year we got it going I was still in school, and I took a one-year break between graduation and going to Cambridge to actually work on it full time. We sold it to another ISP when I came back from Cambridge.

Our conversation continues here.

This segment is a part in the series : Best of Bootstrapping

. Bootstrapping to an Exit
. Why is Bootstrapping Important?
. How Can You Play this Low-Probability Game Intelligently?
. Do NOT Go to VCs as Beggars - Go as Kings
. Excess is NOT Required for Success
. Bootstrap First and Raise Money Later
. Some Bootstrapping to Exit Case Studies
. The Buy Side of Bootstrapping to an Exit
. Blitzscaling vs. Bootstrapping
. Bootstrapping to Unicorns
. Cinedigm Acquires Bootstrapped 1Mby1M Company Future Today for $60 Million
. Mailchimp Bootstraps to $600M Revenue
. Bootstrapping from Arizona to $10 Million
. Bootstrapped Basecamp Executes a No Nonsense Strategy
. How Under30Experiences Bootstrapped to $5 Million
. Bootstrapping with a Paycheck
. How CEO Amjad Hussain Bootstrapped using Services from Michigan
. Seed Investors Who Like Bootstrapped Businesses
. How iHeartRaves CEO Bootstrapped a Niche e-Commerce Company to $20 Million
. Bootstrapping with Services
. How The Intern Group CEO David Lloyd Bootstrapped to $13 Million
. How Passageways CEO Paroon Chadha Bootstrapped from Indiana
. How SmartBuyGlasses CEO David Menning Bootstrapped to $50 Million
. Death by Overfunding
. How RainmakerForce CEO Mack Sundaram Bootstrapped Decisively to $5 Million+
. How FormAssembly CEO Bootstrapped a Virtual Company with a Paycheck
. TimeSlips CEO Mitch Russo Bootstrapped to Exit with Sage
. The VC-Entrepreneur Compensation Disbalance
. BioConnect CEO Bootstraps with Sophisticated Strategic Maneuvering
. Tremend CEO Marius Hanganu Bootstraps from Romania
. Gesture CEO Jim Alvarez Bootstraps to $10 Million
. SproutLoud CEO Bootstraps to $30 Million from Florida
. Tuft & Needle CEO Bootstraps to Over $100 Million
. Co-founders Bootstrap Linguamatics to Over $10M from the UK
. Ownership Matters
. Vainu Co-founder Mikko Honkanen Bootstraps from Finland
. Entrepreneur Couple Bootstraps to $10M from Colorado
. Power2Motivate CEO Bootstraps to $80M from Canada
. Financial DNA CEO Bootstraps to $10M+ from Australia
. Big Barker CEO Bootstraps a Niche E-commerce Brand
. PrecisionLender CEO Bootstraps to Over $10M from North Carolina
. Master Bootstrappers with Over $1B in Exits
. Ultra Mobile Founder Bootstraps to Over $100 Million
. Bootstrapping a Two-Sided Marketplace to $10M
. Can You Bootstrap a Virtual Company to Over $5 Million?
. Capital Efficient Entrepreneurs Turn $1M into $80M
. Discussing the Journey Through Failure to Success
. From a Small Town to $12 Million
. Bootstrapping to Y Combinator and $10 Million Series A
. Bootstrapping a Marketplace to Over $10 Million
. Freightwise Bootstraps to $33 Million
. Bootstraps First to $5M ARR, Raises $10M Later
. Bootstraps in Europe, Raises Money and Goes Global in the US
. English Major Bootstraps a Tech Company
. Bootstraps with a Paycheck to $15M from Tennessee
. Queue-It Bootstraps from Denmark to the US
. Bootstrapping A Virtual Company To $25M
. ActiveCampaign CEO Bootstraps Using Services to $40M
. Alteryx Bootstrapped with Services to a Public Unicorn
. Inspyrus Bootstraps Using Services to an Awesome Business Model
. CEO Bootstraps Using Services to Millions from Russia
. Wiredrive CEO Bootstraps Using Services to $10M
. Scaling to Over $10M by Bootstrapping Using Services
. Bootstraps Using Services from Poland to a US SaaS Company
. ButcherBox CEO Bootstraps a Perishable Meat Business to Significant Scale
. Waveform CEO Bootstraps to $8M
. Bootstrapped Entrepreneurship from Estonia
. From Laid-off Engineer to Successful Startup CEO
. Imagine Easy Solutions CEO Bootstraps to Exit
. BannerBuzz CEO Bootstraps to $35M
. Bootstrapping a Virtual Company to Scale
. Bootstrapping Using Services from Wisconsin
. Best Tactic for B2B Startups
. Bootstrapping by Piggybacking from Romania
. Bootstrap First, Then Scale with VC Funds
. Bootstrap to +$10M First, Raise Money Later
. Madwire CEO Bootstrapped First, Raised Money Later to $120M
. Bootstrap Using Services First, Raise Money Later
. Wonderful Bootstrap with a Paycheck Story
. RushOrderTees CEO Bootstraps to $23M
. Bootstrapping with Freemium and Free Trials to $13M
. Bootstrapping, Pivoting, Gaining Liquidity, Scaling to $100M+
. Bootstrapping with Affiliate Marketing
. Bootstrap to Exit, Bootstrap Again, Then Raise VC Money

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