Posted on Wednesday, Mar 10th 2021
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Tom Fallenstein, CEO of Fun.com, has built a kick-ass e-commerce company out of rural Minnesota.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start with your personal journey. Where are you from? Where were you born and raised, in what kind of environment? Tom Fallenstein: I was born in Minnesota in a small town about an hour and a half south of Minneapolis. I’ve lived here all my life. I grew up just outside of the city. I went to school in Mankato for Computer Science and Graphic Design. Our mom was a seamstress. We loved Halloween. We always had the best costumes when we were little. When we got older, all of our friends wanted to borrow those costumes, so my sister decided to rent them out. That’s how the business started. Sramana Mitra: What year are we talking when you were starting this business with your sister? Tom Fallenstein: This was 1992. I was still in high school. It was her business for a while and I just helped out. We opened the doors every October and started buying and making more costumes. Sramana Mitra: I assume it was a brick-and-mortar business. In 1992, there was hardly any commercial Internet. Tom Fallenstein: Yes. It was just that way until mid-2000. I went to school for Computer Science. I graduated in 2004. I started the first website in 2002 while I was in school and was learning about websites. The Internet was just coming online. I started the first website with one costume in three different colors. My sister was the model. I had those costumes in my college dorm room. That’s how our first website started. Sramana Mitra: You were selling on the website or were you just taking orders and fulfilling offline? Tom Fallenstein: Yes, the first website was flappercostumes.com. It was a flapper dress and I was taking orders over the Internet. At that time, when you searched on Yahoo for a flapper costume, there was only one result and it was my website. Sramana Mitra: You were actually taking the payments over the Internet already? Tom Fallenstein: Yes. At that time, PayPal was up and live. People were able to process through PayPal. Sramana Mitra: That’s 2002, you said? Tom Fallenstein: Yes. Sramana Mitra: What happens next? Tom Fallenstein: I graduated in 2004. At that time, the business was doing $40,000 a year. I was trying to decide if I should do this full-time. I really liked what was happening in the costume business. I just wasn’t sure if I could grow it. I did decide to try it full-time even though my mom said, “You should maybe try and get a real job.” I actually went suit shopping with my mom. After going suit shopping, the next day I showed up at her house in my suit ready for my first day to run my own business.
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 More »» . 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 Algo.ai 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 . 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Discussing the Evolution of the Indian Startup Industry with Sasha Mirchandani, Kae Capital . Lean Company Bootstraps to $7M . Saatva Co-founder Bootstrapped a $25M E-Commerce Company . Looking at Terms with Heidi Roizen of Threshold Ventures . ADDA Co-founder CEO Bootstrapped with a Paycheck in India . Duda Co-founders Bootstrap with Paychecks . The Importance of Building Value with Shomit Ghose, Onset Ventures . Get Real Health Founder Bootstrapped Using Services . Bootstrapping Unique Vintage Using a Paycheck . Discussing E-commerce Startup Trends with Daniel Gulati, Forecast Fund . Bootstrapping a Digital Startup with a Paycheck . Discussing Seed Stages with Amir Banifatemi of K5 Ventures . Bootstrapping Avelead Using Services from Atlanta . Founder Bootstrapped a Big Data Company Using Services . Discussing Future Unicorns with Warren Weiss, Foundation Capital . Founder Bootstrapped Axosoft with a Paycheck . Raised a Series A with $10 Million in the Bank . 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Bootstrapping Using Services and Scaling Using Content Marketing . Bootstrapped from London, Went Public and Scaled to $450M . Bootstrapped Credit Card Processing Business Payscape . Bootstrapped TEOCO to $175M with Services . InRule Was Bootstrapped Using Services . HighQ was Bootstrapped Using Services from London . Ingenious Med was Bootstrapped with a Paycheck from Atlanta . Bootstrapped VistaVu to $10M from Canada . OnSIP CEO Mike Oeth Bootstrapped in Pennsylvania . Pramata Founder Bootstrapped in Minnesota . Conversocial was Bootstrapped Using Services from London . Zephyr Health Bootstrapped First, Raised Money Later . iText was Bootstrapped from Belgium . CTO Bootstrapped InteliSecure Using Services from Colorado . Bootstrapping Evariant Using Services . Dave Elkington Bootstrapped Billion Dollar Unicorn InsideSales.com Using Services from Utah . PMG Founders Bootstrapped Using Services from Atlanta . Ensighten Founder Bootstrapped First, Raised Money Later . Bootstrapping LittleThings First, Raising Money Later . Bootstrapping eMazzanti Technologies Using Services . Reltio Founder Bootstrapped Using Services . Co-founders Bootstrapped Ateb Using Services from North Carolina . Bootstrapped HireVue While in School, Raised Money Later, All in Utah . Bootstrapping the First Venture, Raising Money for the Second . Co-founders Bootstrapped BeenVerified with Angel Money . Bootstrapping a Significant Software Company from Australia . Bootstrapping Meltwater to $200 Million . Bootstrapping Casewise from London and Scaling in the US . Bootstrapping Lessons Learned by FairWarning Founder Kurt Long . Abacus Group Founder Bootstrapped a Virtualization Services Company . Seismic Audio CEO Bootstrapped a $10 Million E-Commerce Business . PhishMe was Bootstrapped Using Services First, Raised Money Later . Firmex Scaled with Angel Money in Canada . Wrike Founder Bootstrapped First, Raised Money Later . Bay Dynamics Co-founders Bootstrapped Using Services . Building an AI Software Company from Dallas . RJMetrics Co-founders Bootstrapped First, Raised $22M Later . Bootstrapping Niche E-Commerce Business BuyAutoParts to Exit . TemplateMonster was Bootstrapped to $15 Million . Bootstrapping Edge Hosting to $18 Million . Bootstrapping, Fund Raising and Exiting with Sefaira . Bootstrapping IdeaScale to $5M from Scratch . Bootstrapping to $10M from Finland . Happy Grasshopper CEO Dan Stewart Bootstrapped to Inflection . Bootstrapping Gravity Pro Using Services . Founder Builds Multiple Bootstrapped Education Software Companies . Bootstrapping to $10M from Australia, Raising $25M from the US . Bootstrapped Y Soft to $30M from the Czech Republic . Bootstrapped from Belarus, Raised Money from Silicon Valley . Bootstrapped SproutLoud to $30M from Florida . Bootstrapped 2600Hz Using Services . A Serial Bootstrapping Entrepreneur’s Journey . 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Bootstrapped and Later Raised Money from Oregon . Bootstrapping Evenica by Piggybacking . Bootstrapping a Vertical CRM Product using Services . Bootstrapping Using Services from Helsinki, Finland . Solo Entrepreneur Bootstraps First, Raises Money Later in Utah . Art.com Co-founder on Bootstrapping First, Raising $30M Later . Bootstrapping to Exit . Why is Bootstrapping So Important? . How Can You Play the Low-Probability Game of Start-up Funding Intelligently? . Don’t Go to VCs as Beggars – Go as Kings! . Excess is NOT a Requirement for Success . Bootstrap First, Raise Money Later . More Bootstrapping to Exit Case Studies . The Buy Side of Bootstrap to Exit Startups . Blitzscaling versus Bootstrapping . Bootstrapped Unicorns . Bootstrapped from Arizona to $10M . Bootstrapping Under30Experiences to $5M . Bootstrapping Algo.ai with Services from Michigan . Seed Investors Who Like Bootstrapped Startups . Bootstrapping a Niche E-commerce Company to $20M . Bootstrap Using Services . 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