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 . 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 . 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JotForm Founder Bootstrapped with a Paycheck . WeGoLook was Bootstrapped from Oklahoma . Bootstrapping AutoClaims Direct to $15M . Meltwater Founder Bootstrapped to $200M . Bootstrapping to $20M From London . Synechron CEO Bootstrapped to $300M . Unique Vintage was Bootstrapped with a Paycheck . Toptal CEO Bootstraps a Virtual Company to Scale . Bootstrapping to $45M from Chicago . Vacasa Co-founder Bootstrapped to $100M . Bootstrapping Infinitely Virtual All The Way . Bootstrapping to Exit Discussion with David Lambert, Right Side Capital Management . Bootstrapping a Healthcare IT Company to $100M . Discussing Seed Rounds with Cindy Padnos, Illuminate Ventures . Auction.com Bootstrapped to $180M in Online Real Estate . Discussing the Silicon Valley – India Corridor with Naren Gupta of Nexus Venture Partners . Bootstrapped with a Paycheck to Techstars and Acquisition . Discussing People vs. Market with Jon Staenberg, Staenberg Venture Partners . Bootstrapping a Highly Profitable Company in Social Media Marketing . Discussing Investments in Indian Startups with Anand Daniel, Accel Partners . Bootstrapping an Evergreen Business from Oregon . Discussing Startups in Africa with Osayi Igharo, Ripple VC . Investing in Concept Stage Startups with Matt Holleran, Cloud Apps Capital Partners . Serial Entrepreneur Bootstrapped Two Startups to Huge Revenue . Discussing Investment Strategy With Deepak Jeevankumar, Dell Technologies Capital . Bootstrapping Hotelplanner.com to $20M with Intelligent Financial Engineering . Discussing Investing Across Sectors in India with Swapna Gupta, Qualcomm Ventures . Bootstrapping Cleverbridge From Germany . Discussing Open Opportunities with Hemant Mohapatra, Lightspeed Venture Partners . Bootstrapping E-commerce Company Fun.com . Discussing Seed Rounds with Bruce Cleveland, Wildcat Venture Partners . From Friends and Family Funding to $30M Exit . 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 . Discussing Unicorn Investments with Ravi Mohan of Shasta Ventures . Bootstrapping a $7M Company in Houston . A View into Pre-Seed Funding with Gaurav Jain, Afore Capital . Bootstrapping to $13M in Niche E-commerce . Discussing European Startup Funding with Alastair Mitchell, EQT Ventures . Founder Bootstrapped Category Leading E-commerce Company Shoplet . Discussing Trends With Yanev Suissa, SineWave Ventures . Founder Mark Organ Bootstrapped Eloqua and Crowdfunded Influitive . Sourcing Global Ventures with Ann Winblad of Hummer Winblad . JAM CEO Survives Covid with a Bootstrapped Venture . E-commerce and Investing with Tod Francis, Shasta Ventures . How An Entrepreneur Couple Bootstrapped RuffleButts To $5M . TextMe Founders Bootstrapped an App to $10M . Bootstrapped Journey of a Child Entrepreneur in India . Discussing Alternatives to Traditional Venture Capital with Bryce Roberts, Indie.vc . Solo Founder Bootstrapped Wingify to $7 Million in India . Co-founder Bootstrapped a SaaS Company in India . Bootstrapped MindTouch to $12M+ and Exit . Mobiliya Technologies was Bootstrapped Using Services . What Traditional VCs are Looking for with Scott Sandell, NEA . Bootstrapped Srishti Software Applications with Services from India . How Robust SaaS Company RateGain was Bootstrapped from India . Bootstrapped eGroup to $20M in Charleston, South Carolina . Gravitant CEO Bootstrapped Using Services to $15M in Venture Capital . CEO Bootstrapped Sitecore Using Services from Denmark . Co-founder Dan Hermann on Bootstrapping Paint Nite . Founder Krishna Kumar Bootstrapped App Orchid Using Services . Bootstrapping a Web Hosting Company to $60M . Bootstrapping CloudSense with Services on Force.com from London . Bootstrapped Book E-Commerce Business BookPal . Student Entrepreneurs Bootstrapped a Zero-Logistics E-Commerce Company to $19M . Bootstrapped to a High Growth Inc. 500 Company . 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 . Bootstrapped First, Raised Money Later from Udupi, Karnataka . Bootstrapped with Services, Raised Money, and then Acquired by Salesforce . Bootstrapping Niche E-Commerce Company Modded Euros . Bootstrapping KURU Footwear from Utah . Bootstrapped to $5M First, Raised Money Later . Ninth Wave Founder Bootstrapped Using Services . Bootstrapping Vantage Circle from Guwahati, India . Bootstrapping JobNimbus First, Raising Money Later . Bootstrapping Infragistics for 30 Years . Bootstrapping Zimit Using Services to $10M . Entrepreneur Couple Bootstraps an E-commerce Business Using a Paycheck and Crowdfunding . Co-founders Bootstrapped Using Services, then Raised $10M and Scaled to $16M . SearchStax Founder Bootstraps to $10M Using Services . Bootstrapping an AI Startup Using Services . Bootstrap to Exit and THEN do a VC-Funded Venture . Bootstrapping Using Services to $26M and a Fabulous Exit . Solo Entrepreneur Bootstraps with a Paycheck to over $15M . 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 . Bootstrapping The Intern Group to $13M . Bootstrapping OnBoard from the US Midwest . Bootstrapping SmartBuyGlasses to $50M . Startup Deaths by Overfunding . Bootstrapping RainmakerForce Decisively to $5M+ . Bootstrapping a Virtual Company with a Paycheck . The Entrepreneur - VC Compensation Disbalance . Mitch Russo Bootstrapped Timeslips to Exit with Sage . Bootstrapping with Sophisticated Strategic Maneuvering . How Ownership Matters . Bootstrapping with Services from Romania to over $5M . Bootstrapping to $30M from Florida . Bootstrapping Tuft & Needle to Over $100M . Bootstrapping Linguamatics to Over $10M from the UK . Co-founders Bootstrap a SaaS Company from Finland . Entrepreneur Couple Bootstrapped to $10M from Colorado . Bootstrapping Power2Motivate to $80M from Canada . Founder Bootstrapped to Over $10M from Australia . Bootstrapping Niche E-commerce Brand Big Barker . PrecisionLender Bootstrapped to Over $10M from North Carolina . Master Bootstrappers with $1+ Billion in Exits . Bootstrapped Ultra Mobile to Over $100 Million . Bootstrapping a 2-Sided Marketplace to $10M . Bootstrapping a Virtual Company to Over $5M . Capital Efficient Entrepreneurs Turned $1M into $80M . The Journey Through Failure to Success . Bootstrapping TrendHim from a Small Town to $12M . Bootstrapped to Y Combinator and $10M Series A . Bootstrapped a Marketplace to Over $10M . Bootstrapping Freightwise to $33M . Bootstrapped First to $5M, Raised $10M Later . Bootstrapped in Europe, Raised Money and Went Global in the US . An English Major who Bootstrapped a Tech Company . Bootstrapped with Paycheck to $15M from Tennessee . Queue-It Bootstrapped from Denmark to the US . Bootstrapped a Virtual Company to $25M . Bootstrapped Using Services to $40M First . Bootstrapped Using Services to a Public Unicorn . Bootstrapped Using Services to an Awesome Business Model . Bootstrapped Wiredrive Using Services to $10M . Happily Bootstrapping with Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu . Bootstrapped ButcherBox to Significant Scale . Bootstrapped Using Services from Poland to a US SaaS Company . Bootstrapped Waveform to $8M . From Laid-off Engineer to Successful Startup Co-founder . Bootstrapped to Over $20M and Exit . Founder Bootstrapped to Over $35M . What is the Best Bootstrapping Tactic for B-to-B Startups? . Bootstrapped a Virtual Company to Scale . Bootstrapped Using Service from Wisconsin . Bootstrapped by Piggybacking from Romania . Bootstrapped First, Then Scaled with VC Funds . Bootstrapped to $10M+ First, Raised Money Later . Bootstrapped First, Raised $120M Later . Bootstrapped Using Services First, Raised Money Later