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Best of Bootstrapping: Bootstrapped Book E-Commerce Business BookPal

Posted on Monday, Jul 12th 2021

If you haven’t already, please study our Bootstrapping Course and Investor Introductions page. 

BookPal CEO Tony DiCostanzo had identified a gap in the book business and built a thriving company. Let’s learn the how, what, and why of it.

Sramana Mitra: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where were you born and raised?

Tony DiCostanzo: I was born in Anchorage, Alaska. Shortly after turning two, I moved up to Nome, Alaska – from a small city to an even smaller village of 3,000 people. We lived there through the sixth grade and then moved back to Anchorage through most of high school. I ended up spending a couple of years in Washington State but found that California was more of my natural habitat. I came down to go to school at Pepperdine University and met my wife who was from southern California. It was a natural fit to stay here and be close to her family. That was what drove us to the Orange County area.

Sramana Mitra: When did you finish university?

Tony DiCostanzo: That was 1994 for an undergraduate business degree from Pepperdine. I went on to UCI for my MBA from 1997 to 2000.

Sramana Mitra: What did you do after you came out of university?

Tony DiCostanzo: I was in an unfortunate circumstance that was actually beneficial to me. I wasn’t one of the kids that had everything covered by their parents. I had to work during school. In my second year, I wound up getting a much better job at a consulting firm. It was an entrepreneurial business providing mostly teen and leadership development consulting to major corporations in the Los Angeles market. It was an amazing side education for me. We grew the business from a couple of hundred thousand dollars to a couple of million dollars over a three year period while I was in school. I actually stayed for a year afterwards doing consulting work.

At the same time, I knew that while I enjoyed that small business and the growth aspects of the company, I also felt like I wanted a more solid corporate background as well to give me a better solidification of why all of these companies were dysfunctional and why they were paying us a lot of money to come in and help them. I wound up getting a corporate finance job at Coldwell Banker, which got merged into SCM. I rose up in the ranks a little bit and then went on to strategic planning and finance management at Disneyland Anaheim where we did a lot of analysis and major park overhaul analysis to determine which entertainment and ride offerings were going to drive attendance and help make some of those key strategic decisions. I stayed there for about six years.

A friend of mine got pulled into a company as part of a turnaround project. There had been three or four CEOs and a number of leadership challenges at this other company and he convinced me that I was being under-utilized at Disney. In hindsight, I think I was. When you’re in a large company, you can provide decision support, but the decision making is at the senior executive level. Coming into this new firm, it was a head-to-the-fire situation of having to make a lot of rapid decisions in terms of cost-cutting, restructuring, and personnel decisions. We had to do quite a few layoffs and had divested a couple of different divisions of the business. As the CFO, I had to get the company brought up to speed on Sarbanes-Oxley and compliance with SEC filing because there had some delays in the previous management. We engaged Deloitte and got all the audit work done. We pulled in some additional investor funds and closed some significant business including a multi-year contract with Pfizer.

While we felt that things were finally on the right path, it ultimately did not work for us. One of the accounts that we had had for a number of years decided that all the chaos that had happened over the years was a bit too much. They brought some of these healthcare programs that we were providing in-house. It became very stressful. I was traveling three to four days a week to different parts of the country. I had two young kids at home and just decided that three years was enough. I left.

The company had additional client challenges after I left and they shut down. It created an opportunity in the space having solidified three years of experience of surviving a chaotic environment of cash flow issues and dealing with legal challenges. Two of the previous CEOs had vacated a space on LaSalle Avenue in Chicago. They moved out of a 30,000 square feet in the middle of the night and of course, the landlord didn’t like that. There were those kinds of lawsuit issues that we were trying to deal with. Ultimately, it was a pretty substantial burn on the company.

The core business of promotional health programs was actually a sound business idea. We were going to large employers providing health questionnaires to their staff. These large employers usually have over 5,000 employees. They were self-insured. They would have Blue Cross United providing claims administration. Ultimately, if somebody had a health issue like a heart attack, those claims were paid out of the company’s reserves. If we could educate the employees, make them healthier, and make better lifestyle decisions, those improvements would translate to savings to the company.

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 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
. 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
. Bootstrapping Using Services to $12M
. Bootstrapping an Ad Tech Company from Paris
. Bootstrapping a 100% Virtual Company from Ireland
. MiQ CEO Bootstraps with Services from London
. Bootstrapping to $8M During the Covid Crisis
. Bootstrapping a Marketplace from Brazil
. Bootstrapping Using Services from Sweden
. What Should Startups Do To Raise Seed Capital in 2021?
. EdTech Unicorn Bootstrapped First from Canada
. Coalition Technologies Co-founders Bootstrap to $10M
. Bootstrapping a Virtual Company to $10M from Atlanta
. Bootstrapping a SaaS Company with a Paycheck and Scaling
. Bootstrapping with Services to $20 Million
. Onit CEO Bootstraps First, Raises Money Later
. Pura Vida Founders Bootstrap to $130M
. Lawline CEO Bootstraps to $10M
. Bootstrapping a Technology Product Company from India
. Codesigned CEO Bootstraps Using Services
. Rukkus CEO Follows Bootstrap First, Raise Money Later Strategy
. Bootstrapping and Managing a Successful Pivot
. Ukrainian Entrepreneur Bootstraps to Global Scale
. Bootstrapping a Niche E-Commerce Venture
. Bootstrapping Planon to $100M from The Netherlands
. Co-founder Bootstrapped with a Paycheck from Indiana
. Bootstrapping an Education Company
. Bootstrapping an IoT Company from North Carolina
. Serial Bootstrapper Bootstraps to $27M
. Bootstrapping Identity Automation Using Services from Houston
. Bootstrapping ProjectManager.com from NZ, Scaling in the US
. Bootstrapping to $15M in Three Years
. Peruvian Entrepreneur Bootstraps to $200M
. 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

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