Posted on Wednesday, Jul 13th 2022
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Entrepreneurs love to discuss success. Few are willing to discuss what they tried and failed at. When we spoke in 2019, Robly Co-founder Adam Robinson did a terrific job of sharing his journey through various failed experiments to a model that was gaining traction.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background? Adam Robinson: I was born and raised in Houston, Texas. I went to Rice University. I graduated in 2003. One of my friends had an internship at Goldman-Sachs the year before.
I didn’t know anything about it, and somehow convinced people to give me a job as a derivatives trader at Lehman Brothers. For 10 years, I traded these real estate-related, credit default swaps. It was the most interesting job for someone in their 20’s. Everybody who’s doing what I was doing was making a ton of money.
What was even more interesting was that the guys who started Vimeo and CollegeHumor started it in my apartment in New York. They tried to make a show like The Office about these guys.
My brother started a tech company too. It was really interesting being in this derivatives world. The apartment that we were living in was ridiculous. It was this big loft. It was an MTV crib type of place. I always had this fantasy of starting a tech company.
Then, the financial crisis happened. There were a couple of good years for the product that I was trading afterwards, but the government really clamped down with regulations. The market shrunk over a series of five years. I’m one of these people who believe that human beings need to be part of growth environments. To be in an environment that’s contracting is the opposite of that.
It was easy at that point to say, “I’m going to take however many years it takes and try to figure out how to become this tech entrepreneur and see what happens.” My approach was incredibly flawed. I had this mentor at Lehman Brothers who we all looked up to. As he was trading bonds, he had five or six very significant investments that he was involved in semi-actively.
That life, to me, seemed really interesting. It was so much more interesting than trading bonds. I was going to deploy half of this capital that I had saved up at five or six investments. I’ll find people to run them and that was going to work.
Wall Street has the tendency to breed overconfidence in life on people that do well because the value of the human being is measured by the perceived amount of wealth that you extract from the system.
Sramana Mitra: I think the other fallacy in the Wall Street way of thinking is, to make a lot of money in Wall Street, you have to move money from here to there. The human complexity is less present in Wall Street money-making machines. Whereas if you have to build a business, you have to manage people, orchestrate, and navigate the human complexity far more than just moving money or everything being automated. Adam Robinson: I couldn’t agree more. I couldn’t have had less experience in any of those stuff. I wrote a couple of big checks. My brother was doing a private equity round. In a healthcare thing, I invested a ton of money that went to zero over 10 years. I started a company with some other guys who also were totally inexperienced. They were in the staffing space.
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 . 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 . 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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 . 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