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Bootstrapping on a Budget: 21 frugal hacks that kept my startup afloat

From moving countries to selling kitchen tables, these are the 21 frugal hacks that have kept my startup alive

I received a response to the last letter’s announcement that Celi username reservations were available that read “Maybe we haven’t because we don’t know what Celi is.”

Fair point.

Celi knows your friend’s most important dates and reminds you of them by email, text, and WhatsApp.

At current volumes, by using Celi you’ll learn and remember ~40 new dates that mean a lot to your friends, that you previously didn’t know.

Dates, plural, because Celi goes beyond the birthday.

At launch, Celi has 15 events including birthdays, anniversaries, child’s birthdays, remembrance days, rebirthdays, workversaries, and more.

We’re doing this because:

  • 92% of people have forgotten a birthday

  • 76% of people have forgotten a friend's important life date

  • 75% have tried and failed to solve this problem with social media, calendars, or birthday apps

And because 89% of people asked Celi to solve this problem.

Solving this problem is what Celi does.

All you as a user do is Create your profile, Connect with friends, and Celi each other.

Now, go reserve your username Wesley:

Celi’s burn rate is $5,318 a month.

The monthly salaries of the developer and designer building Celi represent 94% of that spend.

Subscriptions the rest.

Celi has raised $0, meaning this build is being financed by capital contributions.

Aka, I’m depleting my savings.

Kind of.

I have one freelance contract that pays $3,768 per month and my current cost of living is $2,330 per month.

Which means my overall burn is actually only - $3,880 per month.

  • Monthly Inflow: + $3,768

  • Monthly Outflow: - ($5,318 + $2,330)

  • Monthly Burn: - $3,880

The intent of In Public is to document my first experiment, Celi, in its entirety, and while this piece may be filed under TMI (too much information), I’m not publishing it seeking sympathy.

When I started incubating the idea of Celi, I searched for bootstrapping blueprints and found none that offered actionable insights on how founders afford to meet the base layer of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

I had to DM a few who told me about their freelancing projects and other creative solutions used to make ends meet.

It almost seems like founders gatekeep their secrets.

This letter seeks to solve that.

It’s something I wish I had 8 months ago and will maybe one day help an aspiring founder to keep their dream alive.

The 21 frugal things I've done to keep Celi alive

It all started in January when I broke a lease and moved to South America in an attempt to cut my monthly cost of living in half.

Since then I’ve done 20 other frugal things to earn or save a buck including:

  1. Sold my kitchen farm table for $400.

  2. Sold my stand-up desk to a Boston University grad student for $300.

  3. Sold my L-shaped sectional to a New Hampshire couple for $800.

  4. Accepted an invitation to sit on a panel at Sweetgreen Summit 2023 in exchange for $250 in store credit.

  5. Applied for 4 new credit cards to earn $790 in welcome bonuses: Wells Fargo Active Cash Card ($200 bonus), Chase Freedom Flex ($200 bonus), Capital One Savor One ($200 bonus) Prime Visa ($150 Amazon credit). [Tip: Credit score only dropped 4 points from this]

  6. Included a referral link in the line above to try and earn an extra $500 in referral bonuses.

  7. Pitched me and my ideas to B2C FinTech brands every Friday seeking freelance contracts.

  8. Found a second freelance gig at $65/hr allowing up to 20 hours per week which, if maximized, would cover the cost of building Celi and my cost of living.

  9. Asked friends with WeWork subscriptions to guest pass me for free workspace. (Thank you, Max)

  10. Took a 7-minute survey from MessageMedia, Celi’s SMS partner, in exchange for a $30 Amazon gift card.

  11. Found a mentor on SCORE who does not charge a fee or take equity.

  12. Messaged a rapper, a DJ, and an indie artist lyrics to try and get a songwriting credit and earn royalties.

  13. Returned 23 cans to a local liquor store after Labor Day to earn $1.15 in redemption value.

  14. Read Money and the Law of Attraction by Esther and Jerry Hicks.

  15. Adopted a new daily affirmation: I am so grateful that money comes to me in increasing quantities through multiple sources on a continuous basis.

  16. Took a Typeform survey to enter a raffle with a $250 gift card and didn’t win.

  17. Applied and was accepted into Celi’s service provider’s early-stage start-up programs which grant us free 1-year subscriptions for Customer IO, Segment, AWS, Asana, Intercom, and Mixpanel.

  18. Moved from South America to Massachusetts and lived in a room at a shared family home to avoid Airbnb rent.

  19. Moved back to South America and messaged Airbnb hosts with new listings or zero reviews for discounts in exchange for favorable reviews that convert remote workers. (Travel Tip: Key Questions to Ask Your Airbnb Host Before Booking Your Stay)

  20. Took on a 3rd freelance copywriting project.

Of these, the credit cards, the SCORE mentor, and start-up pricing are the only ones I’d recommend.

In sum, they’ve allowed Celi to arrive at its current crossroads:

  1. Join an Accelerator

  2. Raise a seed round

  3. Continue Freelancing

My thoughts on accelerators are that my ego craves their seal of approval.

Having YC on a website nearly guarantees a few more years of operation. But egos aren’t wise. I’ve sourced 65 global accelerators and identified the few that fit Celi. I’d use an accelerator to find a technical co-founder and for investor introductions. The downside of this direction is that each application takes roughly 1 hour and most don’t start their next cohort until next year. A delay that I’d prefer to avoid

My thoughts on a Seed round have been influenced by my mentor, former CEOs, and VC friends who have all said that Celi is beyond where a company needs to be in order to take outside capital.

Some encourage a smaller family and friends pre-seed round, while others point directly at a Seed. I believe I’ve de-risked Celi enough that outside investment would be marked as execution capital, not belief capital. In order to complete this, I just need a better understanding of post-money SAFEs and help determining how much cash I’d need for 18 month’s runway.

My thoughts on freelancing are that so long as I could keep covering the cost of Celi’s build and my cost of living, I should keep going.

I could leverage AI or even outsource some of the work to increase my client roster. I’m confident this would work but at what cost? I’d likely need to work 7 days a week, time that would distract from Celi. If creative people need time to sit around and do nothing, this is the opposite.

In upcoming letters, I’ll share more on this decision along with outcomes from Celi’s now closed MVP beta test, what Celi is, and why I’m really building Celi.

By the end of those, you’ll be able to use Celi too.

Until then, here’s how you can help:

  1. Consider me if you need a product marketing or copywriting freelancer

  2. Rent me a room or host me for 1 month to keep my mCOL low

  3. Invest in Celi’s SEED round*

And of course, reserve your Celi username:

*If you’re one of the people who expressed an interest in being considered for investment into Celi in the original Celi Survey, I will reach out soon.