It’s a mindset. (And yes, it’s also the name of Twitter’s front-end web framework, amongst other things.)
Bootstrapping is essentially the commitment to getting something done no matter what obstacles or resource constraints you may have. It is the resolve to move forward understanding that the end result may not be perfect, the circumstances not ideal.
An Introduction to the Bootstrap highlights how in the 1900s, to “pull (oneself) up by (one's) bootstraps” was used figuratively to describe an impossible task. Years later, its meaning has expanded to include to "better oneself by rigorous, unaided effort.”
That is not an easy feat, and not one everyone feels comfortable with, but it provides a tremendous opportunity for growth.
I’m sure many of you in our IT community run into what may at first blush appear to be insurmountable obstacles on a constant basis. How can I possibly make this work with the limited resources I have? How can I fix this if I don’t have anything left in this year’s budget? From speaking to many of our IT professionals, failure is not an option, and more often than not, the bootstrap mentality is what enables them to power through.
A few years ago, as part of a small start-up, I found myself on the phone with a customer who was having trouble with our platform. He was frustrated and wanted things fixed instantly “or else was immediately cancelling his subscription”. At that time, I was wearing the marketing, customer success, and support hats all at once. We hadn’t acquired many users, so we wanted to make sure we didn’t lose any customers either. We were a small team of three, and my technical co-founder Ted was at the Department of Motor Vehicles waiting to register his vehicle. The customer wanted his issue resolved immediately, so over text, while on the phone with the customer, I relayed the problem to Ted, who successfully walked me through fixing the issue. All while our customer was unaware of what was transpiring behind the scenes. It was exhilarating to realize we could successfully these tackle these types of situations as a team.
From these past experiences, I understand the creativity and team building that comes from trying to generate ideas and solutions without resources. The old adage of "necessity is the mother of invention" seems to never ring truer than on those occasions. When resources are not an obstacle, getting things done is just a matter of time, but it gets a lot more interesting to see what you can construct when resources are tight and things needed to be resolved immediately.
Many of us wait until we think things are in perfect order to move forward, but we work in technology, which means things will never be perfect. If you haven’t, I encourage you to be a little scrappy and try “bootstrapping.” You’ll be amazed at what can be accomplished. The satisfaction that flows from knowing you were able to bring forth a solution from what can be an uncomfortable space that is worth experiencing. Keep pushing forward.