Can you bootstrap like a unicorn?

We often get caught up in startup world vernacular with that ecosystem’s buzzwords. Heard yourself saying unicorn, growth hacking, FMA (first mover advantage)? When it boils down to it, many of us are trying to build a small business without investment, off our own backs in our own time. We’re bootstrapping.

Over the last eight months Femeconomy has interviewed many successful Australian female leaders who’ve taken consumers by storm with their innovative products and marketplaces. So many of them have bootstrapped to achieve wonderfully in business. To help your business bootstrap better here are my top five pieces of advice from female leaders who are all unicorns in our eyes.

Kate Morris

CEO and Founder of Adore Beauty 

Kate disrupted the beauty industry back in 1999, investing $12,000 to bootstrap her business, now turning over in excess of $10 million annually. She launched the venture from her Melbourne garage while an undergraduate student, at age 21. 

Bootstrapping Tip 1: If you’re starting a marketplace and you need other companies to be on your site, Kate’s advice is to make sure you are connecting with the person who influences the decision-making in that company and what value you can offer that brand, no strings attached. Kate said, “Even just sending useful little tidbits of information can help to build a relationship.”

Marie Kapetanakis

Founder and CEO of Kosmea 

With no marketing experience, and having spent years working as a waitress and a cleaner while raising her 3 children, Marie started her business from home. Filled with determination, she contacted a Chilean supplier by fax and ordered her first drum of rose hip oil. Marie was profitable beyond expectations in her first year of business. 24 years later, Kosmea is sold in department stores, pharmacies and beauty salons around the world, as well as online.

Marie says her greatest challenge was back in the Spring of 1993, trying to convince her then husband to sell the family car so she could buy a drum of rosehip oil to start the business. What was especially challenging for Marie was that she wasn’t allowed to hold the purse strings in the household. Marie originally went door to door with her product, parking the replacement ‘old bomb’ car out of sight of her potential customers.

Bootstrapping Tip 2: Be aware of the family finances so you know what you can invest in your business and decide what you are prepared to give up to finance your business. Realise that you may have to go ‘door to door’ either online or in person to generate sales.

Kelly Jamieson

CEO, Edible Blooms

Kelly Jamieson, Co-Founder of Edible Blooms, took her passion for chocolate one step further than the rest of us and created an innovative business model around the concept of floral gift bouquets that you could eat. Recognised as SA Telstra Business Woman of the Year in 2011, Kelly and her sister Abbey have grown Edible Blooms into a business that has enjoyed over a decade of success. Selling over $1 million of products online in her first year, Kelly has continued to innovate.

Bootstrapping Tip 3: Carefully manage cash flow. Kelly said, “On the bright side, this has made us creative with solutions and careful with decision making. At times this has slowed our growth, but overall it has made us work a lot smarter to achieve our goals.”

Eri Stewart

Founder, hardtofind.

Hardtofind was born in 2008 and Eri has grown it into a $15 million per annum online success story, with 50% of the business based on repeat customers. 

Bootstrapping Tip 4: Re-invest profits to make the business healthy and sustainable. Eri said, “We have zero debt and we’ve now reached a point where growth and profit are both heading in the same direction.”

Irene Falcone

CEO and Founder of Nourished Life 

Irene Falcone sold her car and house to raise $30,000 to bootstrap her fledgling business. Irene has grown the business rapidly, turning over $400,000 in her first year and nearly $9 million last year.

Bootstrapping Tip 5: In the early years, you are the CEO and the staff. Get your hands dirty. Irene said, “I started it packing boxes with my Mum, running to the post office, answering phone calls, and writing blog posts. Now I have a dedicated team who help me do a huge job that couldn’t be done if it was just my Mum and I!”

If you’ve juggled and struggled through the bootstrapping business journey, what are your tips for the Women in Focus community?

Women make over 85% of purchase decisions. You’re Femeconomy. We want to help you shop brands with female leaders to create gender equality. The power is in your purse.

Femeconomy approved brands have at least 30% of women on the Board of Directors or are 50% female owned. So far over 700 brands meet our criteria. Look for our badge to shop Femeconomy approved brands, or if your company meets our approval criteria, submit your brand.

Female leaders will create gender equality. #femeconomy #shop4equality



Cash in Queen & get your hands dirty. Best advice. OUtdourcing everything in your first year or so is madness if you're bootstrapping.

I love your humorous style so much!