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The $250 office - lessons on bootstrapping

  • Horia Cernusca
  • October 27, 2013

Going from a weekend-baked idea to a working product and a running company is not easy and it should be the biggest goal after going through a Startup Weekend like we did. You’re working with people you’ve only just met, you most likely all have jobs, and quitting work is not always an option. In the case of Swipe, we happened to start in the world’s most expensive city, Oslo Norway - which comes with its own set of challenges.

This is how we bootstrapped our way through our first eight months, a journey that took us from the glitz and glam of being on Europe’s biggest stage in Amsterdam, to living in a barn in the Norwegian countryside, to the heart of European tech in London.

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When you’re starting a company, there’s never one right way to do it. I remember reading the advice of successful entrepreneurs telling you to quit it all, go for it one hundred percent if you want to have a chance, others saying to take it slow, don’t quit your day job - be careful. In our case, we chose to take the careful route, working part-time to pay the basic bills, cut out some of life’s luxuries, and work hard as time permits.

The careful part lasted about six months, when we decided to go all in and focus our full-time attention on Swipe. We couldn’t really afford to live the city life with no income (especially in Oslo) so we had to get a bit creative.

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We left urban life and retreated to the countryside in the South-East of Norway with a simple mission: launch. Besides being a beautiful place in the summer and giving us much needed inspiration, it also gave us a lot of limitations - which is good. We had an empty barn, a place to sleep, a grill to cook on, a couple of bikes, and a weekly ride from our wonderful hosts to Sweden to buy cheaper food.

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Our new home was galled “Galtebo”, literally translated to “Pig’s Den,” a very fitting name as it turned out.

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We invested the equivalent of $250 in plywood, electrical equipment, and lighting. The plywood became three awesome desks - one big sitting desk, one standing desk, and one pretty incredible coffee table. We borrowed some chairs and a couch, and in 3 days we had a fully functional office - coffee station and all included. Admittedly, we probably won’t get an award for building the perfect desk structures for durability, but they did the job and they’re all still standing. Sometimes guessing is okay.

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We had porridge for breakfast, ham and cheese for lunch, and barbecue for dinner. We invented about fifty types of potato dishes and we just might dare to challenge Jamie Oliver to a barbecue-off and stand a chance of winning. The main goal was to keep the costs down, and with about $150 per week we could feed three people and get the occasional celebratory beer or wine.

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A quick note: We borrowed most of the equipment you see in the photos from our previous employers who were nice enough to let us keep them until better days when we could afford new ones. It might seem ironic to have thousands of dollars worth of equipment in a 250 dollar office, but we got lucky with that one too. Work for nice people and do a good job and they’ll be nice back - we’re definitely bringing that philosophy over to Swipe.

Being secluded from urban life had its upsides too - there were no other people to hang out with and you waste no time commuting. We woke up, worked, played ping pong, worked, played football, worked, cooked, played some more ping pong, had some beers, slept, repeat. A free life, with just ourselves to account to and lots of work to be done.

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We did that for about two months, which were the most crucial two months for our startup. We achieved a lot of what we wanted, got to know each other a lot better, and understood where we’re going with our company. We relocated to London shortly after, but I’ll always miss Galtebo and the peace and quiet in the countryside. We managed to bootstrap on a very tight budget in the world’s most expensive country, most of it in its most expensive city. But we couldn’t have done it without the help of lots of great people, without our part-time jobs, and without the encouragement of the thousands that declared their interest in our beta.

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If you’ve just finished a Startup Weekend like we did or you’re just starting your own company anywhere in the world - just know that with the right timing and the right amount of passion, you can bootstrap and survive - even if you’re in the world’s most expensive country and you have virtually no savings. An office can be anything, a home can be anywhere, and your food can always taste good.

You may not know someone that owns a barn, but find the equivalent in your country or your city - find that place that lets you focus and get things done. Be around people that keep you inspired and want the best for you and bring your team together. Keep it on a tight budget and dare to get creative, you have more time than you think. Don’t give up and never let go of any momentum you might have.

Check out more photos from our countryside barn office: http://swipe.to/2498

Read more: From a failed pitch to launching on Europe’s biggest stage - The Swipe story

Horia Cernusca

Horia Cernusca

Co-founder & CEO of Swipe. Sometimes a designer, sometimes a writer.