What's Your Startup Style?

From Moonlighting to AfterWorking, here's a look at the different ways to get your business going

1. TINKERING MODE

What it is: this often starts with a curiosity or fascination with a particular subject, and a desire to follow it, without a clear objective. This can lead to a business idea, but often other paths emerge when you follow an interest for interest’s sake.

Why it’s good: Allows you to follow your curiosities, fall down rabbit holes and experiment without an agenda. This can either lead you towards an existing startup or business that already does what you want to be doing, introduce you to a new co-founder, or help you happen upon your idea.

What you might do: take time to upskill, research a new topic, interview and meet experts in the area or attend community events on the subject. If you’re at the ideation stage, the Antler Accelerator program can help you find a co-founder to build out your idea at the earliest stages. There’s also Springboard, an accelerator for women that offer a 3-day intensive bootcamp to help get you further, faster.

2. AFTERWORKING MODE

What it is: keeping your job, while you test the bones of your idea. Whether it’s fleshing out your MVP, understanding your consumers, planning your go-to-market or assembling a team, there’s a lot you can achieve in the hours AfterWork, as the team here can attest.

Why it’s good: it gives you a chance to pressure test your concept before putting it all on the line. Further, it allows you to build conviction slowly and steadily, without having to rush to a foregone conclusion.

What you might do: setting clear goals about what you want to achieve from your moonlighting experiment, including identifying a trigger point that will make you quit your job. Blackbird’s Giants Program helps you get one-on-one mentoring and access to other founders in the trenches with you. Other communities to consider joining include the communities appearing alongside co-working spaces like Fishburners and The Commons. We’d be remiss to not mention the AfterWork community and the diverse, inspired minds we’re coalescing!

3. BOOTSTRAPPING MODE

What it is: you’ve left your job and have set out to build your company, on the back of an oily rag. You work smart, fast and make a habit of hacking your way to clever decisions in order to keep costs at a minimum.

Why it’s good: Bootstrapping allows you to throw your time behind an idea, in a way you can’t if you’re AfterWorking; but without the commitment and responsibility that comes with taking on loans or other people's money.

What you might do: You will want to set goals around what momentum you hope to build in a certain timeframe. This includes identifying the point that will either trigger you to raise some form of capital (it doesn't have to be VC dollars), or find a way to build a healthy, consistent business without funding. Startmate’s Accelerator gives pre-fundraising founders the tools, resources and connections to sharpen their idea in a lean, fast way. While Galileo’s accelerator has a focus on first-time founders from historically under-represented backgrounds. 
 

4. STEALTH MODE

What it is: operating privately, while controlling what you allow others to know about what you’re building, very tightly. Most often, the details are secret, but you let people know you’ve got something brewing. Stealth normally means you’re all-in, and are gearing up for something momentous.

Why it’s good: Stealth mode works well in spaces where competition is rife and what you’re working on is genuinely proprietary. It can help build intrigue and put you on the radar of potential investors, employees and customers - while allowing you to control the specific narrative.

What you might do: reveal on LinkedIn that you’re working on something in a particular sector, have high level conversations with investors, employees and customers or reveal snippets of the story of your work. During this phase, you will want to line up as many conversations with prospective talent as possible, so you have a robust pipeline when the time is right.
 

5. FUNDRAISING MODE 

What it is: You can fundraise at any time from a number of different types of backers, depending on a combination of factors like; lifestage, suitability, timing and risk. Fundraising often means juggling competing priorities, as you’ll have to take investor meetings, while also maintaining momentum on what you’re building.

Why it’s good: access to capital can accelerate you towards your vision. It’s best to consider capital an enabler; not the pressure test of whether it’s worth your time or not. Read more about that here.

What you might do: research investors, decide which ones suit your stage, style and sector, prepare your pitch deck (and prepare to iterate it), then pitch your little heart out. You might need to set boundaries around hours for fundraising, as well as a timeline, to ensure you can keep your business moving concurrently. There are plenty of resources for founders preparing pitches, including tips on how to communicate traction with investors.

The Fundraising Question

It’s worth noting that raising money is not the only path to building a business. This sexy little matrix below can help you consider your options before you take on investor dollars. Though simplistic, it’s helpful to think of things in this deliberately reductive manner. On the one hand, you either raise money or you don’t. If you raise, you can get further, faster; as you have resources to commit your time and energies to to the task at hand. But it comes at a cost; investors to answer to and their dollars to be accountable to.

The next dimension is Hypothesising Mode or Executing Mode. At the very inception of a business, you’re in hypothesis mode; trying to figure out if you have something worth blowing up. There are many hypotheses to prove out; spanning the gamut of a business, like: the strategy, the business model, the product, your customers, your marketing and distribution/sales strategy to name a few. Hypothesising Mode involves testing out your working hypothesis, then once you have some answers; you can move into Executing Mode. Of course, this is an ongoing and iterative process. Once you’re in Executing Mode, you will still be learning, testing and refining your hypothesis.  


There's no one right way to get your idea off the ground; and taking time to consider the different ways of operating is a smart step to sweat. Depending on where your idea is at, what your idea is, your personal ambitions and what you want your life to look like, different operating models will suit your needs. Ultimately, budding founders see everything as an exercise in building conviction. With every conversation, iteration and test, they are closing in on what’s working and identifying what exactly to blow up. At the end of the day, not everything is venture scale and suitable for venture dollars, and that is OK. Here, we break down what the different modes of operating and funding are; and what to consider when contemplating funding.