How to Start a Business

From Solopreneur to Team Builder: How Bootstrapper Can Overcome Hiring Hurdles

Dongsub Lukas Shin
June 11, 2024
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As a leader, it might seem frustrating to watch my seemingly futile attempts, but I'm trying to document my trials and errors as much as possible. 

The past couple of months have been incredibly hectic, not in a productive way, but more like a frantic scramble that leaves me feeling like something is fundamentally off. Despite the growing number of clients, our internal systems aren't equipped to handle them. Unexpected bugs are increasing, sales are slipping through the cracks, and our internal processes are flimsy at best. 

In my quest to identify the problem, I reached out to my mentor, someone I often call for advice. His answer was simple: 

"Hire Koreans." 

It seemed so straightforward for other CEOs, but why was it so challenging for me? Seeking more insights, I approached another mentor, who echoed the sentiment: 

"Grow your own little clones to solve the problem and scale up." 

Deep down, I probably already knew the answers. So why was I hesitating to hire more?

Source : Potential

The Solopreneur's Dilemma

For the past six years, I've been bootstrapping my business. I haven't sought government grants or external investments. Consequently, I can't fathom a growth model that operates at a loss, and the thought of it terrifies me. For a bootstrapper like me, not breaking even means my family cannot afford the living, which translates to the business failing.

This approach has its pros and cons. While it means we can survive like weeds, it also means growth is slow. 

For example, let's say our company's savings reach 50 million won (39,000 US dollars). That's money earned through sheer hard work. This amount could cover a team member's salary for a year, even if the company doesn't make a penny. It could also cover 25 months of my family's living expenses or buy a luxury car. Such considerations make hiring a daunting decision.

I know breaking this barrier is crucial for our next step, but it's not easy. 

To me, hiring isn't just about exchanging the company's money for an employee's time. Especially if the employee has a family, it's like they're betting the prime years of their 20s or 30s on our company. Would I take this job at our company with the salary we're offering? My hesitation to answer "yes" has kept me from hiring for a long time. 

If 1 + 1 Can Be Greater Than 2

To overcome this inertia, I've recently been focusing on the concept of leverage. Initially, the term "leverage" felt negative, like exploiting others, but my perspective has changed.

We have a designer we regularly ask for help. They do fantastic work. 

Suppose we land a 20 million won (16,000 US dollars) project. We could struggle through the design work ourselves, earning the entire 20 million. But instead, we could hire the designer, pay them 2 million per project, and take on additional projects that we're good at. This way, we could earn 36 million while the designer earns 4 million. Everyone benefits.

Global Business Without Perfect English, source : Potential

Not long ago, I had a meeting with a UK software development company. 

If I had approached it defensively, worried they might steal our information, no one would have gained anything. But the counterper wants Korean clients, and we want UK clients. Both of us understand the importance of an initial portfolio. So, we proposed an exchange: 

‘We'll connect you with Korean clients, no commission needed. In return, connect us with low-profit UK clients.’

Both parties stood to gain, and we decided to give it a try.

Finding Mutual Benefits in Hiring

For a successful hire, the CEO needs to be prepared to offer more than just what the candidate could get elsewhere. It has to be tangible, not just a pipe dream. 

What is our company's unique value? What can I offer? Is it just about the salary?

As I started the hiring process, I met many talented individuals, much more skilled than I am. I felt sorry that we couldn't offer an attractive salary, yet they still applied. Some were willing to take nearly a 50% pay cut, and others had extensive experience from companies like Samsung SDS. 

What can I promise these people? It's a question that keeps me up at night.

Written by Dongsub Lukas Shin

(CEO and Founder of Potential)

Original Post : 나는 왜 이리 못할까, 채용편

Dongsub Developer


T +82-10-2706-1463
WEWORK 4F, 147, Yanghwa-ro Mapo-gu
Seoul, Korea


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Dongsub Lukas Shin
CEO and Founder of Potential