December 17, 2021

The rise of the Indie Founder: an alternative path to VC

How a new generation of founders are prioritizing ownership over outside investment

by

Zack Steven

Who is the Indie Founder?

The Indie Founder's story doesn't begin with a seed round or series A funding. Venture Capital is on the lookout for unicorns, but billion dollar valuations aren't at the top of the Indie Founder priority list.

From day one and above all else, Indie Founders are focused on their customers' problems and needs. They aren't in business for the sake of disrupting industry or developing abstract technologies. For them, they can only grow by paying attention to revenue and profitability.

In prioritizing delivering value today over solving the most challenging, advanced, or novel problems for the sake of it, the Indie Founder gains something priceless—control over how their company operates and the freedom to do it their own way.

Indie Founders vs. venture-backed

One type of startup or founder isn't better than the other. Plenty of venture-backed startups provide real value for their stakeholders and a sense of reward for their founders. Bootstrapped entrepreneurs can be in it for the wrong reasons and fail.

We at Cloudburst just happen to find Indie Founders more interesting. Perhaps it's because we're from Minnesota, where we're re-taught patience, humility, scrappiness, and interdependence every winter—skills uniquely present in Indie Founders. It also helps that you can usually count on a roomful of Indie Founders being much more diverse than a roomful of venture-backed ones, something else we care about deeply.

Ultimately, it most likely comes down to the types of problems Indie Founders choose to work on and how committed they are to solving them. For most Indie Founders, the work is personal—their startups exist because of pain they themselves have known and lived. That added emotional investment in the entrepreneurial process makes it all the more energizing to be a part of.

Success as an Indie Founder comes down to mindset

Regardless of the source of our affinity, we know this to be true: success as an Indie Founder requires a different frame of mind than the one prescribed by the current startup playbook. There are many lessons to hold on to from the dominant Sand Hill Road narrative, but the path of the Indie Founder is different; there is much to unlearn.

Simply put, the VC model has created misconceptions about founder success. Startup founders who aren't seeking outsized outside investment but are fast-moving and ambitious nonetheless need to think differently than what we've been led to believe. Because behind all the things that every successful Indie Founders does is how successful Indie Founders *think—*their mindsets. Peeling back the layers to look at this core can help new founders make sense of what they're doing and help them manage the chaos.

How do Indie Founders think differently?

  • They look to themselves for permission, not investors or money to get started
  • They fall in love with the big picture—who they serve and why—not their own solutions
  • They seek customer connection and welcome feedback to make sure that they build something people love
  • They learn and grow from each failure so they make failure a routine practice

To learn more about how successful Indie Founders think, read our four-part guide on The Indie Founder Mindset: A Guide to Unlearning VC.


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Zack Steven, CEO of Cloudburst, is a curious optimist, Dad, entrepreneur, and angel investor. He has a degree in Studio Art and is a fan of good design, big ideas, and strong communities.