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MIT trained engineer Limor Fried on bootstrapping a startup for makers

Stashed in: Founders, Women, Overnight Success, Slow, startup, Burning Man, MIT TR, Learn to program., XX, Extraordinary People, Burning Man, Women in Tech

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Who knew there was so much money in cosplay, Burning Man, and kids? This company was bootstrapped over 10 years by its owner, and is on track to do $40mm in sales this year.

I particularly love that, although she was a grad student in electrical engineering at MIT, she has built the business on the observation that learning is motivation. When I was first learning to program, I was frustrated because I don't personally give a toss about computer games or the stock market -- which were at that time the two things that drew a lot of people, meaning boys, into programming. Sharing knowledge on the web was what sparked a deep, abiding fire to struggle through learning everything I needed to become a full-stack developer. For a lot of people, wanting to make a cool Halloween costume or special effects for a video might be the thing that gets them to persevere.

I love her attitude:

Compared with the hockey-stick growth of some Silicon Valley startups, taking 10 years to get to $33 million in sales revenue may seem slow.

But Fried prides herself on never taking a dime of venture-capital funding for Adafruit Industries, meaning the company can pay its bills and focus on its main mission of helping people understand and build technology, without having to panic about whether it's growing fast enough.

"Slow growth is the goal," Fried says. "Everybody's getting raises and promotions." 

Fried says she's glad not to be competing in the "disaster area" of venture-backed startups, many of which go bust or get bought for pennies on the dollar thanks to their seeming inability to manage their burn rate

"I hope you have explosive growth, because you have to," Fried jokes of venture-backed startups. "We have savings — we can do math."

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