Sustainability and the stairstep approach to bootstrapping

What is the stairstep approach

The stairstep approach is a mental model to becoming a bootstrapped founder. You can read it at The model helps a lot for not becoming overwhelmed when starting a software product business. As I am thinking about trying this way out over the next few month, I want to share my thoughts about it here.


You may have noticed that sustainability is very important to me. More than that when building my company. I want it to be at the DNA of the business from the beginning. On the first sight, the stairstep approach sound reasonable and straight forward. Keep it simple at the beginning and learn as fast as you can. Where is the sustainability in that. First of all I appreciate the learning and experimenting focus of the model. This is something we need more than everything else if we want to make the world a more sustainable place.

But I see some pitfalls here. As sustainability for me has also these four dimensions: - Security - Backwards compatibility - Privacy - (Code) Quality

And those are at risk if you want to move fast and small. You need to rely on external vendors, probably you need to ditch one of your first products early that is still in use. Sometimes you need to focus on other areas in your life and cannot add the needed security updates etc. etc.

What is my baseline?

What I want to try is to set a baseline which I do not want to cross concerning sustainability for my products. I still need to think some things through to make them more solid, but here are my first thoughts:

  • Be transparent (not only write it in the Privacy Agreement) about what external vendors you are using
  • Be open to critique
  • Always have a plan for your existing users when ceasing a product to end of life
  • Keep a small footprint for assets and JS (use preact instead of react or something even smaller for JS)
  • Only host on servers that use renewable energy
  • Always check the track records of external providers concerning privacy and their use of renewable energy and support for open source

I guess there may be many more points that I will need to take into consideration, but this might be a good starting point of things I do not want to forget when stairstepping.