How to Launch a Debt-Free Startup – Learn How I Launched eateria with Zero Debt

Written by Ola Ayeni
Published on Mar. 25, 2013
How to Launch a Debt-Free Startup – Learn How I Launched eateria with Zero Debt

Still looking for ways to raise money? Learn how one entrepreneur launched his startup with no outside funds.

When beginning a new venture, entrepreneurs often look to bank loans and venture capital, friends and fools, and angel investors as the only way to go to get their business going. Crowd funding is also an option that people now consider. Some great businesses were built that way but those are not the only options. Bootstrapping is another route that entrepreneurs can take to build their business. By going this route, they can do it with little or no capital, less risk, and no debt. My name is Ola Ayeni. I am the founder, blogger and Chief Idea Officer of Dining Dialog and eateria. Here is what I did to launch my companies and achieve success in business.

What I did can fall simply into four categories:

  1. Start with the bare essentials. Entrepreneurs are dreamers and visionaries. Large corporations that are successful today were once dreams in someone’s head, but they had to start small. Instead of jumping into an office with several employees, starting a business from home with a partner is best. I began Dining Dialog from my basement with the few resources I had available to me. I would go out and meet restaurant owners to understand what they needed and find out things that were issues for them. This allowed me to target my audience and gain new customers. After a lot of research and networking, I was able to start growing Dining Dialog and eventually moved to an office. I hired people first on a part-time basis and then full time as the business was able support such a person with enough receivables. That’s simply how I grew my team from one co-op office space now to an office of 8 people.  
  1. Look into business plan competitions.  Business plan competitions are a great way to help fund your business and get exposure. They give you the opportunity to get the word out about your business plan while also giving you the chance to win money to put toward your business. There are multiple types of competitions with different prizes. A few tips if you are looking into a business plan competition:
  • Be careful of the contest you decide to enter. You want to choose one that focuses on your market or can add value. Not only will this help your chances of winning but will also allow you to get feedback from business leaders or judges in your field. For example, do not sign up for a social business plan competition when you are a tech company selling retail products.
  • Talk to previous winners for tips. They went through the process and can help guide you through it.
  • Make sure you practice your pitch well.  You want the judges to ask you questions so make sure you will be able to answer them well.

In 2012, I was the grand prize winner, which was $50,000, in the MillerCoors Urban Entrepreneurs Series competition.  No equity exchanged, all cool cash. With this prize, I was able to expand my business while also getting valuable connections with others in the restaurant industry. You can find a listing of some of the best business plan competitions at Biz Plan Competitions.

  1. Consider service grants. Service grants are grants that are given by different companies for startups to use toward specific business expenses. In 2012, I received a service grant of $60,000 from Microsoft BizSpark which we used for software.  We have the latest of everything from Microsoft. Another great grant that I won was the $50,000 grant from Braintree.  Braintree waives credit card processing fees for $50,000 that a company spends. By having these grants, it gives an entrepreneur some cushion to get their company on the up and up. For more information on opportunities for your startup, go to It offers a list of freebies and discounted items you can use.
  1.  Network like crazy. It does not cost a lot of money to be at the right place and meeting the right people.  How about being at the right place at the right time? I was able to network my way to be partnered with a food company - Sysco Foods - to reach their customers. We literally have customers handed over to us through this partnership which allowed us to grow without spending money on marketing.

These are just a few of the creative ways that entrepreneurs can start their businesses without accumulating debt. By not borrowing or giving out your equity pre-maturely, an entrepreneur can work with what he has and put the money they make back into the business to continue growing. Many years ago when I first came to America from West Africa, one great lesion my street smart brother gave me was, it’s not what you make, it’s what you can keep.

If you have specific questions regarding my startup, you can reach me at [email protected].

Ola Ayeni is the founder of Dining Dialog and eateria™ is a digital loyalty marketing platform and a whole new way for restaurant, food and hospitality businesses to interact with their customers based on their on-the-go lifestyle. eateria™ utilizes the best combination of connected channels of email, social media and text message. Dining Dialog is a cutting edge, full service new media marketing company servicing the restaurant, bar and food service industry. I blog about restaurant marketing tips, at

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