Wednesday Mar 28, 2012 by Ravi Mehta - VP of Product, Viximo
During a Sunday afternoon last year, I came across an article about how to quickly and cheaply launch a business. I had been wanting to start a side project to get more familiar with the latest approaches to marketing, and the article inspired me to make a new year's resolution to start a business in 2012.
In early February, I launched Slidevana, a presentation toolkit designed to help people create effective, well-designed presentations in less time. During the process of launching Slidevana, I was amazed at the quality and diversity of tools available to entrepreneurs. Even more amazing is that most of these tools are available for free for companies just starting out, and have very reasonable pricing that scales with your business.
All told, I spent less than $500 to launch Slidevana including all setup costs and initial advertising and PR. These tools have helped me build a profitable, global business out of the gate. Slidevana has been featured on sites like TUAW, Cult of Mac, and AppSumo and has had sales in over 30 countries. I've come to depend on many of these tools everyday to grow and manage the business, and I hope you'll find them as useful as I have.
This is the first part in a three part series. In this post, we'll look at back office and operational tools that enable you to launch and run a business without spending a lot of money. In the second part of the series, we'll look at tools that help you acquire traffic and drive conversions. And in the final article, we'll look at tools that enable you to establish profitable, long-term relationships with your customers.
Google has been at the forefront of enabling small business, and they have put together one of the most comprehensive toolsets for entrepreneurs. The crown jewel of that toolset is Google Apps, which provides email, calendaring, document collaboration, and rudimentary website hosting. Google is pushing Google Apps for Business which is priced at $5 per user per month, but for companies with less than 10 people, you can still use Google Apps for free.
Microsoft's BizSpark gives startups a leg up by providing free access to almost the entire suite of Microsoft software. Startups also get free access to Microsoft's cloud hosting services. In addition to saving hundreds or thousands on software, BizSpark helps connect entrepreneurs with key customers and investors.
EchoSign is a web-based "fully digital signature solution". It sounds boring, but it's actually one of my favorite product finds of 2011. Basically, EchoSign takes the pain out of paperwork. You can send, sign, and archive contracts and other forms (like those dreaded W-9's) completely online and without having to worry about scanning/printing/faxing/killing trees. It not only saves you time, it will help you get deals done faster. They have a free tier for single users which is good enough for most small startups, and very reasonable monthly packages starting at $14.95.
If your programming skills are typified by your ability to watch Modern Family while DVR'ing American Idol, then SnapPages is for you. SnapPages is by far the slickest and easiest to use tool in the crowded website authoring space. Besides being able to create a basic site, you can have your blog, social media integration, email campaign management, analytics, and lightweight SEO management all in one interface. They have a free tier, but most companies relying on SnapPages will opt for the very reasonable $8 a month Pro package. Take their video tour to get a closer look.
If you or your team has a more technical bent, then you have to check out Heroku, a cloud application platform that runs on top of Amazon Web Services. It'll run all the hot app platforms including Ruby on Rails, Sinatra, Node.js, and Python. They've built a powerful set of tools for deploying and managing your apps, and have integrated a curated set of add-ons for monitoring, database hosting, caching, email integration, and analytics. There is even an iPhone app called Nezumi which enables you to manage your hosted apps on the run. For sites without a lot of traffic, Heroku offers a free package and many of Heroku's add-ons also have free tiers.
There is nothing quite like the sinking feeling when you get an e-mail from a customer saying that your site is down. How long has it been down? How much money did I lose? Do my customers hate me? Pingdom provides uptime and performance monitoring so you'll know as soon as there is a problem with your site. It works extremely well and has a slick, newly updated interface. Pingdom offers a free account to monitor a single site.
Airbrake is a service that collects application errors and notifies you as they happen. Although it was designed for Ruby on Rails, it will work with a number of other technologies via third-party plug-ins. Errors suck, but they do happen. With Airbrake, you can contact a customer moments after an error happens and let them know you're working on it. In the face of an error, there are few better ways to wow a customer. Airbrake has a reasonably priced set of plans for startups, and they even have a free plan which is great for small projects.
In the next part of this series, we'll look at tools that enable you to drive traffic to your site and convert that traffic into leads or customers.
What other tools do you use?
Ravi Mehta is VP of Product at Viximo, a Cambridge-based company that provides solutions for social and mobile game developers looking to expand their distribution, and is the creator of Slidevana, a presentation toolkit that enables presenters to build better presentations in less time. You can follow Ravi on Twitter (@ravi_mehta).