Top 10 Tools for the Bootstrapped Startup

99design
A decade of freemium business models and cloud computing have reduced the cost of starting a new business to all-time lows. It seems like a lifetime ago that new startups had to spend exorbitant fees with hardware manufacturers, service providers, and design firms to get their businesses off the ground. Now for a few hundred dollars you can achieve a professional presence for your business that would easily rival your dotcom boom ancestors.

Here are a few of my favorite services and tools for the bootstrapped startup.

#10 - 99designs

If you’re looking for a quality logo, business card, brochure, or web page, look no further than 99designs. For $100 you can select from a library of logos; for $300 you can run a competition and choose the best work from competing designers. In both cases, the author of the design will make customizations based on your direction. 99designs practices sausage making for graphic artists, with un-purchased works being reused in multiple ways.

#9 - Wordpress

After all these years, I remain a dedicated Wordpress fan. So when it came time for a corporate website, I deployed a t1.micro in Amazon, installed Wordpress, and configured a theme from Elegant Themes to achieve attractive web presence at a great price ($7 per month with heavy reserved). The time from start to deployed site was less than couple hours.

#8 - LinkedIn

For all my complaints about the hundred of inMail invites from people I have never met, I still find great value in LinkedIn. Okay, I should be clear: not enough value to pay $600 per year. ;) But LinkedIn is a great tool for finding validation prospects, potential customers, and supporting resources for a new business. It's also a great way to meet new people in Boston high tech.

#7 - Google Voice

I have used Google Voice for several years to front-end my various phones. Whether I am at the North Bridge offices, a client site, or on the move, Google Voice will find me. I have also found myself increasingly using Google Voice, a headset, and a Mac, as my primary “phone”.

#6 - eLance

Have a job that could be executed by someone else based on your written directon? Post your project on eLance and leverage the favorite phrase of one of my former Dell executives: labor arbitrage. While not great for some types of projects - particularly those involving important IP or substantial independent thinking - it works well for prescriptive jobs.

#5 - Join.me

For years it has seemed as though web meeting services have consciously made it hard to setup and use their technology. Join.me delivers the Apple user experience in an industry used to Microsoft Bob. It’s so easy I use it to provide tech support to my 81 year old father.

#4 - Trello

Agile boards remind me of pre-GitHub version control in two ways: 1) every company uses a different one, and 2) no one likes the one they are using. This all changed for me with Trello, a free service from Fog Creek Software. I run several boards in Trello, organizing work for myself and others. It's a great way to stay focused and organized for software and non-software projects.

#3 - Google Apps

I've complained in several posts about my love-hate relationship with Google Apps. But there is no better value proposition to the bootstrapped startup that to have your email, calendar and office documents hosted by Google for the low low price of... free.

#2 - GitHub

I never could have imagined paying a monthly fee for a personal version control service. Of course, then there was GitHub. Also, all the cool kids are on GitHub. Enough said.

#1 - AWS

You can’t have a top 10 list of tools for the bootstrapped startup without mentioning Amazon Web Services. Yes, it’s still not very approachable for the non-geek - but it offers great value for the money. Hint: don’t pay the list price - take the time to price out on-demand or even spot instances. Don't forget to check out the reserved instance marketplace.


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