Starting a company in 2011 is great. Back in 1999, when we started Ximian, the only tools a small startup could afford for their internal infrastructure were mailman and perl. It was ugly.
In 2011, the best tools on the planet cost $25/month, billed to your credit card. In just a few minutes you can have better infrastructure than most fortune 500 companies. It’s incredible.
So part of my first three weeks as CEO of Xamarin has felt like a trip to a toy store. Everyone loves window shopping, so here is a list of some of the tools we’re using to run our startup:
Google Apps. Mail, calendar, internal wiki, and shared document editing. Cost: $5/user/month.
Github Bronze. All of our code is stored in github’s private repositories. We love github. $25/month.
Asana. This is our task management tool and it’s fantastic. It’s the only distributed task system I’ve ever used that’s as fast as typing into a text editor. Asana is a new startup from Dustin Moskovitz, the founder of Facebook, and their product is in Beta. Our team loves using it and we predict great things for Asana as it rolls into launch.
Themeforest. When I first discovered themeforest I thought it would be a wasteland of machine-generated CSS and generic templates. But the site is full of hand-coded, cross-browser gems for $15-30 a pop. There’s no substitute for high-end design, but if you need to get a decent-looking site up quickly, it’s your best bet, and far cheaper than it should be.
IRC + bip. We’re a distributed team, and having a place we can all hang out together online is very important to us. We wanted to find a for-pay, hosted group chat system that we loved, but campfire was too laggy, HipChat didn’t allow you to signin multiple places, and we didn’t feel we could trust a free solution like Convore. In the end we setup ngircd on a low-end, dedicated linode, configured to force SSL. A lot of us use bip as a proxy to maintain a persistent connection and show a backlog when you reconnect.
UnlimitedConferencing. For phone conferencing, we setup a $49/month account with unlimitedconferencing.com. We don’t pay a per-minute fee and international people can dial-in over skype to save money on long distance. It works fine.
Assistly. To handle incoming support requests from our future customers, we’ve looked at TenderApp, ZenDesk, and Assistly. We settled on Assistly after a support tech who’s worked with all three told us she prefers Assistly because it’s faster and easier to use. $69/support agent/month.
Linode and Rackspace. We use linode to setup quick Linux servers, and Rackspace for Windows servers. They’re cheap, reliable, and fast. If you need more power, a dedicated server from somewhere like 1and1 will do the trick. It’s surprising how far you can go on a $30/month linode. I’ve been using Linode for years and love them.
EFax, Scanner Pro for iPhone, and PDFPen. It’s a dwindling fact of life that you need to send and receive faxes to do business. These three items have eliminated fax machines for us. We use EFax to forward incoming faxes to an email address. You can also use it to send faxes online. PDFPen is a mac app that blew me away when I took a JPEG and converted it to an OCR’d PDF in just a few seconds. You can also use it to mark up and to edit PDFs. And you can use Scanner Pro to convert a phonecam photo into a PDF that looks like it came off a scanner. You can even fax it directly from the phone (for a fee). It’s been a lifesaver.
BizSpark. BizSpark is Microsoft’s program to give startups free licenses to basically any piece of Microsoft software, including access to MSDN. If you plan to use any piece of Microsoft software, it’s a great program.
Ravix Group. One of the things we learned from Ximian is the value of signing on a part-time CFO from day one. At the very least you want a controller to keep your books in order and setup payroll and insurance, or you’ll have a big cleanup process later on. A higher-level finance person can also be very useful in helping you think through cap tables and convertibles notes and online billing and taxes and so on. We interviewed a bunch of individuals doing part-time CFO consulting for various startups. Their fees varied from a $6,000 monthly retainer plus 0.25% of post-series A equity, to $125/hour flat. In the end, we got some great references from Ravix Group, a firm that do outsourcing of financial and HR tasks for startups. They have a deep team and can assign various individuals to your tasks as appropriate. We’ve only just started working with them but it looks great so far.
Ropes and Gray. There’s no substitute for a great lawyer, and we have one of the best firms in the country with Ropes and Gray. Our team there is incredibly responsive, works weekends and late nights, and knows their stuff. Like working with a CFO, having a great lawyer has some benefits you might not expect: in addition to their legal expertise, they see a lot of deals, and can tell you what’s “market” and what isn’t. We never would have raised our Series B financing at Ximian without Ropes and Gray, and we’re happy to be working with them again.
I’m sure there are some other great products out there, but this is our list. Hopefully it’s helpful to someone who’s just starting to do the research. It really is a wonderful time to start a company.