The last time I started a business was over a decade ago. Good news: it’s gotten a lot easier. There was a lot of overhead in startup costs that have been reduced to little or nothing, due to the rise of internet-based tools. I had to do some research and try a lot of tools before I settled on the basic suite. Here’s what I’m using at the U.S. Open Data Institute:
Contactually watches my e-mail and serves as a repository for notes after meetings and phone calls. I associate each contact with a given project and classify them based on the nature of our relationship (client, funder, employee, vendor, colleague, board member, etc.) Based on those criteria, it reminds me when I need to get in touch with somebody. $20/month.
The Asana group task management software is almost like using native Mac OS X software. Everything I need to do goes in here, attached to a given project and categorized. As the US ODI adds more employees and contractors, the group functionality will start to pay off. Free for teams of up to 15 people.
I’d included an assistant in my budget, and the cost was non-trivial. In reality, the amount of assistance that I’ll need is going to fluctuate over time, and at this point my need is so minimal that I don’t even know how to meaningfully employ a competent person for, say, 4 hours a week. Then a friend suggested Zirtual. Now I have an assistant in North Carolina, who I can call or e-mail when I need some help. (Admittedly, I’m still figuring out how to work with an assistant, accustomed as I am to doing everything myself, but that’s not Zirtual’s fault.) $200/month for 8 hours of work.
Most teleconferencing systems are terrible, and I’ve generally relied on the folks on the other end of phone line to arrange something. Now I use UberConference. It has a simple web-based interface, allows selective muting of participants’ phones (that one guy with the barking dog), it doesn’t require a PIN, and it’ll even call the participants when the conference starts, rather than vice-versa. Free, $10/month for a bunch of nice features, or $20/month for those nice features and a toll-free number.
There was no way I was going to pay for a landline. And I’ve already got a mobile phone, of course, so I didn’t need a second one of those. But I needed an organizational phone number, voicemail, an employee phone directory, etc. That’s where Grasshopper comes in. They host the PBX, and connect calls to my phone. Voicemails are e-mailed to me, or available via an iPhone app. Starts at $12/month.
Like most everybody, I host organizational e-mail via Google Apps. Not only is it drop-dead simple, but their support of two-factor authentication gives me one less thing to worry about. $5/month/user.
The days of having to shell out a few hundred bucks for Microsoft Office are over thanks to, again, Google Apps. $5/month/user.
The US ODI’s website is hosted on GitHub Pages. Cost: $0. I’ve got an Amazon Web Services account should I need to host anything that won’t work there, which I can just drop some files into S3. Cost: literal pennies.
The grand total is $279/month, with $200 of that for Zirtual. The equivalent services a decade ago would have been a great deal more expensive, or more crude. I’m not sure what’s been more powerfully beneficial to entrepreneurship: the shift towards internet-hosted business services, or the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps we’ll know in a few years.