In 1975, two college dropouts decided to create a computer software company; little did they know the monumental impact they would have on the world. The company, called Microsoft, began out of one of the founders' garage - a man by the name of Bill Gates (heard of him?). Eleven years later, that small company went public. and has since created 3 billionaires and over 12,000 millionaires.
The point of this story is to highlight a unique phenomenon created by the hi-tech boom - the startup company. These companies typically begin as bootstrapped ventures, launched by one to three founders. In most cases, the founders have at least one thing in common: a passion for their product or service, to the point where many don't even take a salary for the first few years.
We are living in exciting times, where new startup companies with amazing technologies seem to be cropping up daily. From Silicon Valley, to Silicon Alley, to Silicon Wadi (and now, Silicon Prairie), startups have taken the world by storm. Many startups eventually raise the finances they need to grow, but prior to that, they find themselves in a quagmire. They must ask themselves what tools are necessary for success, and how they can be attained on a limited budget.
Here are the 5 must-have resources for early-stage startups:
- Customer Relationship Management Software - When it comes to CRMs, Salesforce is the king. However, given its hefty price tag, many startups are unable to afford it. There are several lower cost CRMs that can fit any budget. One unique take on CRM is the amazing platform provided by Nimble. Coined as a "Social Relationship Manager," Nimble lets you find meaningful relationships through social media, and nurture them. It also syncs your contact list, so you can engage with the people that matter most to your business.
The greatest thing that Nimble offers startups is its price; starting at $15 a month, it's a steal for any company. Nimble identifies potential leads based on titles and shared connections. The platform also enables users to set a timeline with reminders for when to get in touch with important contacts.
- Web Conferencing Software - Many startups are located in home offices, or in parts of the world that are geographically far from their customers and investors. In the digital age, the world is flatter than it's ever been. With the advent of online conferencing software, founders can meet with any person, located anywhere in the world, at any time.
There are several good web conferencing software options for startups, all of which are reasonably priced. Citrix has a suite of conferencing software, including GoToMeeting, which is optimized for business meetings, and GoToWebinar, designed for one-way online presentations.
Another tool is Skype, a free voice-over-IP serve that has excellent functionality. Generally speaking, Skype is the most well known video conferencing software, but it seems to be used more for one-on-one discussions than for business meetings - although it can be used for both. Skype is a great choice for startups because of its price (free), its simplicity and its widespread use. Remember Microsoft from before; they bought Skype for $8.5 billion in 2011.
- Project Management Tools - A startup, by definition, is a chaotic environment. With all the excitement, passion and innovation that comes with being in one, organizing tasks can sometimes fall by the wayside. There are some excellent tools that allow startups to keep their tasks organized, so that nothing falls between the cracks.
One such program is Trello, a free SaaS solution for project management. Trello is cloud-based and can be accessed by an entire team. The platform allows you to create multiple boards. Within each board, you can create tasks and assign them to one or more team members. Users can create a workflow (idea->in progress->ready for review->complete) that can be shared in real-time with the entire team.
- Email Marketing - There are several SaaS programs geared towards enabling companies to conduct email-marketing campaigns. While some of them are quite expensive, and therefore not accessible to young startups, there are some that won't break the bank, and still provide powerful functionality.
Companies like Constant Contact, iContact, Mailchimp and others all offer reasonable pricing and great features. It's not just the ability to send out email campaigns that is important - it's also the ability to test their effectiveness. The A/B testing features offered by these services are a perfect way for young companies to hone their email marketing messaging and strategies in order to successfully grow their companies.
- Social Media Marketing Platform - Social media is no longer an option, it's a necessity. Regardless of which market a startup operates in, or whether it's B2C or B2B, all startups need to establish a social presence to boost awareness. With B2B companies, social is all the more important as a tool to distribute marketing content on a large-scale, particularly through LinkedIn. While utilizing paid marketing platforms is often outside the scope of an early-stage startup's budget, Oktopost, the B2B social media marketing platform, offers startups free access to its platform. Oktopost enables early-stage startups to grow their business exponentially through the viral power of social media, without having to dip into their scarce piggy banks.
These are some of the tools we're using, anything else to add? What has your experience been with them?