Tips from the frontline: Bootstrapping for Startups

Drummond Gilbert is in an ex-accountant currently developing gocarshare.com, a website that helps people share car journeys. Integrated with Facebook, and boasting its own mobile app, gocarshare.com will be free to use for individual drivers and passengers and will open up car-sharing as a cost effective and green way to travel. The site is slated to launch this June.

If you would like to contact Drummond you can do so via his e-mail, or on twitter @drummondgilbert. For more info on Drummond and the company, head over to his blog at gocarshare.com or join the facebook fan page.

By DRUMMOND GILBERT

How low can you go?

Bootstrapping is the process of setting up a business on a limited budget with very little external funding. It’s the approach I am taking with gocarshare. So what constitutes essential expenditure and where can you cut costs without cutting corners?

Communication & Collaboration

I’ve signed up for a worldwide subscription to Skype, which gives me free calls to landlines around the world. I have also signed up for the Skype voicemail service and a Skype out number; I’ve been working out in France over the last few months, this had made things considerably easier for me, as people have been able to call me on my UK number for the price of a local call, meaning that despite the fact that I am many miles away from the people I am working with, the distance is effectively irrelevant.

Skype has the potential to lower your phone bill considerably; it also makes it easier to contact people from all over the world. If you are not using it already you definitely should be considering it.

Design Services

I set up a logo design competition on the website 99designs.com, this has allowed people from around the world to compete on my logo design for gocarshare. The price I paid for the logo was perhaps a quarter of what it would cost to get a professional logo designer to do it for me.

It also enabled me to allow people who had joined the various gocarshare social media sites to vote on the winner, thereby making the process more interactive and building the site’s profiles.

Whenever making a purchase it pays to think ‘how can I get this cheaper?’ If I am buying a product or service off the Internet and I see a voucher code box in the check out process, I always do a quick Google search to see if there are any vouchers available for it; more often than not there are and it represents quick and easy savings.

Effective Marketing

Scores of people have been telling me about the importance of marketing a site effectively; that to get people using it, you have to market it very well. I totally agree, what I am not so sure about is whether it is necessary to spend a lot of money on achieving it.

I am still at the brainstorming stage as far as the marketing goes, but here are a few things that I am doing already: using social network sites; by interacting with people on twitter who are going to events where car sharing is a viable option, I am building up a big potential user database. Yes, it takes time … a lot, but it is free!

Other than that, I have a facebook site and I am also experimenting with new social media sites which I think is essential if you are to stand out:  Getgrogger is an interactive blog or ‘grog’ that let’s anyone contribute articles about your business, Sprouter is a twitter style contacting service but particularly for entrepreneurs. There are so many new sites; the key is to decide which are going to be big in six months time.

Public Relations

As far as PR goes, hiring a PR agency is only really an option if you have over £10k to launch your campaign; as I don’t, I’ll be doing the PR myself. I’ll be using all my contacts in the press and any contacts my friends have, I’ll be interacting with interesting journalists on twitter building up contacts. I know it’ll be hard work, but I also know that I can be a lot more passionate about my business than any PR agency can be.

Website Development

One area that I thought long and hard about is the website development. There are a lot of strong arguments for keeping costs down and only launching with the features that are really necessary in you first build. Then testing your product on the market, seeing people’s reaction, then going back and making changes. For me, the website, is the business – if people aren’t impressed they won’t use the website. Spending too little is a false economy, and that is why I have decided that a very significant portion of the businesses budget will be devoted to website development.

In short, the Internet provides an invaluable tool to make savings but don’t neglect to take into account the value of your own time and the fact that investing in quality really does pay.

25 Best Practices for Startups from the Front Line

Tomorrow on Startup Saturdays we will feature – The Foundation for Global Collaboration and Peace –  and when we received their response to our questions – the advice was overwhelming, so instead of putting everything into one long post, we decided to split it in two.

As such here are the majority of best practices as coined by the FGCP.

1. Try to be as transparent as possible (nobody knows you when you’re a startup, show them who you are by your actions)

2. Only make promises you can deliver

3. Take time to think over decisions before making them

4. Make time for yourself and your loved ones

5. Listen more than you talk/do

6. Give credit where it’s due

7. Refuse to be taken hostage by seemingly immediate needs–other solutions will come in due time

8. Keep your eye on both the long-term and short-term horizon

9. Be your own best cheerleader and loudest critic (when in doubt, choose the first)

10. Learn to admit when you’re wrong (what’s more important to you, having a pristine ego with no one around to give a hoot or a good team that appreciates you as a fellow human being?)

11. Correct mistakes whenever possible and feasible

12. Be open to unanticipated opportunities and leave room for unforeseen errors–give yourself some breathing room

13. Treat people like intelligent human beings, until proven otherwise

14. Know the difference between assumptions and facts and be especially vigilant toward assumptions underlying other assumptions

15. Do your research: make sure that expert advice you’re getting is suited to your organization’s needs.  If that’s unclear, ask the person to clarify and get a second/third opinion.

16. You are NOT your enterprise: we want our business to grow bigger than ourselves, so learn to let go when the time is right.

17. Check in with yourself once a day to take stock of how you’re feeling

18. Be honest with yourself: don’t put on a happy face just because you think you should.  It’s better to realize that things are going wrong and deal with them than leaving them to get worse and become unmanageable.

19. Know your cash flow.  LOVE your cash flow.

20. Get enough sleep

21. Have a good sense of proportionality: a) setbacks are not the end of the world; b) you are not god; and c) neither are your expert advisers

22. Trust reason above good delivery

23. It’s better to do and fail than to do nothing at all

24. Celebrate small victories, even if no one else appreciates them

25. Get to know your limitations and learn to say no

Don’t waste money on proprietary software when open source will do.

BY F3FUNDIT

The amount of capital funneled into R&D of proprietary software is simply staggering. Microsoft itself spends over $7B annually on R&D and while a big boy, that is only one company – aggregate the total amount spent annually and you’re talking GDP of a small European country.

Given that R&D for proprietary software means progress, and progress is key to our lives, and given that certain industries will need proprietary software, i.e. military. But even looking at something as pivotal to business as ERP – you see that SAP leads the bunch with its Business Software Solutions pack, and given that the advantage of SAP is the customization of its product towards your or any given industry – for which companies shell out absurdly large amounts of money, which then get passed on to consumers as the economic food chain states.

But why not take another approach, and one that has been picking up speed in various countries across the world. Open Source – you can usually find open source counterparts to many proprietary software packages for next to nothing, or as it happens – free.

Your company needs an office suite, why give MSFT your hard earned money, when Sun’s Open Office will do the job fine, both French and Norwegian governments already use it – and if you need VBA for those extraordinarily fun financial models, Open Office has BASIC, same thing a few different commands that any VBA programmer can pick up in a heartbeat, and money in the pocket.

The same goes for ERP, yes, SAP is huge, global, and a magnate, and yes it can be customized to meet your specific needs, but so can its commercial open source counterparts, namely Sugar CRM, xTuple, and Compiere – whiopen_sourcech offer an alternative to shelling out $4,250 (data circa 2004) per user, with commercial open source, you’re still paying for it, ERP implementation is recource intensive, and no matter where you look is not cheap, but you’re not putting up front the types of fees associated with a proprietary ERP system like SAP.

This stuff even extends to entertainment software, with OGRE a 3D open source graphics engine, physics simulators, and can even be seen in OS’ like OS X that are in part free BSD – furthermore the more people use open source, the more money will be funneled towards its innovation – leading to a win-win for pretty much everyone, and if I remember correctly from business school, we all want to achieve win-win situations.

So why the post, simply put, many start ups, SME’s and even mature organizations often forego open source for proprietary software without really knowing what it can offer them and the savings that it can bring – and many software developers often dismiss the importance of open source products in enterprises for just that reason. But with a hefty recession on our laps – shouldn’t