Starting a Company – Tips and Tricks from our first month

Starting a company (as I understand it from my older peers) once required a great deal of coordination and assistance. The stories of polyester suit visits to the local bank have all but slipped into historical memory. Today the buzz word is “boot strapping” a business. The bar to reach now only requires a good idea and some planning to start a company for under a few thousand dollars. Here is how Spec Ops Technology got there…

Legal Formation:

Legal Zoom allowed us to establish a LLC for less than 600 dollars…expedited…The process was seamless and the product delivered (namely the official stamper which is loads of fun) met our immediate needs to become registered with the proper govt. agencies. Total Cost: Less than 600 dollars for NJ

Email/Calendar/Address Book/Intranet:

I am not sure if there is any other option that Google Apps. Google has showcased its willingness to embrace small business by offering free accounts and large marketplace support for Single-Sign On (SSO) applications. In addition they have recognized the need for multi-factor authentication and provided OpenID capable portals and tokens for phones. The idea of running my own server in a data center or at the house seems archaic. Living in a dependable cloud ensures we hit the availability numbers necessary to be successful. Total Cost: Free for 5 users

Book Keeping/Invoicing/Payroll:

I hate Intuit. We should start there as its a great pretense for why we went with them. In the face of countless other great options we quickly realized that industry standards and interoperability mattered more to us than the pure hate in our hearts. QuickBooks Online allows us to do payroll, invoice, and book keeping from a single application that supports iPad and other mobile apps. The key take-away was an integrated solution that we could export data and hand over to the thousands of quickbooks familiar CPA come tax season. Total Cost: 69 dollars a month with 30 days free

Small Business Banking:

Bank of America is also not one of my favorite companies. After comparing the services and capabilities we simply landed with what fit best. Their small business centric products and support for small lines of credit offered us the opportunity to grow ahead of that Net-30 Dragon. Total Cost: Fees are associated with the quantity of money kept with them. Also Credit Card rates vary

Trip Planning:

We are an international business from Day-1. My co-founder and I both come from large defense contractors where picking up the phone the night before corporate travel was not uncommon. Realizing that we were more than capable we moved to Web Based solutions. With Kayak and TripIt we are able to book affordable travel and automate team location coordination. Both integrate well into the Google Apps space. Total Cost: Free, but Business Plans for add-ons have additional costs

Expense Tracking and Submission:

Expensify was the easiest way to integrate with Google Apps and provide a decent work-flow for submission of travel reports by our employees. The categorization and pretty reports are perfect for shipping off to our customers for invoicing. Total Cost: Free, but Business Plans for add-ons have additional costs

Teleconferencing:

Sorry Twit.tv network and Leo, but GoToMeeting just wasn’t cheap enough or extensive enough to support the multiple OS and platform in use by our teams. Fuze Meeting on the other hand was cheaper and met our technical requirements. The Skype, Linux, Google Apps, and international dial-in support sealed the deal. Total Cost: 39 dollars a month for unlimited meetings. International dial-in #’s and additional features have associated costs.

Templates:

T&M Contract? Site agreements? NDA? So many documents we used to having at our disposal are gone when you venture on your own. DocStoc has given us a repo to share and pull from. It can be difficult to find “useful” templates as they just scavenge the inter tubes for documents, but there are some very nice ones in the piles of rubbish. Total Cost: 11 dollars a month

International Plans:

We are recommending the purchase of unlocked quad band phones. This allows our employees to be in any country and purchase a pre-paid SIM to keep in touch with. The phone isn’t the best option as the cost of data and voice is still extremely expensive. It is a necessary evil at this point until Wifi or data-only plans become prevalent. Side note: Tmobile and AT&T you both suck. 3 dollars a minute for some VERY common countries?!? Total Cost: Passport Plus depending on options is around 50 dollars

Voice/Video conferencing:

If we aren’t using Fuze Meetings and the meeting happens to be my partner and I just working on some contracts, Skype is hard to beat. The latest versions addition of screen-sharing make it that much simpler to quickly setup a call or chat. We are looking to move to XMPP/SIP based systems in the future due to multi platform support, but for now its the recognized standard. With that said…Skype 5 on Mac is an abomination and I hate whichever UX designer thought this was a good idea: Total Cost: Free

Information Technology:

In a broad description these are the bits and pieces of IT stuff required to perform work. As a big geek it always bothered me that my tools were dictated to be efficient with that work. CTO/CIO are obviously troubled at the idea of supporting multiple platforms and baselines, but for a specialized engineering firm like ours it is less of an issue. Instead we took a “requirements drive design” approach and set criteria your IT stuff must support. File formats, tools listed above, security constraints, etc. Also we made it very clear that the IT must never be in the way of completing work in a timely fashion. In return for the ability to pick your toolbox, we expect you to comply with the requirements and provide a stipend to keep your tools fresh. A side-note here is that Google fell flat on this requirement. Security is VERY important to us and the fact Android phones lack basic encryption makes them a non-starter. Ice Cream I hear might fix this, but until it does we cannot recommend or reimburse folks for the ability to carry our companies data on them. Total Cost: Stipend to employees

Document Collaboration:

Google Docs is amazing for simple documents. We are beginning to question the long-term usage due to some of the sizes and complexity of files we produce, but for now it is a good revision controlled document system. Total Cost: Free

That is all I have for now. I am on a flight with no wifi, but power receptacles, so I wanted to type this while fresh on my mind. Hope this helps other entrepreneurs out there.

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