Startups, by their nature, don’t have much cash to burn. They need to make the most of their skills and free tools that are available to them.
I have compiled a list of tools that we used at knudger.com & pledgup.com to get us started. There are a whole host of tools out there that startups can use. I think the first decision is to decide on what works best for you? What technology stack are you going to use? When you decide this, you can then look at what’s available out there.
1. Microsoft Bizspark
This is, without doubt, an exceptional offering to startups from Microsoft. Since our background was using .NET, we immediately looked to see what was out there for startups. If you become a member of the Microsoft Bizspark program, you get access to all of the microsoft tools and licences you can imaging. And, it’s all free for the first 3 years. This is a really good offer that we used. We were able to get the latest versions of Visual Studio, SQL Server, Azure hosting, Office suite, basically everything we needed to run a successful business fro the get go. As I said, all licences are free for the first 3 years (definitely long enough for any startup to see if their product will fly). Getting accepted onto the program was really easy. We just applied and were accepted within a few days.
2. Microsoft Azure
We initially used dedicated servers as they were the cheaper option back in the day. Azure was only coming onstream at the time and there was not much about Amazon AWS and the rest at the time. Since then Scott Gu has taken over the Azure product and really turned it around. Azure is really tightly integrated with Visual Studio and SQL Server now. You can publish everything from within Visual Studio to the cloud with the click of a button. The management console is simple to configure and you can have your website up and running in less than an hour.
3. Twitter Bootstrap
Graphic design is something that developers always grapple with. It is rare that you will get a developer who is also a great designer. Most tech startups have a development team but no designers. The guys in Twitter came up with this really excellent Twitter Bootstrap framework which allows developers to create really nice looking responsive designs. There are loads of examples of designs from the twitter guys. Take a look here. Wrap Bootstrap has loads of templates that you can buy for cheap. One tool that we used again and again is easel.io . This is a really brilliant graphical interface which lets you build great designs from the bottom up using the bootstrap framework. You really should check this out if you’re serious about getting your design right.
Any software development company worth their salt nowadays will be using wireframes to mockup their product designs. Wireframes are a great tool to graphically represent your designs and decide on the best workflow for your site. We work with distributed teams and clients here at Engine Lab Software and so wireframes work great for us when trying to explain designs and hammer out specs. The client gets to see how their product will look & flow at the early stage and can see how things will look before a line of code is written.
There are lots of wireframing tools out there. We used mozilla firefox pencil for a while (until mozilla stopped supporting it). There are some really great premium products out there such as Axure. This has all the bells & whistles and you can generate excellent designs.
Probably the most used free tool out there is Balsamiq. This is a feature rich free wireframe mockup tool that most startups are using.
5. Stand on the Shoulders of Giants
Ok, so this may be an obvious one, but you are not the first to do this! You may think that you have a genuinely unique idea (and maybe you have) but you can always do a quick search and find pages of blog posts from other entrepreneurs writing about their experiences. There are some really brilliant entrepreneurs out there that you can follow and really learn from. The most notable that I have come across is Steve Blank. Steve has written brilliant books such as The Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Startup Owners Manual. I would recommend that you read these books. Steve tries to create a recipe that most successful startups follow. He has a vast experience of the tech industry and really gives lots of his experience away for free. He also created the online course, How To Build A Startup, which covers topics such as value proposition, customer acquisition, channels & partnering. It’s free to access and well worth a look.
Check out this blog post from Steve that gives all of the free tools available to startups.