Online Tools for A New Small Business

One of the interesting things I’ve been doing recently has been looking at support tools for running a new company. I remember Ev writing about this a couple years ago. This research was pretty new for me since none of the following services even existed when we started Upcoming (not that we had any need for most of these anyway; we were focused exclusively on building a cool app: our only capital cost was servers [offset by AdSense] and our burn rate was our cost of living).

Anyway, after a day or two of poking around, here’s a list of the top picks (and in some cases, worthy alternatives):

  • Google Apps – a no-brainer for email and document sharing. Unfortunately, while good for individual services, its functionality for even basic sharing is rudimentary to non-existent. Shared documents require manually sharing each document (no shared spaces) and there’s no concept of shared email (for handling shared support, customer service, etc.)

    Price: free

  • Dropbox – Fully integrated w/ on the Desktop, up to 2GB. It just works.

    Price: free

  • FogBugz On Demand – I’ve been using hosted FogBugz for a couple years now. It still has some UI rough edges (although less than JIRA, I suppose) and its Evidence-Based Scheduling is a unique (and awesome) feature. Also, it’ll hook up to email for handling support, which fills in that gap. So, we’re using it for Task, Issue, Effort, and Support Tracking.

    Price: free (2 person Student and Startup Edition)

  • Xero – the international edition (they are New Zealand-based) of this Accounting service was released just a couple days ago, but so far I’ve been incredibly impressed by the functionality and polish. It’s far better than anything else we looked. Besides all the regular banking features, it also does Invoicing and Expense claims tracking. (Reading about the company itself is interesting – I guess there aren’t lots of NZ startups, and the fact that they did an early IPO means all their early growth numbers are public record).

    Price: ~$25/mo (NZ$499/yr)

  • PipelineDeals – after reviewing all the big CRM tools (starting with Salesforce and SugarCRM) I was feeling pretty depressed – they’re all ridiculously bloated, clunky, and just pretty much unusable. I couldn’t imagine being forced to use anything like that on a daily basis. PipelineDeals was a breath of fresh air and supported everything we need for contact tracking as well as providing the best lead/sales tools that I found.

    Price: $15/mo per user

    One alternative worth highlighting is Relenta (Demo l/p:demo). It integrates a shared email system with contact management (it also supports pretty robust email campaigns/newsletters) with support for canned response, auto-responders, role filtering, etc. I remember talking about an app like this w/ some friends years ago, and it’s a great implementation. It wasn’t a good fit for us since we needed something for, well, selling stuff (a surprise, I know), but if your needs are more customer support focused, be sure to take a look at Relenta. I also looked at Highrise, which is slick, but found it to be pretty shallow.

  • MailChimp – although CampaignMonitor is nice, its per/campaign pricing model didn’t make a lot of sense for our use. Mailchimp’s more flexible pricing (which includes monthly pricing) was a better fit, and support for segmentation and A/B testing I guess makes up for individual stats being an add-on. (Vertical Response is another service that has some interesting services like Online Surveys and Snail Mail Postcards, so that might be worth looking into, but at least by my Twitter @replies, MailChimp won out unanimously).

    Price: $10/mo (0-500 subscribers)

Lastly, while Silicon Valley Bank got a lot of love for being the bank for startups, for the day to day business needs (bill/direct payments, business taxes, payroll, merchant account) it looks like Wells Fargo Small Business is a much better fit. Other payroll options include SurePayroll (which used to do WF’s payroll) and PayCycle, although I’m not sure there’s enough of a cost difference to justify the extra hassle. That being said, it might be worthwhile to use Costco/Elavon Merchant Processing.

There are a few other things that we’ll probably end up trying out (UserVoice, GetSatisfaction, maybe some MOO cards) but I think this pretty much covers most (if not all) of our business needs. Anything I’m missing? Or are there any favorite apps/services that people like? Feel free to comment.

See also:

Update: Zoho looks pretty decent as an all-around solution, anyone try it? One caveat I should mention w/ the use lotsa apps approach is that I’ll need to spend a bit of time writing glue code for syncing contacts between the CRM and everything else (most of the tools appear to have decent APIs, but still a bit of a pain).