The Best Free Stuff For Startups

The past couple of years has seen Unified Inbox grow from a pure startup to a small company – all without the aid of large scale external investment. And when stretched to the limits of that proverbial oily rag, you discover that there are many great productivity tools and (often free) networking opportunities that can make all the difference in terms of whether you make the end of the month, or make the decision to shut up shop.

The best of these tools and opportunities I’ve come across over the last couple of years include:

(1) Programs & Memberships:

  • Startup America Program: Opens up a whole world of special deals to your startup. One of my favourite deals there is the Regus Gold Card which gives you one year free access to hundreds of offices in cities around the world. Comes in handy when you need a quick refreshment with an internet connection or a meeting room (payable) to professionally connect with local business partners. (Note: you might need an US based physical address to register for Startup America – there are many services that offer this though).
  • IBM Global Entrepreneur Program: A bit more difficult to get in, this program is relatively unknown in the startup community. However it can give you up to 3 years (mostly free) access to some of IBMs best software & service resources, connects you internationally with people, businesses and investors through the global Smartcamp and other events. It also makes you an official IBM partner.
  • Microsofts BizSpark Program for startups. This program has been well covered since partnering with TechStars. Needless to say it’s an awesome resource for software & services from Microsoft, including free hosting in their Azure cloud platform (not only Microsoft technologies by the way – you may as well run Linux + PHP!). I wonder why Amazon doesn’t have program like that yet.

(2) Websites, Apps, Tools & Services:

  • AngelList (the premier site to present your product & team to investors)
  • Evernote (nothing beats it to keep a paperless office. Works best in conjunction with ScanSnap)
  • Asana (free project & task management up to 30(!) team members)
  • Yammer (helps to keep the team aligned, especially if you’re not working in the same office)
  • Unified Inbox (by invitation only – nothing beats it when it comes to the collaboration between your team and communicating that to the world – disclaimer: I’m one of the founders so my opinion may be subjective)
  • Lastpass (organizes and synchronizes your passwords and access rights into simple folders which can optionally be shared between team members at a minimal cost) – their other product “Xmarks” is also pretty cool in syncing links between different browsers and team members.
  • Confluence (probably one of the best and for small teams – up to 10 people – affordable Wikis out there these days)
  • Google Docs (the form tools- ideal to get survey results back into a simple excel sheet which data you can reprocess anywhere else and easily tucked into your own webpage to increase that professional look and feel)
  • Mailchimp (excellent to keep sending out personalized updates and newsletters to your team, clients, advisors and investors while keeping track of who actually reads them or not)
  • WordPress (one of the most powerful and versatile blogging systems out there. It can also easily function as a CMS or a small shopping cart system. Personally I think it’s very valuable if one of the founders in a startup can blog regularly about their journey and experiences)

Also, the LinkedIn & Twitter search plugins (here for Firefox but exist for other browsers as well – see this complete “search engines plugin” collection for Firefox) – just saves you a few seconds in networking every day.

I’m still looking for the perfect Startup CRM though. I’ve tried Contactually (cool, smart, minimalistic), Salesforce (the mammut), Highrise (easy & simple), Nimble (social) and while they’re all great in their own right, we just haven’t found the perfect match that plays nice with the other tools for us at Unified Inbox. Any suggestions?

(3) Events & Networking:

Many internationally well known and recognized startup events have now started to charge entry fees and have become almost religious “celebrity events” – great parties though :)

However checking your local Eventbrite and Meetup sites often return great networking opportunities, for instance Startup Grind, local Tech meetups and so on. Or, if you already know whom you want to reach out to an meet in person, follow them on Plancast to be at the right place in the right time – but don’t stalk them, please :-)

Many events are free and often have great speakers and other experienced entrepreneurs who share their stories and if they have a bigger sponsor you might even be able to steal yourself a slice of pizza for dinner (I’m not suggesting you do that, but I met one entrepreneur who had calculated by attending one meetup a week, he could reduce his monthly food bills by 25%. And when every bit counts, that saving could be the one that allows you to go the extra month to financial security).

And once you’ve made it? Just remember what it took to get there and sponsor a networking meal every now and then – maybe include a salad course – and help give back what it took to take your startup from an idea to the next level.

6 thoughts on “The Best Free Stuff For Startups

  1. Love the list, and great to see we both have similar preferences in apps, tools and services. I would also add Slideshare right next to Twitter and LinkedIn for your company’s branding and marketing position, and Crunchbase if applicable. Great list!

  2. This a good list. I might add Basecamp for to do lists and Toutapp for email tracking. It is hard for a startup to find the right CRM. I would be concerned also just to go with any new CRM startup. Even if its good you might be concerned how long they would be in business.

    • Basecamp is a good point, true. We’re using Asana instead but have used Basecamp before. Meantime I’d like to add IFTTT and Zapier to the mix. CRM wise there is a lot of choice at the moment and we’re still evaluating a lot of them. Tout is nice. I hope we can integrate them one day in Unified Inbox. In the meantime we’re using the built-in templating functionality that’s there in Unified Inbox itself.

  3. Thanks Toby

    We have started earning a small amount of revenue through advertising and all co-owners have equity options with zero salaries. I am having a look at the links you have posted which are a great help.

  4. Hi Toby

    Great article and very helpful. I am a co-owner of a sports website that is looking to do things differently from the rest of the pack. Being a startup and with only a small investment into our company, what do you think a good step would be to progress?

    Cheers

    • Too hard to tell without knowing more details. For instance having a small investment + revenue vs. no revenue makes a big difference. Also having the team working with equity options rather than a full salary is a significant difference early on (which I don’t know if it applies for you). Independently, having a good strategy in place for how to measure progress is crucial and recording various metrics along the way makes it less emotional and more data driven. A good example would be the One Page Strategic Plan by Results.com and the Business Canvas by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur (both are free to download).

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