Four Startup Challenges that Technology Can Help Solve
Many startups think that their greatest challenge is to get funding. Sure, that’s tough. And when you do find a willing investor, half the battle is won. But after that, the real work begins. You need to build a good team, put in place processes and infrastructure, innovate, and of course, pursue aggressive marketing strategies.
All these activities have to be done as cost-effectively as possible to generate maximum returns on investment. This is where many startups struggle, and don’t always succeed. But fortunately, we live in a time when technology has advanced so much that even the most bootstrapped startups can find ways to save costs while executing their business as well as any of the big companies. So here’s how technology can help your startup:
Hire Talented Employees
According to Silicon Valley Bank’s Startup Outlook 2013 Hiring Report, nine out of ten startups plan to hire new employees, but an equal number say it is challenging to find workers with the skills they need.
As a result, many are turning to social media tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to seek out and screen potential candidates. For tech startups that want to go deeper, Gild—a recruiting solutions provider—offers in-depth, quick, and targeted solutions for accessing top developers, and matching their skills to a startup’s requirements.
ODesk and vWorker (now part of Freelancer.com) are two companies that connect top freelancer tech professionals to startups. Similarly, Elance, an online marketplace for freelancers, offers a StartUp Cloud that helps entrepreneurs tap into the “human” cloud, and find a wide range of freelancers. Earlier this year, when we at MetricStream needed technical sales support resources in New Zealand, 6,500 miles away from our headquarters, we turned to Elance. Within two weeks we had the talent we needed.
What’s exciting is the breadth of hiring possibilities available. Just a few months ago, The New York Times carried an article on how Gild is using Big Data algorithms to automate the search for talented programmers.
Set Up Your IT Infrastructure
As a startup, you want to conserve costs. You also want to have the requisite IT infrastructure to manage your operations. How do you create an effective balance between the two? Opt for the cloud.
Some of the most well-known startups today such as Pinterest, Airbnb, SmugMug, and Instagram have been built on cloud technology. The most popular cloud service providers are Amazon Web Services, Rackspace, and Salesforce.com. These companies offer economies of scale with low upfront costs and pay-as-you-grow economic models, enabling companies to start out small and “lean,” and seamlessly scale up and grow.
If you’re looking at individual cloud-based systems, there are many to choose from. For CRM, there’s SalesCloud from Salesforce.com. For intuitive accounting, there’s FreshBooks and QuickBooks. And for email, file storage, document management, and presentations, there’s always Google Apps for Business.
Collaborate for Innovation
In a startup, collaboration is so important because it encourages teams to brainstorm, build ideas, act upon them quickly, and share information—all of which are essential for driving innovation. To start off, tools like Yammer and Salesforce.com’s Chatter are great because they help create communication and innovation hubs.
Basecamp is another popular collaboration tool for organizing projects and conversations, tracking discussions, and maintaining to-do lists. Similarly, TeamBox provides one place for sharing tasks, new ideas, discussions, and files. Both tools are paid for, but effective. There’s also Google Docs which supports collaborative document editing, and is cost-effective.
As far as video collaboration goes, we at MetricStream still use Skype—it’s great and completely free of cost. We also use internal wikis to capture FAQs and best practices, and reference information.
An important part of collaborative innovation is creating a repository of ideas. Dropbox is popular, as it provides a centralized location for teams to store, share, and access files anytime and anywhere.
Get Your Brand Noticed
When MetricStream was launching GRCIntelligence.com, we needed a logo. So we turned to 99designs, a large online graphic design marketplace that connects designers with customers. For $299, we launched a logo design contest, received over 100 entries, and picked our logo.
But getting your brand noticed takes more than a logo.
Many people are talking about the Dollar Shave Club—a startup that shot to fame after the company’s funny YouTube video went viral. The video, which cost just $4,500 to make, has already been viewed over ten million times. What a way to get your brand noticed!
Videos are a great tool to create lasting impression on customers. And if you don’t have the budget for a professional videographer, a handheld camera will work just fine.
There are many other cool and cost-effective marketing tools. Want to create a company website? Opt for WordPress—it’s free, and offers thousands of plugins and themes. Want to begin conversations around your brand? Build a Facebook or Twitter presence. Want to know who’s discussing your company or industry? Explore Google Trends or Alerts.
To develop a good website SEO strategy, choose from tools like Google’s Keyword Tool to check for monthly search volumes, Raven Tools or Majestic SEO for research analysis and link-building, and SEOMoz (now known as Moz) to track keyword rankings and links.
And at the end of the day, don’t forget to measure the effectiveness of your marketing strategies. Google Analytics is good at helping you calculate sales and conversions, and determine ways to keep your customers coming back to your site.
Putting together the right toolkit for your startup is important to get your business up and running. But first, take the time to properly define and prioritize your business strategies and goals. This will help you zero in on the tools and systems you need and don’t need. For instance, you might not really need the cloud. So be clear about what you want. Do the research. Be realistic about your budgets. And if you find something that works, stick with it.