We are so excited to bring you guys this series by one of Bootstrappist’s very own, Rob Lauer. He is a partner in TBC Development Group, LLC who, along with Lauer-Millen CPAs has developed Treasurer’s Briefcase, a cloud based accounting solution for small non-profits. Over the next few weeks he’ll be sharing how he leveraged various tools and resources to bootstrap his startup. — Ben & Ryan
Creating a Company from Parts You Have Laying Around the House
It can seem overwhelming. You have a great idea, talent, enthusiasm, but limited resources. How do you build a startup from things you have laying around the kitchen? Or in this case, the internet.
Luckily, we’re standing on the shoulders of giant resources today. There are an incredible number of free assets at your disposal to help you build a virtual company out of… well… virtually nothing. Yes, I know. You’ve heard it before. But what exactly do I need and what actually works?
In the following articles, I’m going to tell you about the things we’ve used. Not things we thought about using, or I “suggest” you consider. These are things we’ve actually used and have worked for us. Of course, every startup is different, but every startup has basic needs you must fill. Here then is the list of basic needs as I see them.
- Team Collaboration Tools
- Software Tools
Here’s how we are filling them…
Team Collaboration Tools
If someone other than yourself is working on the project you need team collaboration tools. E-mail and texting are just not going to cut it. If you’ve ever wasted 10 minutes looking through your email for documents or some idea your partners sent you, then you wasted 10 minutes you could have been coding. We needed a tool that allowed us to segment, assign, prioritize, track, and record, projects, tasks, ideas and documents. We found Asana.
Developed by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, this is a tool you can leverage within minutes of signing up for collaboration and team communication. If you have a team, you need to record task assignments publicly and in a system that will track when it was assigned, and when it is due.
Asana allows you to not only assign tasks, but to follow them, so you and your team can participate in and monitor progress.
Asana will send reminders (nags) when tasks are due and allow team members to update tasks with notes and attach documents to those tasks. Your entire team can follow tasks and Asana will email them whenever the task has a new event. Total transparency to projects and tasks!
I’m generally the one creating and assigning tasks and I’m not shy about pushing and delegating tasks and adding team members to the follow list. You can always adjust the due dates and who the task is assigned to later. The important thing is to get the task fleshed out and let others see it appear on their radar.
Asana even integrates with other cloud based document solutions. Upload documents for your team from either Dropbox or your computer. Don’t underestimate the value of shared storage! It’s a simple collaboration enabling technology that you should use from day one. We upload all of our marketing pieces, graphics, requirements documents and even spreadsheets that need to be reviewed so that all team members have access to them right on the relevant task.
Give access to Asana projects to all members of your team (consider the extended team – freelancers, friends, associates, etc), if there’s no need to be secret, don’t be. Create a shared experience that they all can access from their iPhone, Android Phone (new feature in Asana) and web browsers.
Unless you’re a lone wolf, as a startup you WILL rely on rapid, constant, clear communications between team members to promote, shoot down or prop up the latest brainstorm. Your startup needs frictionless communication methods as much as your brain needs oxygen. You need to embrace something that allows communications at the speed of startups. Asana – it’s free – and it works.
Document, document, document. The faster your startup is going the more you need to document. You’re running an experiment and like all good scientists you should keep meticulous records of what you do. Keeping notes is not just a good idea – it’s a requirement. There is a lot of value in the information you are producing – what works, what doesn’t. Tips, secrets, usernames, passwords, file locations, URLs, contacts, etc. Gather it all up and make it accessible to the team.
I’ve created wikis that show how to startup EC2 instance on the Amazon cloud, provision databases, set up our mail server, manage our domain names on GoDaddy.com, etc. Our wiki is the notebook you hope your system engineers are keeping.
We use a wiki called TWiki, but any wiki will do. Install any one of the open source wikis on your development site and start using it. Your code must also be documented so your team members can use the APIs you’re developing. Document the infrastructure setup as well as its care and feeding (in other words – keep it up to date!). Explain it all in your development wikis so new team members can quickly get up to speed and you can quickly access the valuable howtos you’ve been developing. Trust me, if you are going at the right speed you will be forgetting much of what you did last week and you will be patting yourself on the back when all you have to do is follow your bread crumbs.
Favor substance over form. Back of the napkin diagrams are fine. As my friend Alan would often quote – “documentation is like sex, when it’s good it’s very good, when it’s not, it’s still better than nothing.”