Among young Americans, startup ambitions are quite common: Roughly two-thirds of Millenials hope to start their own businesses, while members of Gen Y are similarly attracted to entrepreneurship. These dreams are informed and encouraged by new technologies, which promise opportunities for innovation. As new platforms and tools reshape the way the world does business, countless industries seem ripe for disruption.
Despite this entrepreneurial enthusiasm, however, the U.S. is actually stuck in a startup slump. While hundreds of thousands of businesses are formed each year, startup statistics remain well below what they were before the Great Recession.
Additionally, small business survival rates can seem deeply discouraging. According to the Small Business Administration, just half of all startups stay in business for five years or longer.
Why is so hard for small businesses to achieve stability, let alone growth? A recent study from CBinsights identified the most common causes of startup failure – and costs, cash flow and competition figured prominently.
Top Reasons that Startups Fail
Based on Postmortem Analysis of 101 Failed Startups
- No market need
- Ran out of cash
- Not the right team
- Got outcompeted
- Pricing/cost issues
These findings suggest that startups must be soundly conceived in order to survive. But they also indicate a need for cost-effective operations: For new businesses, staying lean is a life and death matter.
For startup founders, herein lies technology’s transformative power: With the right tools, new businesses can survive and thrive on bootstrapped budgets. Powerful platforms can erase longstanding barriers to entry, cutting recurring costs and overcoming familiar obstacles. In this sense, choosing the right technology is an essential step in establishing a business – and outmaneuvering competitors moving forward.
In this guide, we’ll cover crucial technologies that any new startup will need to get started. From website creation to customer relations, we’ll discuss which platforms will help your business survive and scale. As we discuss each category of technology, we’ll take a cost-conscious approach, tailoring our advice to startups that need to be smart about spending.
No matter what you envision for your new business, these technologies can help make your startup a success.
Communicating and collaborating
Some tools are essential at any stage: Whether your startup is in its infancy or dominating the industry, you’ll need the basic platforms that make business possible. This core functionality includes word processing, email, spreadsheets, and presentations – the basic components of your company’s daily activity.
Moreover, startups typically need all of these programs to integrate seamlessly with each other. Thankfully, two of the biggest names in tech offer software “suites” of related programs for precisely this purpose.
The first corporate juggernaut to consider is Microsoft, which offers Microsoft 365 Business, a comprehensive package of business software. This offering includes all of the Office programs with which you’re probably familiar, such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. It’s worth noting that these Office apps are available in their fully installed and web versions, so your startup’s employees can use them from any device on the go.
You’ll also get Outlook for email and a host of other perks, including a terabyte of cloud storage for each user. For a slightly higher price per user, you can also buy additional security and device management features, which may provide valuable peace of mind.
Starting at $12.50 per user per month, Microsoft’s business packages are a simple way to grant employees access to all the basic tools they need to be productive. But there’s another massive tech company eager to serve your startup in much the same way – with noticeably lower prices.
With its G Suite, Google provides an array of programs that look and feel conspicuously like Microsoft software. Unlike Office, however, Google’s services are all cloud-based: Your employees will access them through the web. This setup lends itself well to collaboration, allowing multiple users to edit a single document or spreadsheet simultaneously. (Microsoft offers similar functionality via web-based versions of its applications, but distinguishing between versions can get painfully complicated.) Moreover, G Suite apps generally work together quite well: For example, Gmail and Google Calendar make event invitations a breeze.
G Suite’s Basic plan costs just $6 a month per user, an attractive price for a powerful array of features. Sure, each user gets just 30GB of cloud storage at that rate, but that will be plenty for many employees. If you do want more storage or additional administrative controls, Google’s Business level plan will run you $12 per worker.
Ultimately, some industries remain tethered to Microsoft: If Office is most familiar to your clients and colleagues, you may need to follow the crowd. But for lean startups full of young professionals who grew up using Gmail, G Suite will likely prove more affordable and effective.
Building your website
If you’re an experienced developer (or plan to hire one soon), you may already have big ideas for your startup’s website. But many founders are unsure of how to get a website off the ground – and lack the funds to outsource the work to experts. How can you launch a slick, mobile-friendly site without much technical expertise? Rely on a website builder.
You’ve likely heard of some website builders already: WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix are among the most popular (and most advertised) options out there. These platforms offer a rich selection of website templates and design options, allowing you to build your startup’s site without writing a scrap of code. Some even offer free versions, so you can experiment without the expense.
When it comes to website builders, there are plenty of strong options. Wix is almost universally admired, with great templates, easy editing, and affordable rates. Experts also rave about Duda, which brings a mobile-first mentality and an emphasis on e-commerce.
Whichever website builder you choose, avoid deciding impulsively. Unfortunately, most website builders make migrating to another platform difficult or impossible: You can either stick with them or rebuild your site from scratch. Accordingly, it’s best to explore each company’s full offerings and support features, even if they don’t seem particularly relevant in the present. As your business grows, you may need to adapt your site in unanticipated ways. Pick a website builder flexible enough to keep pace with your good fortune.
Hosting your website
No matter how you build your website, you’ll need to host it. And while the technical details of web hosting can get painfully complicated, selecting an appropriate hosting service doesn’t have to be dizzyingly complex. Truthfully, there are many excellent hosting companies out there, and most offer plans starting at $10 or less per month.
First, you’ll need to decide which kind of hosting environment your site will demand. For most startups in the early stages, a shared hosting environment will do just fine. But if you anticipate significant traffic from the start, a virtual private network or dedicated server may make more sense. This determination may dictate which hosting company you choose: Some, such as HostGator or GoDaddy, specialize in shared hosting for small businesses on a budget. If you’re torn about which kind of hosting plan to choose, go with a company that will
Another consideration is the platform on which your website is built. If your website uses a WordPress theme, for example, A2 Hosting offers particularly attractive options. It’s also worth looking into the perks each company can offer. For instance, some companies include free domain name registration or email hosting to sweeten the deal.
Doing your accounting
For any startup founder, receiving your first payment marks a major milestone. But before the cash starts coming in, you’ll need a basic accounting system to help manage your money. Tracking expenses is equally important to achieving profitability. What’s more, you’ll need to stay on top of your books for tax purposes. Unless you can hire a dedicated accountant, DIY accounting software is your best bet.
Thankfully, there are several robust accounting platforms designed for startups and small businesses. These programs will help you perform basic accounting functions, such as creating invoices and recording expenditures. They’ll also generate insights to inform sound business decisions and reveal financial liabilities.
You’re probably familiar with the biggest brand in this space: Intuit offers an online version of its popular Quickbooks platform, with a user interface easy enough for novice business owners. Freshbooks and Zoho Books are also appealing options, with significantly lower monthly costs.
In selecting a platform, think about how much functionality you actually intend to use. If you want to run payroll directly through your accounting platform, for example, many companies don’t offer that feature at all. Some startups will want to track employees’ time and product inventory; only a handful of platforms offer both. On the other hand, don’t pay for a multifaceted platform if a streamlined solution will work just as well. For many startups in their infancy, a few core features will probably suffice.
Few startup founders are passionate about HR solutions, but they represent an important dimension of sustainable business success. Without a solid HR platform in place, business owners can find their days consumed by busywork, from onboarding employees to managing requests for time off. Seen in this light, HR software is an excellent investment, keeping you focused and your team content.
Much like accounting software, HR platforms vary widely in terms of which features they offer. Accordingly, your functionality wish list will shape your search to some extent. Want to manage payroll through your platform? Most companies can incorporate that feature. Want to manage employee scheduling? You’ll find significantly fewer options.
If you find yourself gravitating towards a comprehensive solution, a flexible platform such as Zenefits might be the best choice. But you could also choose an HR platform with fewer features at first, then supplement that functionality later. This route could be preferable for founders who already have solid payroll, training and time-tracking solutions in place; After all, there’s no need to scrap successful processes.
Keeping track of customers
For startups scrambling to gain a foothold in the market, managing customer relationships is a top priority. No matter what kind of product or service you sell, nourishing leads and current customers will be essential to survival – and building word-of-mouth buzz. A strong Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform can help you do exactly that, providing a foundation for future growth.
Several CRM platforms offer free trials, and some have basic plans that cost nothing at all. Hubspot, for example, offers a surprisingly robust feature set entirely free. If you’re just beginning to keep track of customers, these budget-friendly options can be a great fit. They allow you to record customer contact info and track sales interactions, which is all many businesses are looking for.
Unfortunately, changing CRM systems down the line can be a huge headache. If your organization becomes dependent on a platform it later outgrows, making a switch could be costly. Plus, many platforms that start out free charge an arm and a leg for premium features down the line.
In the long run, it might be more prudent to purchase an affordably priced platform with plenty of room for growth. One great option is Zoho CRM, which has been positively reviewed by experts and offers lots of great functionality at a modest price point.
Managing your marketing
In the contemporary business climate, effective marketing is must be multidimensional. From search engine advertising to social media and more traditional channels, startups fight for consumers’ attention on several fronts simultaneously.
In this complex and dynamic context, marketing management platforms are particularly essential. With the right software, growing companies can take a systematic and strategic approach to reaching relevant audiences. At a basic level, these platforms allow startups to create, schedule and analyze marketing content, optimizing performance and replicating success.
Of course, marketing platforms differ greatly in their specific focuses. Some, such as Hootsuite, are designed to help brands achieve social media supremacy. Others, such as Mailchimp, are devoted exclusively to email marketing. For those in search of more comprehensive solutions, Hubspot offers a powerful “Marketing Hub,” an all-in-one inbound marketing system.
Of course, these tools are only useful if your team can devote time to them: Marketing campaigns won’t create themselves. Before committing to any marketing software or services, make sure your team has the bandwidth to use them effectively.
In that same spirit, however, these platforms are typically intuitive enough for novice marketers. Moreover, there are lots of free and low-cost resources available to professionals hoping to learn more about digital marketing. For those willing to learn, it’s possible to become proficient in these marketing platforms in just a few weeks.
Many startups struggle with effective project management: In the absence of established processes, new endeavors can devolve into chaos. Great ideas are lost to communication breakdowns. Team members pursue competing visions of success. When everyone struggles to stay on the same page, and transparency and accountability suffer.
Clearly, successful project management depends on strong leadership. But finding the right project management platform can be equally important. In the context of the digital workplace, it’s essential to track and facilitate progress with tools that serve your team.
There are plenty of project management software solutions out there. Some brands cater to small teams, while others market themselves as enterprise-level platforms. Some emphasize communication, while others are highly structured around specific tasks.
But for a truly flexible and intuitive project management platform, we suggest you look no further than our very own Backlog. Admittedly, we may not seem entirely impartial: We’re naturally proud of our product. But here’s why over 9,000 companies rely on Backlog every day to accomplish their most important objectives.
Unlike many project management platforms, Backlog presents progress visually, allowing everyone to instantly understand where a project stands. It’s also built for collaboration among different kinds of experts, so developers, designers, and other specialists can work seamlessly with the rest of the team. You can even integrate your workflow with tools you already use or build your own integrations with our open API.
Best of all, Backlog is incredibly affordable. In fact, you can get started completely for free: We offer a no-cost plan for up to 10 users. If you want to try Backlog for a bigger team, we offer a 30-day free trial. If you’re looking for a new way to manage your startup’s projects, that’s a lot of upsides – and no risk at all.
Chatting with the team
Workers increasingly view chat apps as essential to workplace communication and culture. Whereas formal, asynchronous communication still occurs via email, professionals are spending more and more time communicating with colleagues through instant messages. For employees immersed in their computers, chatting with a coworker often seems like the most efficient and immediate way to convey information.
Yet not all chat apps are created equal – and some seem more conducive to distraction than productive collaboration. Accordingly, startup leaders must exercise good judgement in selecting a chat platform, lest they actually detract from their team’s efficiency.
Our very own Typetalk app offers the perfect balance of cohesion and constructive communication. With a powerful search function and dozens of integrations, Typetalk users can always find the information and files they need.
Even better, workers can customize which messages prompt notifications in a range of circumstances. That means they can stay focused when they need to and manage messages to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
There are also plenty of features to increase camaraderie, from chat threads built around teams and topics to emojis and goofy GIFs. Whether you’re working on a deadline or blowing off steam, Typetalk is the tool for your team.
Creating compelling diagrams
Sometimes great ideas deserve to be expressed in more than mere words. Whether you’re presenting your business to potential investors or showcasing a new strategy to your team, compelling visuals can help you make the case.
Yet few startups have extensive design teams – if they have a dedicated designer on staff at all. As a result, many companies settle for generic visuals and miss the opportunity to make a distinctive impression.
Cacoo, our intuitive app for designing diagrams, will completely change your startup’s approach to design. Our platform empowers all kinds of visual presentations, including flowcharts, wireframes and project timelines. With a deep collection of templates and endless potential for customization, Cacoo makes slick design possible for every startup.
Best of all, Cacoo is geared towards collaboration. By inviting all team members to participate in the design process, Cacoo eliminates endless iteration and miscommunicated feedback.
Plus, Cacoo offers all this at an extremely affordable price. With plans starting at just $5 per month, the value to your team will quickly become clear. In fact, Techradar cited this mix of affordability and powerful features in naming Cacoo the number one diagram platform out there.
From starting up to sustained success
We hope this guide demystifies the technical dimensions of founding a business, enabling entrepreneurs to make smart investments in their own success. Creating a new company can be both exhilarating and overwhelming, and we aim to simplify that process with our advice.
As you choose the technology that will power your new venture, keep one final principle in mind: Anticipate the unexpected. From unforeseen challenges to unprecedented opportunities, startup life is anything but predictable.
In selecting the tools your startup will use, therefore, prioritize support and flexibility. Your startup needs tech that can scale alongside your success – and provide solutions in tough times as well.
At Nulab, we offer our customers that kind of commitment. Whether your company is in its infancy or already leads your industry, our products can help your team seize new opportunities.