When bootstrapping a startup it is easy to get overwhelmed by thoughts of the kit you might need. It would be great to go out and buy a top-of-the-range laptop or desktop with all the latest software pre-installed but this can be a potential waste of time and budget. Cash flow can be tight to non-existent and so the last thing you want to do is invest capital in the wrong places. So keeping costs to a minimum in the IT department can be essential when first starting out. In the post, we are going to give some essential tips on how to bootstrap your startup.
There’s a huge range of free or low-cost options when it comes to IT solutions for your bootstrapped startup to save you some of that valuable cash. In this blog post, I’m going to take a look at some cheap or free alternatives for software and kit for your startup. Let’s run through a few ideas to get you up and running for minimum money in no time.
Part 1. Don’t buy Microsoft Office!
There really no need to run out and buy the latest copy of Microsoft Office or other expensive word processing programs. There are a few options out there that perform all of the basic functions that the vast majority of people use without any upfront or sometimes ongoing costs.
Google Drive – An MS Office alternative
If you’ve got even a flicker of an internet connection you can work online in the cloud with Google Drive. This Google product gives you access to a full suite of Microsoft Office-like utilities for free. All you need is a Google account and it’s free to sign up via the link below. Once you have an account you get 15GB of free storage with the option to purchase more if you run out.
It’s worth noting that this is for the full Google account so if you fill up space with photos you won’t have any left for all those valuable documents.
A Google Drive account gives access to Docs – an MS Word equivalent, Sheets – an Excel equivalent spreadsheet editor, and Slides – a simplified MS Powerpoint clone. So you have all you need to make documents, spreadsheets, and presentations for free online. Plus the best part about using Google drive is it will autosave all your work so you don’t need to worry about your machine crashing or losing your internet connection, bonus.
There are also smartphone app versions of the programs if you want to keep editing and creating on the go although these tend to work better on Android than iOS.
iCloud – Apple’s online software suite
A similar affair to Google Drive, by signing up to an iCloud account with Apple you can access their suite of applications online at no cost. This is a bonus if you already use Apple products like an iPhone or Mac though these are not particularly money-saving for a startup!
Pages in iCloud have many of the features of the full Mac-based version, as do Numbers and Keynote, Apple’s Word, Excel, and Powerpoint alternatives respectfully. These are certainly enough to get you started and well worth using in-browser if you are already part of the Apple ecosystem and complement the full iOS and Mac versions of the software.
Evernote – Fantastic note taking
Unlike the above MS Office alternatives, Evernote does essentially one thing but does it really well. It is at its heart a note-keeping application and lets you create notes within what it terms ‘notebooks’, basically a system of folders. You can also tag your notes which makes it super easy to search through and find previous notes you’ve typed up. It had a handy feature that lets you ‘clip’ and saves notes from web pages and images to help bring your ideas to life.
Evernote works in-browser or you can download a desktop version for PC and Mac, plus there is a great smartphone app version for note-taking on the fly.
If you want the more advanced feature you can upgrade from the free version to the Plus, Premium, or Business versions for a yearly payment. As a startup, the free version should offer more than enough to get you going and aid your productivity.
Cost: From Free
Libre Office – Open source MS Office alternative
If you are looking for a fully functioning downloadable suite of Office-like applications then the open-source LibreOffice is a good way to go. Applications in the Office suite include Writer, the word processor, Calc, the spreadsheet application, Impress, the presentation engine, Draw, a drawing and flowcharting application, Base, a database and database frontend, and Math for editing mathematics. All the applications are designed so that files from Microsoft products should open function and be editable across the Libre Office suite. Regularly updated and supported by a large dedicated community of passionate open source community this is a great first port of call for anyone looking for a free alternative to the applications Microsoft or Apple has to offer.
Cost: Free – Open Source
Microsoft Office Online
If you really do need or crave the bells and whistles that Microsoft Office provides it is now available in a few different versions. Following the trend of other products such as Google Docs (above), Microsoft has made an online-only version of their office suite available for free. As with other providers, all you need is to sign up online for a free account and you have access to stripped-down versions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote.
These will be enough to get you started but there may be a point where you need a little more or your startup. Thankfully you now have the option of paying monthly for access to a fully downloadable license version of the Office suite for both Mac and PC. If your startup team expands as you grow there’s the option to add more users as you go. It’s nice to have this flexibility but be aware that for the business plans (link below) the cost does increase if you pay monthly as opposed to taking an annual plan.
Cost: From Free
In the next part of bootstrap your startup, we will be looking into graphics editing options for your bootstrapped startup.
Part 2. Don’t buy Photoshop
There’s a ton of savings to be made if you know where to look online and avoid the more ‘obvious’ choices that most folks might make. So let’s delve in and see where we can cut costs but not corners when it comes to your startup’s graphical software.
Gimp – Image manipulation software
No, I’m not calling you silly names, Gimp is free to download image manipulation program. Many people have likened it to the more famous Photoshop package but the issue with the comparison is Photoshop comes in a wide range of guises.
Image: Gimp for Windows screenshot from gimp.org
Gimp is essentially a lite version of Photoshop, much like Photoshop Elements. This will allow you enough editing for basic use but minus the $100 price tag, handy in a bootstrapped startup. I’d recommend this if you are for example editing images for a blog post. Therefore you can crop, trim, adjust the light balance and a few other functions that will improve the image but nothing too advanced.
In my experience, it’s proved most useful as a tool to crop and layer an image then save it for ‘web’ use as a smaller file than a full hi-res image. If you’ve ever used any version of Photoshop then you will feel at home with the interface. It has the trademark floating menu boxes to the right and left to quickly select the appropriate function.
Download from: gimp.org
As with Gimp above, Paint.NET provides a host of features in a free-to-download program. You can manipulate images, add text, edit colors and apply layers to your heart’s content.
The interface resembles the Paint program that comes preloaded will all versions of Windows but has way more features. This is a great bit of software for beginner and intermediate level users but wouldn’t quite cut it for an advanced user. It really depends on the demands of your startup but for most Paint.NET will more than suffice.
This software is currently available for Windows only and will work with 7 SP or newer, yes even Windows 10.
Download from: getpaint.net
Canva – Image creation tool
Canva is a relative newcomer to the market when it comes to image manipulation but is growing its user base rapidly. It’s easy to see why if you jump in and start using it. Essentially an image layering tool rather than an editing suite, the interface is incredibly user-friendly and it provides a very smooth experience considering it runs in the browser.
Canva is really useful in producing marketing materials and eye-catching images for blog posts and social media. You can upload your own base image or choose from the thousands available in the left-hand menu by typing your subject into the search box.
Once you have a base image or color you can add pretty much whatever you like on top. There are some popular inspiring quote-style images already set and you just edit the text. I’m sure you’ve used Facebook anytime in the past 2 years you will have seen the type of thing as per below.
There’s a great selection of templates to choose from, for example, the one above is called ‘social media’ and is formatted at 800 x 800 pixels to perfectly fit most blog posts or any Facebook wall.
You can create Facebook and Twitter covers, eBook images, flyers, posters, invites, business cards, the list goes on. This is a pretty neat site to use if you want to quickly churn out some professional-looking graphical content for your startup.
Cost: Free (Business account optional)
Inkscape – Vector graphics package
If you’re looking for a vector graphics editor equivalent to Adobe Illustrator or Corel Xara but without the outlay then Inkscape is just the job. There are versions for Mac, Windows, and Linux with regular updates provided.
Being open-source means there is a great community of developers, designers, and supporters behind the project to constantly offer advice and help users. The site also features a gallery of users’ drawings and designs to really show off what’s possible when using Inkscape.
I’d recommend this for startups that need to produce some bits of detailed graphical design. There are plenty of user-generated tutorials available to get you going if you are a complete novice like me.
Cost: Free (open source)
Download from: inkscape.org
Picasa – Image editing software
If you have a startup where you will be dealing with a lot of images Picasa might just be able to help you out. It’s an image organizer and editor you download onto your device and it works with your folders to help arrange your images. It’s now by Google but first evolved as a startup image program.
Through Picasa, you can also add effect edits to your images but the primary function of the software isn’t really image editing as such. Still, it does come in really handy if you have got a library of photos you want to get organized and timed down to size ready to upload to your blog or various social media.
For now, you can also use Picasa Web Albums if you want to upload your images to the cloud. However many tech bloggers concur that this will soon be integrated with the new Google Photos service. These both hinge on you having or creating a Google account.
I’d recommend Picasa if you are already in the Google sphere and need to get your images in order.
Cost: Free (the possible charge for premium storage)
Download at: picasa.google.com
I hope that has given you a few ideas about image editing and storage for your startup. As you can see you can spend very little if anything at all and produce some great quality images, edits, and projects.
Part 3. Don’t Buy a Mac
In the last part of bootstrap your startup tips, we will look at how to get your hands on some hardware for next to nothing.
How can you save some cash on the bits of kit that any startup can’t live without? While you might not be able to get all you require for free there are plenty of ways to save money where it matters with just a little thought and planning.
Use what you already have
I know that sounds a little obvious but a lot of people will crave shiny new stuff when starting a business of any kind. I had a few urges to run out a buy a new laptop myself when founding a startup a few years ago and it is easy to get sucked into the consumer culture of ‘new is best’.
However, I did manage to avoid splashing out on a Macbook and so should you if possible. At least in the very early days when cash is tight and funding is scarce using your existing laptop is fine. I found I benefited from the workout of lugging my 15″ Acer laptop to and from my shared workspace. Plus the added bonus was it was so old that no one was interested in stealing my laptop in a room full of sparkling Apple products.
When sticking with your current kit, you might be able to save your startup business money by upgrading it. If it’s possible to crack open the case you could add some extra memory or a better graphics card. The exact possibilities very much depend on how old the machine is or even if there are any slots left to plug in some more RAM.
I’m not the world’s most technical chap so I’m not going into specifics here but the best thing would be to find someone local who is. You don’t have to run into the nearest computer shop with your machine but ask around among friends, on Facebook or even your workplace. Someone always knows someone that’s good with computers, this very often lands on me despite telling people I know nothing, the curse of wearing glasses!
Cost: $0 to something
If you are starting from a point of absolute zero equipment-wise you are going to need a cheap way of acquiring some to keep your finances bootstrapped. I would always recommend freecycle.org as a great place to start. It’s a global community of people that have things to give away on a local level.
The viability of this will really depend on where you live but I’ve personally had great success with the system in London. You can use the site to find your local group but the local groups use email to post offers and request things. I found the best way to stop an overload of unwanted messages was to create an email account just for freecycling things. It also works best if you offer some things first, this could be any unwanted items from a book to a bookcase, but it’s always best to give before taking.
Just as a word of caution, you are dealing directly with the people offering things and this can be rather unreliable at times. Patience is the key and checks back regularly. You never know a free laptop could be yours.
Cost: Free, just a little time and effort required!
Being based in the UK I am more familiar with Gumtree.com but both are online classified advert listings sites. They have grown to cover lots of services and items for sale and have expanded across many different countries. Their success is down to one simple fact, it is free to list items, therefore attracting anyone with stuff to sell.
If these sites cover the city or area you live in then they are well worth a look for getting some cheap tech to help you bootstrap your startup. People are always upgrading their own tech and this is the first point of call for many people looking to get a few pennies for their old tech.
The best part is that the items can be very local and people are often open to offers if you can provide a quick sale and cash on collection.
Just as a side note – never use these sites to send money to someone for items that they promise to post. There have been many scams reported where users have lost money and never received anything in return with no way of claiming anything back. It’s always best to call the seller first to find out more about the item and check everything is legitimate.
I’m sure we have all heard of eBay, the online auction site for buying and selling pretty much anything. It can be a great place to pick up some tech for your startup but the main trick here is searching in the smartest way.
Like the items you will be looking for could be expensive to post you will want to look for ones you can collect. To do this click on ‘advanced’ next to the search bar at the top of the homepage. This brings up a host of options for smarter searching which come in very handy if looking for a local item.
Scroll down the page and you will see – delivery options – check the box marked ‘collect in person’.
Just below this is the location options. Here you can select within how many miles or kilometers to search from a given location or change the country you are searching in. This really depends on how far you are prepared to go to find a bargain but don’t forget to weigh the transport costs against any savings made on postage.
The real beauty of searching eBay this way is that collection-only items have a far greater limit on the number of potential buyers compared to items that are sold with shipping. Happy searching.
Cost: depends on items purchased
I hope that gives you a few pointers in the search for free and low-cost tech for your startup.
Bonus – Remember that is also worth having a look at refurbished products direct from retailers if you are looking to save some money on nearly new products. Apple sell refurbished products via their site for example apple.com/specialdeals.
Hope you like this huge blog post and get some tips on how to bootstrap your startup in an affordable way. Please make sure to share the ideas and tips that you use to bootstrapping your startup.