Startups, from bootstrapped to well-funded, should be budget-conscious as a rule. You’ve got to make that runway as long as possible until you can jump to your next round or achieve profitability.
Therefore it’s pretty common for founders to be big on DIY “do it yourself”. It’s part of the startup culture to eschew the niceties of corporate enterprise such as secretaries or window offices. To be seen as “not afraid to get his/her hands dirty” is supposed to be a sign of a real entrepreneur.
But at the same time, I find that DIY can sometimes cost us in the long-run.
Think of it this way: the smaller your team, the more valuable is each member’s time. So whenever your lead developer spends an hour trying to find a plumber, or your CEO is preoccupied trying to book an offsite event, that all represents precious time away from the real work that only you and your team can do.
When trying to do everything yourself to save a few dollars ends up costing you opportunities, it’s time to tap into services that not only put you on a level playing field with established companies, but give you a leg up on your startup competitors who are busy DIYing it.
Here’s a list of the most helpful services that I use regularly as “cheats and hacks” in my startup. They are probably more affordable than you’d think. Ironically, many of these services are startups themselves.
Fancy Hands: Personal assistants who let you focus on your real work
A startup can wreak havoc on the rest of your life. I spend long hours away from my family — but that doesn’t mean that I can put off my family or household responsibilities. Enter Fancy Hands. For one monthly fee, I have a team of assistants that are an email or phone call away.
This is currently my favorite service to use. My 3-year-old needs to see the pediatrician? I let Fancy Hands figure out when my wife and I are both available. Then Fancy Hands sits on hold to make the appointment, not me. I need to beat down my cable provider and get a better deal? Fancy Hands takes care of it. But it’s not just for domestic tasks. Oops, forgot to book a decent local restaurant to host the next team outing: I let Fancy Hands do it while I keep my head down on real work.
Fancy Hands says they can handle anything that takes approximately 15 minutes or less. Note that some of my tasks have ended up taking much longer than that, but so far it’s all been handled with a (virtual) smile and no complaints.
You may need to break larger tasks into component parts. This is actually a good exercise for you as an entrepreneur, because it teaches you how to parse your tasks, give clear instructions and most importantly, it teachers you how to be a better delegator, which is often a tough skill to acquire.
Fancy Hands cost: Starts at $25/month for 5 tasks
oDesk: on-demand freelance talent
Startups on shoestring budgets often have to fake it till they make it. You might not bother ordering letterhead until you need it, for example, but at that moment, you might realize that you’d like to have a logo that is better than the one you hacked together in PowerPoint a few months ago. But contracting an expensive design agency is out of the question.
oDesk is a virtual marketplace I discovered about 8 years ago. I can see oDesk contractors’ performance ratings and payment history, I can cap hours and even see what they’ve been up to while “on the clock” via oDesk’s desktop screenshots. I’ve hired oDeskers for short projects and I have others that I’ve been using for years.
oDesk cost: Here’s just a few examples of what I’ve had done:
- Logo design- $12/hour
- Bookkeeping – $18/hour
- WordPress dev – $8/hour
- Virtual assistant – $8/hour
- Put together a list of the most recommended gardening services near my house – $4/hour
Uber and UberX: On-demand town cars and taxis
Hailing a cab on the street? Please. Once I went Uber, I never went back. I love it because via their app I can hail a car from just about anywhere, at any time. I can see where my car is en route and know exactly when my car is pulling up.
Uber originally made a splash with black town cars and recently added UberX to their offerings. UberX lets riders hail hybrids and sedans for less than a town car.
There is no fumbling with cash or credit cards, or figuring out how much to tip. Payment and gratuity is handled automatically, so when I get to my destination, I just say goodbye and bounce. It’s a time saver that gets me to meetings or to my daughter’s music class performance.
Uber cost: Varies
I hate paperwork. We have NDAs for interviewees, contracts for salespeople. We receive paper forms that need to be filled out, then scanned, then emailed. Enter EchoSign. It makes the form completion and signature process faster and more efficient, for both the sender and the receiver. And yes, it’s all legit and legally binding.
I send W-9s with a couple of clicks, and they come back just as fast. I really get my money’s worth when there’s multiple signatures required. EchoSign tracks progress, sends reminders, and once executed the doc is instantly linked and filed properly. I can even copy our lawyer and he gets a fully executed copy as soon as the contract ink is “dry”.
Echosign cost: Starts at free for one user and 5 contracts/month. We pay $40 for the team plan.
Starting up a business takes precious time and money. These sites and apps have helped me get my business off the ground quickly, while allowing me to focus on the important tasks that my team is relying upon me to get done. What are the cheats and hacks you’ve found helpful in your journey?