When you're establishing a startup, you need to simply survive before you can start optimizing your finances or try fancy back-office solutions. That's why taking the time to find and utilize a host of free resources was the best financial decision Sheri Atwood ever made when getting her cash-strapped business off the ground.
Atwood, founder of child support payment platform SupportPay, shared her best penny-pinching tips with PEX to help other newbie founders like herself navigate the choppy financial waters of their startups' early days.
When and why did you start looking for free resources?
Because I was self-funded in the beginning, it was a lot of 'How do you leverage what's out there?' For example, in 2012 as I was setting up email, I started with Google Business, but it only gave you five users. So, I found Microsoft has this program called BizSpark. You can get around 10 users and their entire Office 365 platform for your employees, and it was all free for the first year.
Sounds like a great deal. Why don't you hear more about these resources?
I just don't think startups know that there are so many free resources out there in the form of both tools to use as well as contests to enter. One of the first things I did was enter Startup Nation — Leading Moms in Business. We won $10,000 in Staples rewards. With that, we were able to buy laptops and office supplies.
What other free resources have you utilized?
With ZenDesk, which is our support platform, we got a year free. Salesforce has free implementations for your CRM solution. I even wrote a blog post where I listed all the tools that we use.
Did you have to pay for expensive solutions or licenses after these trials ended?
It reminds me of how Apple seeded schools with Macs to get kids to start using them. It's the same thing on the startup side. The benefit to these companies is that now we're locked in. Four years later, we're running the full stack on Microsoft and our entire business is run on ZenDesk. They eventually get money from us, but we saved a ton in the beginning.
How big of a difference did these savings make? Was this a game changer for your startup?
Absolutely. This stuff can be incredibly expensive. When you're strapped for cash, you'd rather be spending money on marketing your product, not buying technology tools, even though it's necessary to run your company.
Let me play devil's advocate: Isn't finding all this free stuff really time-consuming?
I do a daily Google Alert with keywords and phrases such as, "free startup resources." I get an email every day and see if anything new has been posted.
There's another group called f6S. They have over $750,000 worth of free deals for startups. You just log in and you can see everything, from free Google Word advertising to credits for different email platforms.