The complete guide to bootstrapping a web startup on a tight budget

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So you’ve got a great idea, and want to get going straight away. That’s great, but bringing an idea to life can be a bit of a challenge. Don’t fret though, that really should be the absolute last thing that throws you off getting started.

While spending time working on getting SuperSimpleSurvey off the ground, we learned a few pretty hard lessons and thought it would be good to share them.

When we started, we didn’t have much to spend. We also wanted to put off fundraising until we had proven our concept first by means of a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) — just the features that allow the product to be deployed.

That led us on a journey to create our survey service in the leanest way possible. This meant getting our product out to a potential customer base before spending a lot of money, keeping in mind future scaling.

So without further ado, here is our list of essential ingredients to bootstrapping a Software as a Service (SaaS) startup in a lean manner.

Hosting

We started off with the Amazon EC2 free tier which works well for SaaS based products and allows you to get your MVP out without paying a cent. We decided on this route as we needed cloud hosting in the US — where our biggest market lies. South African providers such as Web Africa have unlimited traffic allocations, and pricing that is aligned to the international market.

Domains

You can use pretty much any major domain provider as they are all relatively similarly priced. We opted for GoDaddy which has some pretty sweet deals from time to time.

Automated notifications

For automated notifications (SMS and Email) you can use Amazon’s SES and SNS platform which is tied to your EC2 dashboard — ready for integration. Guess what, it also has a free tier, for a year!

Google AdWords

Search for “Google Ad voucher”, and you’ll land on the Google page that gives you a coupon for free AdWord credits based off your initial spend.

Front End Website

I’d suggest looking for a responsive template on sites such as Template Monster. It will cost a few dollars, but that buys you a damn fine responsive template. We would’ve shaved two weeks off design and development if we had done this sooner.

Backend interface

Same as above — make sure it’s responsive so it works on all devices.

Graphic design

Learn some basic Photoshop and improve your knowledge with tutorials on YouTube and throw it together yourself. If you don’t have time for that, you can commission one of the thousand designers on Elance or oDesk.

Your logo

We outsourced our design initially but have since changed it ourselves using Photoshop. If you would like to find a designer, I would recommend using 99designs. We haven’t used them personally, but know of some very successful startups that have had great success with them.

Coding

This is a tricky one, if you are not a coder yourself, I’d suggest partnering with one.

Project management

Use Scrum as your project methodology as it works damn well for MVP. Use Trello to manage your workflow and backlog.

Analytics

Google Analytics — it’s completely free.

Bulk Email

Good ol’ Mailchimp! It offers up to 2000 subscribers free, forever. In South Africa, Graphic Mail has a very comprehensive offering along with local support which is included in their free tier.

Social media

Hootsuite is great to manage your different social platforms, and the free tier is ideal for getting started.

Helpdesk

We opted for Uservoice‘s paid plan (roughly US$20 per month), mainly due to the fact that we like the way it has combined the knowledge base with ticketing (and idea management). If you want an alternative option, Zendesk has a startup package with a massive discount.

Customer and Product Surveys

SuperSimpleSurvey‘s free tier has all the features of the paid account, but is limited on 100 responses. Also check out SurveyMonkey, Wufoo and Google Forms. Google Forms is a free service, but a decidedly basic one.

So far, this framework has worked really well for us and will allow us to scale. When looking at Ramen Profitability — a startup that makes just enough to pay its founders’ living expenses — this makes you very lean from the start and will give you a headstart to get up and running in no time.


This article is a guest contribution from Nick McCreath, co-Founder of SuperSimpleSurvey and product manager at Web Africa.

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