Your next business needs to progress from being an idea in your head to a plan and on through several other stages even before the nominal Day 0. For many would-be founders, a new class of cloud service can provide early momentum for starting a new business, turning a hobby into a source of income or forming a “skill team” that fills an unmet niche in your locale.
Startup costs have always been an impediment to starting a new company. But as the total cost of starting a company goes down, the opportunity lost through failing to start your business becomes greater. Imagine getting your business started in a great new office — a swanky lobby, furniture, meeting room, cleaning services — all at no cost. What would stop you from moving forward?
In essence, the cloud and the companies providing free cloud services have been making offers of this nature for quite a while already. Did you know that Dropbox is already four years old? So a virtual filing cabinet is easy to acquire. A free CRM solution can serve as your lobby, and discussion forums are more useful than a water cooler since useful information does not get lost. Individual access rights on these tools define “desks” for each team member, and project management software sets up separate rooms dedicated to distinct activities.
All of this can be found, for free, in the vast number of cloud services that are popping up throughout the Internet. Most of them, with a bit of imagination, have the equivalent of little robots coming around automatically delivering notifications about important events and bringing forth the information you need. Not exactly cleaning services, but we’re getting there.
However, a problem is clearly visible: The lobby isn’t really connected to the other rooms and access to each tool has to be set up individually — kind of like having a desk for each worker in each room — not very efficient. Less metaphorically: Very few cloud products provide more than two or three of the significant number of services that are needed if you truly want to manage your operations online. In practice, this will mean logging in to several different services on a daily basis, awkward adding and subtracting of new employees and having no way to search through all of your resources at once, among other inconveniences.
Having a full complement of tools, file storage, discussions areas, CRM, tasks, user profiles and messaging all in one place would make a much more viable “container” for a business that is still being formed.
A new breed of cloud service is breaking this ground. We can refer to them as unified solutions, and there are several variations of this theme. Some are offered by web titans. These offerings cover most of the bases but are, shall we say, light on inspiration. Additionally, your budding project can easily get swept into the morass of personal and other unrelated items that you already have in your user profile with your titan of choice.
Smaller players offering unified solutions may call themselves online offices, intranets, social intranets or collaboration platforms; or they may be project management tools that have expanded to include more functions. Another path to expanded functionality taken by such service providers is integration with other tools. The advantages of accumulating tools via integration are many, since providing a bridge to a robust CRM is easier than creating one. Although serviceable, there are limitations to this method that can arise in access permissions, mobile versions and potentially multiple bills at the end of the month.
It is now possible to find a free version of a unified solution, which may accommodate from two to as many as a dozen users, and serves as a rent-free office, fully furnished, where your entrepreneurial project can develop even if you only drop in every other day or once a week. Give your idea a place to take shape, give your future associates access to make their own contributions and watch the progress that can be made before Day 0 of your business plan.
Realistic preparations include building the contact base, collecting website content, maintaining a photographic or video history of these very early stages, developing the geographical or demographic breakdown of your future market, etc. A more elaborate pre-launch project would be the development of a multi-stage advertising campaign.
Like a character in a novel can take a life of its own once the author has put pen to paper, the vision of your future business will form itself much more vividly in your own mind, the minds of your associates and eventually among your clients.
The cloud is waiting to be seeded with the budding ideas of future businesses. Whether yours is a service or a product, whether you will be working on your own or in a small team, you’d be refusing a great offer if you could get free space where you can get organized, get started, go live and then grow. The oncoming generation of free cloud collaboration platforms leaves few of us with any excuses not to start now.
Dmitry Valyanov is president and Co-founder of Bitrix, Inc. He heads business development and new products, most recently Bitrix24, a cloud-based social intranet for small business. More information about Bitrix and Bitrix24 can be requested at firstname.lastname@example.org.