For such a simple question ‘my start-up needs IT resource but what do I need’ there is no simple answer as it will depend on several variables such as what type of business you have started.
The world really is full of start-ups selling the next best thing but not all of those start-ups are tech start-ups which can leave some out in the cold when it comes to IT. For those that are not, what should they be looking at to make sure that their business can survive those treacherous first few years? Is the ability to scale important? Should the business be able to scale from the very beginning or does that come later?
The above are all very good questions and IT can seem like a minefield. Google Docs or Office 365. On premise or in the cloud. All have their pros and cons, none are really explained to non IT business owners.
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Do not buy hardware, rent it.
You may have read it is better to rent liabilities than it is to buy them. This usually applies to cars but I think it is the exact same principle when it comes to IT resource.
When it comes to running a lean IT infrastructure there are a few things that we like. The first is monthly subscription costs for software. If you do not have much start-up capital then spending less if obviously better. There is no need to go out and purchase hardware for email and web servers when you can get exactly the same service with no massive up front costs. Worst comes to the worst then you can just cancel everything. Monthly subscriptions allow you to scale up and scale down in tough times. This is certainly a perk but do not worry about scaling until you have a proven product with feedback from your customers.
If you do buy on premise hardware and software you are going to have to pay someone to manage and maintain it. In IT we tend to specialise in one particular field as those fields are now so large and the software more complex than ever before. So you would need a database specialist to manage backend databases, a network engineer to manage switches and broadband connections, a unified communications engineer to look after VoIP, Instant Messaging and possibly email. This means you need a whole team of people for something which is not the profit generating core of your business. If you purchase a cloud based service it can be managed for you. This type of service is usually called Software as a Service or SaaS. For example Office 365 gives you exchange email accounts. No looking after Hub Transport servers, Mailbox Servers or Client Access Servers. Bliss.
If your start-up needs IT resource, at the very least you will need a website and the ability to send and receive emails. This means buying a domain, setting up web hosting and email accounts. This will allow you to be found and to communicate with the market. As a Microsoft partner we use Office 365. Setup can appear a bit difficult if you have not had to manage DNS (Domain Name Services) before but after the initial setup management is as simple as creating a user and assigning a license.
When you first start out you need to concentrate on your product and getting feedback early. You do not want to be troubleshooting and setting up servers and software that you are not in the least bit familiar with. If you are creating a mobile app then you will want to start with an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) from here you can get feedback and iterate through versions until you find out exactly what your customer wants.
So when it comes to ‘my start-up needs IT resource’ we suggest keep it simple and start with only the very necessary then build up. Use subscription services to keep costs down. Do not pay large upfront costs on IT. Only buy the services you absolutely need at that moment in time. Web hosting, email, Office applications. Money saved on upfront hardware costs will be better off spent on marketing.