Here's an understatement of the year: starting a company is hard.

Now, there are many things which make it hard to start a company: finding the right idea, building a team, finding a product-market fit, getting funding, getting customers, and so on. And while these are all very hard to do, the thing I want to talk about in this post is a bit more mundane: infrastructure.

It's quite remarkable just how much one takes for granted when working at an established organization. Email works (and so does the Wi-Fi), people's files are stored safely somewhere, production is running on something. It's nice.

The bad news is that setting all this up for the first time is a lot of work. The good news is that it's a lot easier (and cheaper) than it used to be. In fact, there is a set of entrepreneur-tested, VC-approved products which would serve your typical SaaSy startup well:

Back Office: Google Apps

Setting up company-wide email / calendar used to mean installing and maintaining Exchange servers. Similarly, storing and sharing files used to mean installing and maintaining file servers or SharePoint. And, even though you can now rent those directly from Microsoft, there's an even better option: Google Apps.

I find Google Apps to have a great combination of features for the price. For just $5 per user per month (or less if you're willing to sign a longer contract), you get email, calendar, and 20GB of cloud storage. Cross-platform Google Drive makes document storage and sharing super easy. Built-in browser-based apps are decent replacements for Office (though your mileage may vary). Google Hangouts is a pretty nice group conferencing solution. Even Google Forms can be surprisingly useful.

Most importantly, using Google Apps (or something similar) means not needing any servers (or people to manage them) in the office.

Servers and Such: AWS

Amazon's AWS is the nine-hundred pound gorilla in the Cloud game, and for good reason. It's cheap, ubiquitous, and very feature rich. Every tool you're likely to use for server automation is AWS-aware. You can get essentially every piece of infrastructure (servers, databases, file storage, load balancers, mail, monitoring, and much much more).

Source Control: Bitbucket

Although gitHub is the obvious choice for many, I like Bitbucket because it lets you get started for free. Unlike gitHub, you're allowed unlimited private repos for a team of up to 5 people. Beyond that, it's tiered pricing starting at $10/month for 10 users.

Bitbucket supports both git and mercurial repos (if's you're into that sort of thing). And, because it's an Atlassian product, it has really nice integration with its other products, namely Jira and HipChat.

Passwords / Secret keys: LastPass Enterprise

Every business has sensitive data to protect. For developers, it's things like pem files and database passwords. This stuff should be easy to get to if you're allowed to do so, and practically impossible if you're not.

LassPass makes a really good cloud-based password manager for personal use and they also make a pretty good enterprise solution. With LastPass Enterprise, authorized users get access to sensitive information using the same browser extension as the personal version.

Security policies (like password strength and multi-factor authentication) are supported and enforceable. All access is trackable, which makes audits very simple. Best of all, the service is remarkably affordable, just $24 per user per year.

Dev Machines: MacBook Pros

Though not exactly the same as the other products I mentioned, it's worth calling it out. I like Macs for development for a number of reasons. First, OS X is an excellent OS, and not just because the alternatives are worse. It feels like it was designed for people who actually want to get work done.

Second, you'd be hard pressed to find a startup friendly tech stack which doesn't work well on it: Rails, Node, Python, JVM, PHP all work just fine. Throw in great tooling (albeit a lot of it is cross-platform), and you can start being productive very quickly.

Finally, MacBook hardware is bar none. Retina display, lots of RAM, lots of (flash) storage, great camera, and so on, all wrapped in a beautiful and (surprisingly) light package.

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  1. Daniel says:

    We use google apps for our mail its brilliant and very cost effective.