How to Build a Lean Startup with Free and Open Source Software – Part 1

The keys to success!I have been reading recently about the “Lean Startup” concept, which is funny since I have been working with and been part of more than a few without knowing there is a nifty catch phrase for them. So now I am all up on the lingo and hash tag #leanstartup I can speak on it. Today is the perfect time to take a gamble and dive into a lean startup. Being that there are so many free tools and services you can use along with very inexpensive solutions to infrastructure that were not available even a few years ago. By using the power of Open Source software, free online services, and cloud computing one can build a scalable and very cost effective lean startup.

Core Needs

Let’s first look at your new companies hosting and servers.  being that you are lean you may most likely be working from home.  So let’s look at hosting and services you will need in order to host some of the Open Source applications will will talk about in a moment.  In my experience the basic things you need to get going in terms of setting up shop are the basics:

  • Email
  • Phone
  • Website
  • Computer(s)
  • Branding
  • Web Conferencing
  • Conference Calling

Let’s look at these basic needs and assess how we can get them for little or no money.  Firstly the lifeblood of any business: email.  I have found that Google Apps free version is the easiest and best way to get email without the headache or grief of the dreaded Exchange Server.  You can have email, calendaring, wiki, private GTalk, and Docs all by using this service.  They even allow you now to download a customized version of Chrome browser already configured for your Apps Domain.  So then you need a phone number and extensions for your various people working from their homes.  I have checked out both and who are both low cost VoIP and virtual office solutions and find them more than enough to seem a lot less “lean” to your prospective clients.  Computers in most cases might not be an issue since those joining or starting the company (hopefully) already have a computer.  Another common need is web conferencing and conference calling.  I have found two goo free services to do this with ease.  Yugma is a funny named company that provides a stripped down free desktop sharing web conferencing with a pro level service that can be upgraded to for more advanced features.  It works on Windows, Mac, and Linux which is a big plus in today’s diversified OS usage.  For conference calling I have found Rondo to be the best call quality for the price (free).  I have used it for a long time to do daily status calls with teams of developers working from home.

Additional Applications

Some examples of the many Open Source projects one can use to get a jump start on their new venture can be broken down into their respective categories.  Let’s build a basic lean startup with software to fill the needs for most any software development or web service company.

Corporate Website – There are a plethora of Open Source choices when it comes to content management systems (CMSs) one can use to build their company web presence.  Many popular ones are intended for people using a LAMP stack.  Some popular choices are Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, and Plone to name a few.  depending on your needs and developers you have on hand any will work to build a company site.  You can even drop around $50 or less for a custom theme to match your branding if you do not have a designer on staff.

CRM SugarCRM – a robust Open Source CRM that also has a large developer community and the option of Enterprises support.  With SugarCRM you can get your sales team in the habit of building pipelines and keeping tack of prospects easily. SugarCRM also has internal ticketing and bug tracking if you wish to utilize it.

Help Desk osTicket – a powerful yet simple to setup and use help desk application in PHP.  Allows you to easily support your clients help desk needs.  There are many others out there but to me osTicket has made itself stand out above the rest.

Code VersioningSubversion many people are using Git now as an alternative to SVN (Subversion).  Depending on your release cycle and ho you develop your applications greatly affects which you would choose.

Project Management Redmine – a simple to use project management application with bug tracking, wiki, forums, repository viewer, gant/calendar, and many other features is a good fit for multiple projects.

Short Messaging and Collaboration – Along with the wikis, IM,email, and other means of idea and knowledge exchange I have found with an environment with everyone working remotely from home there is a loss of communication in terms of what is going on.  Being that when everyone is in a office you can look over and see what Bob or Alice are doing.  Or ask one of them for a quick opinion or help on something.  My solution to this was to implement a social network internally for the company.  Here people can share updates on what they are doing and feed off of one another.  It’s also a great way to automatically update a feed with Subversion commits.  The easy stripped down way to do this is by installing WordPress or using (hosting this site) and using the P2 theme along with setting the site to private in order to only let your co-workers contribute and read posts.  A more in-depth way to create this community is by having an install of Elgg which will enable the social messaging along with big bonuses like social bookmarking.

In Part 2 we will be covering the hosting infrastructing and tying all these things together.