Episode 18 | Free and Low Cost Solutions

Show Notes

[00:00] Mike: This is Startups for the Rest of Us: Episode 18.

[00:04] [music]

[00:13] Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers be awesome at launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product or are just thinking about it. I’m Mike.

[00:21] Rob: And I’m Rob.

[00:22] Mike: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. So, what’s going on this week Rob? You getting anymore sleep?

[00:28] Rob: I am. We’re actually getting quite a bit of sleep. So I’m able to get a bit on work done. I’m actually slowly returning to work right now. Probably get a good three hours in today which is – it’s kind of refreshing actually. I was off for about two and a half weeks.

[00:41] Mike: Wait, wait three hours of sleep or three hours of work? [laughs]

[00:44] Rob: Three hours of work. So it’s actually been kind of nice to get back to work. To be off for a couple of weeks and then come back and be productive again – makes me feel good.

[00:54] I did want to talk about this interesting road that I’ve been traveling down. I’m getting my book, Start Small Stay Small converted to Kindle format and EPUB which is compatible with the iBookstore. I just got that first draft back from a contractor today, from an outsource firm, and looks really sharp. It was really cool to bring it up in the Kindle viewer and just to see the book. It looks so nice and professional.

[01:19] There’s a bunch of work to be done, or a bunch of kind a small corks to be ironed out. I assume by the time this airs, actually, there should be a Kindle version available you can buy directly through your Kindle or Amazon.  And in the Apple iBookstore, unless…

[01:34] Apple have some weird stuff, so there I could see there being a problem like I heard that you can only do it on a Mac. You can only create it in an iBook compatible version of the book on a Mac. If I can’t do it I can’t do it, but I’m going to definitely give it a shot.

[01:48] This has been more complicated than I thought. I thought that you could just use a converter, go from Word doc to one of these, kind of publish it like it was a PDF doc, but it’s not at all. It needed a bunch of hand coding. So I had to hire someone to do that.

[02:00] Mike: Yeah, I’m not terribly surprised about that, to be honest, because Word has its own kind of format.  I’m not surprised that there may be some special constraints around publishing in that format.

[02:12] Rob: I agree. I had hoped that it would be kind of save as PDF and that you could just add something and save as EPUB, save as PRC. There’s not a chance, though. There’s a bunch of hand coding. That’s been cool. So, StartUpBook.net if you’re interested in hearing about that.

[02:27] The other thing is I haven’t done consulting work in well over a year, but a friend of a friend asked me to do just 20 hours of work for him last month.  And I worked with this component that was so freaking good that I had to talk about it. Seriously, I was so amazed I told them they need to raise their price. I mean it was one of those experiences where you’re just like blown away by the marketing and the usability and the ease of use, the whole deal in this thing.

[02:52] It’s called PHPurchase.com. I think it’s supposed to be like PHPPurchase.com but its PHPurchase.com. It’s just a WordPress plug-in, and it’s to make a shopping cart in your WordPress install.

[03:05] I looked, I evaluated. I probably spent two to three hours.  I have a list of about 12 plug-ins that I evaluated and this one is by far the best. It’s very simple.  There are some WordPress cart themes that actually create all the layouts and you enter a database of products. This one is more like you enter some products and it just gives you a “Buy Now” button you can put anywhere in your WordPress install.

[03:28] These guys are top notch so I wanted to mention them on here. I told them I was going to and really impressed with their work.  And I actually was looking at other stuff they built because it’s like, man, if I ever need any other components, I’m definitely going to these guys. So that was PHPurchase.com.

[03:43] The last thing is I wanted to give a shout out to a good friend Andy White. He does the Internet marketing podcast right now and he has just started his own podcast. He’s writing a book and he has a blog, and it’s PodcastingAdvisor.com. So if anyone out there is interested in doing their own podcast or learning how to podcast you should definitely check that site out. That’s it for me, that’s kind of the stuff I’d been gathering over the past few weeks.

[04:09] Mike: Very cool. Personally, I haven’t been doing a whole heck of a lot.  Because it’s summer I’ve been trying to enjoy the weather a little bit more and neglecting the business side of things a little bit more than I probably should.  But I’m putting the time to good use. So I’m trying to work out and get some exercise and lose some weight. I’ve got an upcoming trip down to Disney World later this year and then another one down to the Bahamas next late spring or early summer.

[04:34] Rob: Vacation. I didn’t know you took vacations.

[04:36] Mike: Yeah, you got to take some vacations. And I also took a week off October for the business of software conference that’s coming up. I know you’re speaking at that.

[04:45] Rob: See you there. Yeah, it’ll be cool to hang out, and I think some other folks I’ve been emailing in the Academy who were thinking about going as well.

[04:51] Mike: Mm-hmm, cool.

[04:52] Rob: That’ll be nice.  We’ll have to get together and have some dinner and such.  And any of you listeners out there, if you’re planning on going, we should definitely touch base.

[04:59] Mike: Yeah. The other thing, I realize this after we had recorded the last podcast, and it was another way that you could use to help make ends meet when you’re starting up your company.

[05:11] One of them is that if you have student loans, you can request a temporary forbearance. Usually this is more applicable to the US based listeners. For student loans, you request for forbearance and what that essentially means is that you still got to pay interest on your student loans, but you don’t have to make the monthly payments. So I’ve done this in the past before and my wife did it at about the same time, and we actually saved ourselves pretty close to about $600 a month by requesting forbearance.

[05:38] Like I said, you still have to pay the interest back and they’re still accumulating that interest, but the interest rate is just so low. So if it’s a choice between doing that and paying credit cards or paying off your credit cards, it’s kind of a no-brainer just because the interest is so low and it’s guaranteed to continue being that way.

[05:56] Whereas a credit card or some of your other expenses you could certainly rack up quite a bit of debt there.  For your student loans you’ve got a lot of time to play with. In some cases, it can make sense to do that.

[06:07] The other option is deferment, and that’s actually a lot harder to get. That’s if you are going back to school. The difference between a forbearance and a deferment is that a deferment doesn’t accumulate the interest anymore. So it actually stops accumulating that interest while you’re not paying it.  Whereas a forbearance you can request it anytime. You can just say, “I’ve got a financial hardship,” or “I lost my job,” or “I’m quitting my job,” and you need to make ends meet. That’s the difference between those two.

[06:34] Rob: Nice. That’s a good tip.

[06:36] [music]

[06:39] Mike: So for today’s podcast we’re going to look at a number of low cost or open source solutions that you can use for your business.  And it kind of ties into the last episode where we talked about 11 different ways to make ends meet while you’re starting up. This one is more about making sure that you have the tools that you need in order to be able to run your business and expand your business without spending a huge amount of money on it.

[07:02] Some of these solutions that we are going to talk about are completely free. Some of them are fairly low cost for what they are, but we’re going to go through about probably 10 or 11 different groups of tools that you can use to build up your company whether it’s operating systems or mail servers, things like that.

[07:20] Rob, I guess the big one is operating systems. That’s one of those things that – you need an operating system to run most computers these days so why don’t we start off there?

[07:28] Rob: Very good. Obviously, the go-to one that a lot of people will think of in terms of a cheap or free option is Linux, and I actually had played a little bit with Ubuntu, although it’s been a year or two.  But I have just heard such good things about it so that would be the go-to if I was going to be heading towards the Linux.

[07:44] The other thing that a lot of people don’t know about is Microsoft BizSpark program which allows you to get all bunch of licenses to basically all of Microsoft’s stuff that you would need as a developer.  And you essentially get it for free for a couple of years. I think you can opt for a third year, and after that third year you have like a $100 exit fee. So you can get pretty much three years worth of all the OS licenses you need essentially for free, or for a $100 at the end of that three years.

[08:15] Mike: So the next set of tools that are almost essential for any developer are bug tracking. There are a number of different ways to go about tracking your bugs.  And of course, people probably start out with Notepad or Excel or something like that. But there’s a number of bug tracking vendors out there who offer low cost or free versions of their bug tracking software.

[08:35] One of them is Axosoft, and you can find them at Axosoft.com. If you download their software you get a one user license for free. FogBugz is another one that you can use their hosted solution, and that one you get two users for free.  And then the third one is Bugzilla.

[08:50] The problem with Bugzilla – I guess the major drawback with Bugzilla is that you have to host it somewhere. So if you have your own server, your own Internet connection that you want to host Bugzilla on, you can certainly do that, but at that point it’s easier to use something like FogBugz just because they’re going to host it for you. You still got up to two users and the only real drawback to using FogBugz over Bugzilla is the fact that if you go over two users, you’re going to have to start paying for it.

[09:16] Rob: I have used hosted FogBugz for two and a half years probably.  I started off with the startup pack which is free for two users and eventually outgrew that.  And it’s worked out great. There is a cost.  Once you go over those two users it’s $25 a month per user, so if you have four users, it’s $100. You don’t get the first two users free then.

[09:35] But frankly, for the headache that it kind of has removed from my business life it is well worth it. In early days when you’re first starting up it is free. I mean I went for many months, and maybe even a year, and just didn’t pay a dime for it, and it was always there, and it’s easy to use and everything. Until I bumped into that two user mark, everything was fine. So I definitely recommend that.

[09:57] I tried Bugzilla, I installed it, I did not like the usability at all. I felt it was like ridiculously hard to use. It was kind of that stereotypical open source issue where it just wasn’t nearly as usable as the other two options that you mentioned.

[10:10] Mike: I got into using Axosoft a few years ago because they were running a promotion for their bug tracking software, which is called On Time. Basically, they started a marketing campaign to see how many people they could get to buy their software for $5, and they took every single dollar that they made from those sales and donated it to the Red Cross. It was all going to charity; it had nothing to do with making money off of it.

[10:34] They were just selling all of these five year licenses for $5.  And honestly, I went out and I bought it and it literally sat on my hard drive for a couple of months before I even installed it. I just thought that it was a good cause so I just went on and paid $5 and said, “Here you go.” So I kind of count it as more of a donation.  But then I got to using it. I was pretty impressed; it was actually a very good product.

[10:54] Rob: The third category of tool is source control, and even as a one person company, we absolutely recommend that you have source control, because it’s not about collaboration, but it’s about being able to save all of your changes, being able to roll back, branch and merge, as well as hopefully to have something offsite.

[11:13] Some of the options that we’ve seen people use successfully, including ones that we use ourselves, are Subversion, Mercurial, Git. There’s a free one user license to Vault from Source Care if you like the old Source Safe mode of check-in, check-out.

[11:28] So to backtrack a little bit and cover these, I’ve actually used Vault with a lot of success. I haven’t it for a few years, but it’s top-notch, high quality, follows the old visual Source Safe model with check-in, check-out file locking.  It kind of follows a similar paradigm and I highly recommend it.

[11:44] Then I then switched to Subversion from there and it follows them more of the CVS model where you don’t lock files and you branch and merge things as you update the main repository. Of course, I’ve talked about this before, but I get free Subversion hosting with my web hosting with DreamHost, and I’ve good luck with that. I’ve probably had six or eight developers working on that without a problem.

[12:04] Certainly, Mercurial and Git are kind of the up and coming, and it seems like that’s where everyone is headed. It seems like we’ll all be using that in a few years. Have you worked with Mercurial or Git?

[12:16] Mike: Mercurial.

[12:17] Rob: Cool,  And what do you think about that brand, the distributed source control?

[12:21] Mike:  I like it a lot. There’s advantages and disadvantages to it in regards to Vault.  And actually, Vault, I’ve seen in the options menu that you can use Vault in a CVS-like manner. I never really kind of liked that just because there is always, I guess, in my mind, the risk that you could be changing stuff and you accidentally not check it in or this or that. If you don’t check something in and all your files don’t get in, somebody else tries to get the latest version and it breaks their build.  That was always kind of a huge pain in the neck.

[12:51] But Mercurial seems like it gets around that because it basically lumps all of the changes in your set of directories together as a single set of changes. I actually found that I kind of liked it because what I could do is I could be working on my laptop, I could be working on my desktop and I could set up different repositories on the server for my laptop and from my desktop, and I could be doing different things on either of them or I can be working on the same things.  And just by pushing or pulling my change sets from one repository to another, which is extremely easy to do with Mercurial, you can be working on whatever it is that you need to or want to at any given time. Plus you get that offsite backup.

[13:31] The reason I always kind of tended towards Vault was just because of the fact that you’re checking files out and you’re locking them so nobody else can touch them, and then when you’re done making those changes you can push them back into Vault and you essentially couple all your changes together. But with Mercurial, it’s not necessarily nearly much of a problem as it was before, plus you’re not locking things for other people.

[13:53] I’ve had issues where I will start working on something on my laptop and then I go to my desktop and I have some of those files locked. It’s kind of a pain, because I then have to go back to my laptop and check them in or go into the administrative tool and unlock them.  If I just forgot or if there are changes, I can push them through. It seems to me that Mercurial fits my style a little better.

[14:13] So the next category of tools is backup software. Now, you really need to have some sort of a backup for most of your stuff if not all of them. I personally backup all of the ISO images that I download from Microsoft with my MSDN subscription. But I certainly wouldn’t need to if I didn’t want to.  But there’s a lot of other stuff that’s on my hard drive that I’ve gotten from various places or it’s backups of different things that you want to have a backup of. Raid doesn’t necessarily do it because Raid is just creating a copy of it and it’s no good for disaster recovery. You really need to have some sort of an offsite backup.

[14:50] For example, one of the things that Rob and I do for the Micropreneur Academy is that even though our host provider for the academy has all of our videos and all of our audio files and all the content that we have for the site backed up on their systems by basically providing 99.99% whatever percent reliability for it, there’s always that chance that everything could go down.  And plus, since they also host Subversion, that could be a problem.

[15:16] So what I actually have is I have it setup so that all of their stuff is downloaded onto a NAS device that I have in my office once a week. So I basically have a copy of everything that’s no more than once a week old, and I backup differentials every single day.

[15:32] Now, that works for us for that particular business, but what about the listener?  How do you backup your stuff from your personal location or from your desktop or your laptop to an offsite place?

[15:42] Well, there’s a lot of other tools out there that you can use and various services that are extremely cheap. There is a one called Backblaze, there’s another one called Carbonite, and there’s a third one called iBackup. There are several others as well, but typically these will run you about $5 a month, $60 a year. You can usually backup as much stuff as you want on any given computer. If you want to backup network devices or network drives, there are sometimes some issues associated with that.  But you can usually just pay $5 per computer that you’re backing up and then backup as much data as you want or as you need to.

[16:18] I kind of looked at Backblaze a little bit and one of the cool things that they have is just from a technical perspective. They actually show you how to build a 67 ½ terabyte 40 rack mount machine for about seven or eight thousand dollars, and they have these specs on their site.  So if you’re interested in it you can go search their site and they actually have this entire article.

[16:39] Like I said, I mean all these services are pretty comparable, about $60 a year, usually $50 or so if you pay in advance for the whole year. It’s just cost effective and almost essential.

[16:51] If they can target a business where they’ve got ten different machines in an office and they back them all up, it’s $50 a month. For a business that’s a great deal. Fifty bucks a month to make sure that all of your stuff on everybody’s computer is completely backed up?  That’s an awesome deal

[17:08] And they’re not going to have nearly as much data as you and I. Basically, for that $5, they’re banking on a maximum amount of data for the average user. I think at a data point of around 200 gigs or so for the average user, beyond that that’s where they start to lose money. If you go to the Backblaze blog they actually tell you how much money it cost per gigabyte to store it over the course of three years or five years, and its pennies. It’s dirt, dirt cheap per gigabyte.

[17:37] Rob: Yeah, you know with business pricing, though, like with Mozy in particular, if you’re a consumer you pay $5 a month flat and it’s essentially unlimited. But when you switch over the pro plan, which is the business plan, then it’s $4 for a desktop license plus 50 cents per gig per month.  And for a server it’s $7 plus 50 cents per gig per month.

[17:57] That’s probably more of their bread and butter for all of these guises. I’m sure they break even or make a little bit on the consumer side, but it seems like they would make quite a bit more. If you’re happy with it as a consumer, then you’re going to highly recommend it or at least trust it when it comes to backing up your business.

[18:13] Our next category of tools is database software, and everybody knows the standard open source alternative such as MySQL and Postgres. These are obviously awesome databases for Linux installs, and even some folks I know run these on production Windows boxes, which is interesting.

[18:29] What a lot of people don’t think about is the express editions of the otherwise costly databases from Microsoft and Oracle. The express edition of sequel server, which I’ve used very extensively over the past couple of years, is freaking awesome now. It used to be limited, it used to be throttled to five users, but this was years ago.

[18:50] Right now, it’s a shockingly capable database. I mean they really have given you a lot.  And I’ve actually had a few clients use this – again it was a year or two ago – they used it on larger sites. They really didn’t run into performance issues until they hit a really high point of growth, at which point, of course, they could afford the fees for getting a SQL Server license.

[19:10] Now, I have never worked with that Oracle Express edition, but I’m assuming that, if they’ve kept up at all, that they’re in-line with the SQL Server Express. You have experience with that Mike?

[19:20] Mike: Yeah, I’ve installed it before.  I was working with an enterprise company that was having me do some work on securing their Oracle databases. So I actually used that so I had a test environment. I actually installed that Oracle on a Windows machine.  And I know that most people have it running in production on a Linux or Solaris or an AIX environment or something along those lines. But I installed it, got it up and running. I was absolutely shocked because it was one of the few times that I was able to get Oracle installed and running without any problems.

[19:52] So I think Oracle’s come a long way in terms of getting their installer to work properly in different cases.  But yeah, it worked fine. I didn’t have any issues with it.

[20:02] Rob: Yeah, I’ve always felt like Oracle was the huge beast to install. But I’ve pretty much only installed it on Windows, actually. All during development when we worked with it…I mean this is back in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Once we’ve got it running on Windows, it was super stable. The management console was freaking horrendous. But in terms of coding against it, it was always a really good engine running on Windows. It was very stable.

[20:25] Mike: Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever run into any of these four databases in particular that isn’t stable. As soon as you get them installed, they’re fine. At this point, I would probably put SQL Server and Oracle on kind of a level playing field from a startup environment.

[20:41] However, once you get past the limitations of the three versions of SQL and Oracle, as you said, it can be thousands and thousands of dollars for those things. So you really kind of have to pick and choose what you’re going to be running those on.

[20:55] The next one is mail servers. Now, running a mail server is probably not what most people who are building a business should be doing, unless your business is running mail servers.  What you should really do is you should outsource that in some way, shape or form.

[21:09] Now, most ISPs are going to offer you free mail hosting.  So if you buy a domain name from somebody and you host it there, you can usually get free email hosting as well. But you can also get Google to host your corporate email for just $50 a year, and that gets you 25 Gigs of space in your email. If you’re already comfortable with using Gmail, having Google host your corporate email is a great option.

[21:32] Rob: I’ve actually had good luck going into my web host. I run a bunch of businesses. I have 10 or 12 – I mean depending on what you consider a business. But I have a lot of websites and I need to respond to a lot of different emails as different people; you know, essentially being support for a different website. So once Google implemented the POP where they can send as a POP address, because they’ve always been able to pull emails as a POP, but they just implemented the send maybe nine months ago or maybe a year ago. That was the ticket right there.

[22:03] So you can actually now get email from a mailbox and send as that mailbox from Gmail. It’s really handy. I have probably 10 addresses now that I can send as. Typically, I only do that for the first few months that I own a website and then I try to get that off my plate to a virtual assistant. But for a few months it’s super handy. There’s a lot of flexibility. That’s just the basic free Gmail account I don’t actually pay for it at this point, but I’d be totally willing to.  I mean it’s critical to running my business.

[22:31] Our next category is FTP software. Our recommendation is to use WinSCP on Windows. It’s free and it allows you to use FTP, secure FTP, and SCP. On the Linux side, most software is going to be built in to your OS.

[22:46] This was a surprising find. Mike actually recommended WinSCP. I had been using straight FTP through just Microsoft Explorer, and I also had FileZilla, and I had a plug-in through Firefox, and all of those had one issue or another. WinSCP has brought everything together. It has the most features, it’s easy to use, and it’s free. I highly recommend that if you’re not using it. WinSCP.

[23:09] Mike: The other thing is I download all the files and stuff from the Micropreneur Academy once a week. It’s the command line version of the WinSCP tool that I used to do that. I basically just set up a scheduled job that downloads that stuff once a week. It has syncing capabilities built into it as well, so you can sync up between a local directory and a remote directory very, very easily.

[23:33] The next category is PDF writing software. Most people think that in order to create a PDF, you have to have Adobe Acrobat – that’s completely not true. You can just go out and download a utility called PDF Creator or another one called CutePDF.  Either one of these, after you’ve installed it, you can simply print to a PDF file.

[23:52] It’s just like Adobe Acrobat. The only difference is that you don’t have the editing capabilities of editing the PDF file. But the vast majority of people don’t actually need that capability. If all you need to do is create PDFs, you can just use PDF Creator or CutePDF, print to a PDF file and you’re done.

[24:09] Rob: If you’re using Office 2007, it’s actually built into it. It’s a free download from Microsoft and you can just “Save As” in Word or Excel or any other Office products and there’s a PDF right there.

[24:22] Next category is content management systems. There are a ton of content management systems – hundreds and hundreds of them. This is a market where we actually tell entrepreneurs not to go into.

[24:31] The content management systems that we’d recommend, certainly WordPress is going to be at the top of the list. Drupal is excellent.  It’s a little bit more complex, a little bit more flexibility.  And then Joomla! is even more complex with even more flexibility. So, depending on your needs, those are the top three I would absolutely recommend for Linux installs.  And then if you’re going to go on Windows, DotNetNuke is the standby. It’s tried and true solution.

[24:57] A lot of developers have some trepidation about using a CMS because they feel like it constraints their ability to, say, write some code or make some type of decision that they want to make. But I tell you, especially with the new plug-in architectures that these things have, it is amazing how simple it is to do anything you want. In addition, if you go for these popular CMS’s, they have this huge ecosystem of plug-ins and themes. And it’s crazy, cheap or free to really get the functionality that you want.

[25:28] So once I started going with WordPress – I pretty much do all my websites on WordPress now, and I can’t imagine going back and building static HTML sites like I used to. I just don’t see the benefit. I really would encourage you. If you’re going to build a public facing website that you consider using a CMS.  In the long run it will save you time.

[25:47] Mike: I cannot agree more. So the next tool that we came up with was for file sharing. Now, if you’re doing any sort of file sharing either between your laptop and your desktop or with other people over the Internet, there are two solutions you should definitely look into. One of them is called Dropbox and the other one is called SugarSync.

[26:05] Now, both of these solutions work very similarly. You’ll probably have to sit down and kind of look at the specific features of both of them to figure out whether one is better for you or the other, but they’re very comparable. It essentially allows you to set up these folders on your laptop or your desktop and it will sync them between one machine and another.

[26:23] I use Dropbox all the time because I have a laptop and a desktop, and I want to make sure that there’s a set of files that are always on the other machine, and I don’t have to carry around the USB drive. I mean I do like for extremely large stuff, because I carry around all these ISO images and everything. But for a lot of my smaller files, like my Word documents, some of my business files, I basically just throw in my Dropbox directory and they get synced over the Internet to the other machines that I have Dropbox installed on.

[26:53] Now, in addition, you can share files with other people. You can set up rights and privileges such that they can go in there and they can make changes to those documents and those files, almost like it was a version control system for your documents. You can share one folder with one individual, you can share a different folder with somebody else, and it’s all pretty seamless. It works very, very well. They have a low-end version that is basically free. It’s kind of the freemium model.

[27:21] Rob: Our next category of tools is transferring large files over the web. Typically, this is when you want to just email someone and have the file attached, but it’s 50 Megs or it’s 150 Megs. Maybe you’re dealing with a user who’s not going to know how to FTP or how to even right-click and do Save As, and you just want it to be as dead simple as possible. There are a couple of tools that we’ve used very successfully to transfer.  We work with a lot of audio and video files, and these apps work really well for that.

[27:49] One is YouSendIt.com. Another is DropSend.com.  And the other one is TransferBigFiles.com. I’m pretty sure all of them have free plans. I know at least the first two I named do because I’ve use the free plans for both of them. Frankly, they’re just really handy for dealing with kind of non-technical users, or even if you want to email something to yourself and are not going to have FTP access at some point, these are kind of good backup plans.

[28:15] Mike: The next category of tools is virtualization. Some people are familiar with virtualization, some people aren’t. The basics of virtualization is that it allows you to run multiple operating systems on a computer without switching hard drives or duel booting the machine. Basically, they all run at the exact same time.

[28:34] There’s two different pieces of software that are extremely helpful. One of them is called the ESXi server. You’re probably familiar with VMware and VMware Workstation. VMware Workstation allows you to run things on your desktop.  While ESXi server, if you have a piece of hardware that’s on the approved hardware compatibility list from VMware, you can install ESXi server and it’s absolutely free.

[28:59] The difference between the ESXi server and ESX server is just the level of support and the fact that you can’t connect multiple hardware devices together and do an automatic failover from one machine to another, for example.

[29:14] The other virtualization tool that you can use is a desktop application called VirtualBox. Now, VirtualBox is very, very similar to VMware Workstation. You install it on your laptop or your desktop and you can install operating systems into these files that are sitting on your machine. You can fire them up, shut them down, and allocate resources to them. Again, it’s very comparable to VMware Workstation except that it’s free.

[29:38] Rob: Our last category of tools is one that Mike doesn’t think is a category, but I contend that it is. So we’re going to have a good little discussion about this. But essentially, I added this at the last minute, and it’s time tracking. It doesn’t matter which tool you use. I’ll name three that I know work well.

[29:55] One is SlimTimer – I’ve used this for several years, and that’s the model where you have a bunch of tasks and you just click on a task and it starts the timer and then you click when you’re done. It’s pretty easy.  It’s not like a timesheet entry type thing. Then Mike has used RescueTime for quite some time. We know that works well. Then there’s an app called ClickTime that is the original SAS time tracker that launched in the mid ‘90s or late ‘90s. All three of those are solid time tracking apps.

[30:21] But again, it doesn’t matter which you use. I think the bigger issue is I’m a big contender of tracking your time even when you’re not billing that time. There are actually a couple of reasons for that. One is that if at some point you decide you want to sell that business or sell that application, you know exactly how many hours you have spent in its entirety. You can say, “This is 1,500 hours of work.”

[30:43] In addition, you could actually use that as a marketing point when people ask how big is your app, or you could even just kind of bring it up, like, “This is 1,500 developer hours of work.” It shows that it’s a complex app; that someone can’t just rewrite it in a weekend or something.

[30:57] The second point is at the end of every month since I have multiple businesses that I run, I do a big reconciliation and I look at how many hours I spent on each of my businesses, and how much profit each of them brought in. I have an hourly rate for all of them for every month.  So I can pretty quickly see which ones are paying off big time and which ones are floundering, and I can adjust my attention accordingly. I can sell off products with a lower per hour profitability, which I have done that in the past. It just gives you a really solid metric to do that from.

[31:29] Now, the one caveat I’ll  say is I’ve worked SlimTimer into my workflow. So it’s a no-brainer for me because I constantly am clicking and un-clicking. I just know to do it. So it’s not this big strenuous thing that I go at the end of the day and I think back and say, “Oh, an hour here”.  If it was that then I would say screw it and I wouldn’t do it.

[31:48] But I get pretty darn accurate numbers and it’s just a part of what I do. If you’ve been a consultant long term and had to track your time, then this will be part of what you’ve done. So, that’s my recommendation; that’s my pitch.

[32:00] Mike: I guess my take on it is I don’t necessarily track all the time that I spend on stuff. One of the things that you had mentioned is that you track your time so that if you spend 1,500 hours developing a particular product or a piece of an application, it shows that somebody couldn’t just develop that in a weekend. I would actually argue that that’s not necessarily the case, because just because you spent 1,500 hours on it doesn’t mean that there’s somebody out there who’s 10 times more productive than you who is able to bang that thing out in 150 hours.

[32:31] That’s certainly possible, especially if they’re looking at your application and they are, for all intents and purposes, copying it as best as they can, because they don’t have to make design decisions. They can look at what you’ve done and just replicate it. They don’t have to think about things like that. They just say, “Was that a good idea or no? Is that something people wanted or no?” and they can just build it.

[32:51] Whereas when you’re building a product and you’re doing the marketing for it, you’re testing out different things to see what works, what people are interested in, and what people aren’t. The first several hundred hours that you’ve put into a product to come out with version one, you start finding those things out. You start finding out why people are using those things.

[33:08] So I do tend to agree with you that it gives you a ballpark number of how complicated it could be to build something, but I don’t know if that’s like the defining factor in determining whether, I guess, how complicated something is, because I consider myself a very good developer and I can look at something that’s pretty complicated and simplify it in my head very easily. Some people are great at that and some people aren’t. So, I just don’t think time is a great measurement of complexity.

[33:35] I will completely grant you that tracking your time is great for figuring out how much a product is worth, because if you’re only spending an hour a month maintaining that product and that you’re monetizing your time at $900 an hour, that’s phenomenal. You could turn around and resell that at a very high markup because the amount of time and investment that is required to do ongoing maintenance is very, very small.

[33:59] So, I can certainly see uses for it. But I’m more of a person who’s task-driven as opposed to time. I certainly look at tasks as opposed to how long it will take me to accomplish these tasks.

[34:10] [music]

[34:13] Rob: If you have a question or comment please call into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690, or you can email it in mp3 or text format to questions@startupsfortherestofus.com.

[34:25] I actually want to pause here and give a shout out to Dan at the Lifestyle Business Podcast. He did this thing a couple of episodes ago and I thought it was kind of cool.

[34:33] Basically, we want people to either tweet or email us or call in and tell us that weirdest or the most exotic place that you’ve listened to our podcast. I had a listener call and say that he listens to it while he’s jogging next to this river and I was like, “That’s kind of neat.” But if you’ve ever listened to it at some funky place or if you ever thought to yourself like, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m listening to this here,” please let us know.

[34:59] If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider writing a review in iTunes by searching for “Startups”. You can subscribe to this podcast in iTunes or via RSS at StartupsForTheRestOfUs.com.

[35:09] Our theme music is an excerpt of “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. A full transcript of the podcast is available at our website, StartupsForTheRestOfUs.com. We’ll see you next time.

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4 Responses to “Episode 18 | Free and Low Cost Solutions”

  1. For SVN hosting, I’d also recommend Assembla. They used to be free but now cost money but are worth it.

  2. Gents listened to this one on a 60ft bonka crossing the verde island passage to Botangas port in southern Luzon, the Philippines. I had to hold my earbuds in because the engines were so loud. Enjoying your work here guys!

  3. Bugzilla is just old and ugly. Better open source bug tracking apps are redmine and trac:

    http://www.redmine.org
    http://trac.edgewall.org/

  4. Great episode guys – just listened to this again. Would be good to do this twice per year to revisit and update. –Jack