Business tools

Why we’re a million dollar business with billion dollar infrastructure

I’ve been thinking recently what a great time it is to be running a small business. The tools available right now couldn’t be dreamed of ten years ago. Their cost is trivial. And they enable a small, growing business like ours to do amazing things.

Consider our technology set-up, which I consider to be world class.

We use Google Mail, Chat, Documents and Calendar for our core day-to-day processes. I was explaining to a friend recently just how amazing Gmail is for businesses.

Consider this: Larry Page runs a business which brings in $US14 Billion each quarter. He has the world’s best engineers and thinkers. And they built an email system for themselves that is insanely good.

Oh…and they’re letting us use it. For free. Or next to free ($50 per person p/a in our case).

In this context, a small business is insane not to be using the email system Larry and his team built for themselves.

They’re generous guys, these Googlers. They also let us use their search engine for free too ;-)

So we use Gmail for businesses, which integrates perfectly with their Calendar system and Drive for documents. All this information is synced to our cloud-based Google Drive. We rely on DFP for ad serving, Google Analytics for reporting, and a raft of other cloud-based tools for various tasks. For example, we’re all big fans of Droplr for sharing things visually amongst the team.

We use self-hosted WordPress for our CMS for our websites. Apart from security issues, WordPress is pure pleasure and lets us push the boundaries on what can be done in online publishing.

We have an internal chat system, modelled around the popular Yammer tool (but with our tool, we own our data!). This reduces our internal email and lets our distributed team stay up to date on what we’re all working on each day.

We use Skype for our daily stand-ups and we have an Australian local number mapped to Zolton’s US mobile, as he works out of Austin, Tx.

For accounting, we run Xero.

Xero is perhaps the best piece of software I’ve ever experienced. It’s a sheer joy to use.

Xero provides us with an employee portal, so the team can request leave and see their other employee information. They lodge their expenses on the go using the iPhone app (which takes a photo of the receipt so they can submit from Sydney and I can approve from Newcastle).

We also integrate our publishing system into Xero – so our writers are sent a pre-generated invoice each month for their approval and we lodge a draft payable automatically in Xero via the API. This alone has saved us around 6 hours a month (as I previously used to have to manually verify every invoice for accuracy). Now I know it’s correct as our system generated it. You can’t do this kind of thing unless your tools are cloud-based.

Finally, we use a cloud based CRM system for managing our sales channel and delivering on our client projects. This integrates fully with our mail system, so it’s frictionless in terms of keeping updated.

So, what does all of this enable us to do?

We can all work from home, or the cafe, or from our phones. Every bit of information I need to run our growing business is available to me from any computer in the world. This is amazingly powerful.

It means we have an end-to-end set of tools that together provides us with a technology set-up that ten years ago would only be available to the world’s biggest companies.

We have literally a billion dollar infrastructure set. But we access it for trivial sums each month.

Our disaster recovery planning is robust given the cloud focus of our business.

Yes, there’s an argument that we’re reliant on third parties. Google has our data. What if the ‘net goes down? Well, to this I say that every business is reliant on third-parties. I’ve seen enough businesses paying thousands a month for their Exchange and document servers…and they rarely seem happy. Given the choice, I’d much rather couple with Google (and our other providers) than almost any other business.

The ‘net going down? Yep….we’d be stuffed. But then again, we’re an online business. We’d be in trouble anyway.

Comments

  1. Remi

    Hey Zac, great post! We’re using almost the identical set of tools, and I also thank the digital heavens regularly!

    I’m curious to know what the cloud based CRM system that integrates fully with gmail is!

    Cheers,
    Remi

    • Zac

      Hey Remi – that tool is probably the one bit I deliberately left off. Will speak to you offline.

  2. Ditto Remi’s comments … would LOVE to hear which CRM you prefer!

  3. Hey Zac, I’d be interested to know what you use for CRM given the setup you described. Also, to what extent does it integrate with your Google email/calendar and your Xero accounting package?
    Thanks

  4. Zac

    Guys – the CRM system mentioned above is Insight.ly

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