Bootstrapped tech helps startups

Inexpensive cloud-based platforms make business easier for the mobile entrepreneur

Cornell online business courses

Photo: Mona Anita K. Olsen
Cornell University offers massive open online courses for small businesses at no cost through its edX platform.

Mona Anita K. Olsen, PhD
& Charity Karanja
Cornell University

Starting a business today is easier and cheaper than it has ever been before. With access to reasonably priced technology platforms with increasing functionality in a user-friendly format, an entrepreneur can operate a business from any location around the world from his or her mobile device using cloud-based technology. At Cornell University, I teach a class called HADM 4180/6180: Technology for Bootstrapped Entrepreneurship. This course prepares those with entrepreneurial intentions through a process of identifying, evaluating, and designing cloud-based technology to enhance service delivery in either a for-profit or non-profit venture using a bootstrapped approach. Each semester, we cover different tools available on the market from Grasshopper (virtual phone system) to Salesforce (customer relationship management) to Square (payment processing). This semester, we have focused on some recommendations for the startup entrepreneur where you can get the most functionality and quality for the cost for the organization of the business. These recommendations include GSuite, SmartSheet, Skype, Zoom, and Instagram.

All of these five systems fill a key area of business necessity and assist in smoother business operations and both internal and external communications. All of these tools allow employees and customers to communicate smoothly. Skype and Zoom support remote employees through different chat and video-conferencing options. Skype is often used in Norway and around the world as a communication tool. For those on the Skype network, calls are free. Zoom provides video conferencing support with a tremendous number of features, making it useful for trainings, client calls, and collaborative editing. Instagram supports communication and brand representation through a popular social media platform. Smartsheet allows for strong project-management processes, document storage, and internal collaboration. Gsuite provides email access and a host of apps for communication and efficiency in the business. The combination and integration of these tools builds a strong support system for any business. It is also imperative to highlight the ease of use, cost-friendliness, flexibility, and productivity that each of these vendors provides.

The primary goal of any business is their main operational function. A consulting firm is focused on assisting its clients in accomplishing their goals, such as increasing efficiency. A clothing company is focused on designing different clothing items and distributing them for sale to clients and vendors. The common denominator, however, is the need for a strong link between people, process, and technology. Today, this tech backbone consists of primarily cloud-based systems. Incorporating cloud-based systems into a business enables mobility and flexibility not only for the business but also for the employees. It is crucial entrepreneurs grasp the simplicity of this process and understand the ease in which they can incorporate these systems into their daily business operations.

Despite the necessity of a strong techsupport system, many fear the incorporation of cloud-based tools. On the other end of the spectrum, some incorporate too many tools, because they are fixated on the hype around them. It is critical to emphasize that these tools are not just tech for tech’s sake; they all fill a critical need for the business and enable it to operate more efficiently. Realizing the minimalistic aspect of technology in a new business is key.

Flexibility is another critical aspect of all of these systems. Each vendor offers a variety of products and packages to consumers. Business of varying sizes with varying needs can tailor their technology specifically to them. This flexibility also allows for a more efficient bootstrapped budget. There is no need to pay for additional, frivolous expenses that do not directly benefit the business in its startup phase. Finally, these tools are accessible via the web or a mobile app and have strong support databases and customer-service teams.

To learn more about technology tools for small business, there are a variety of resources to take advantage of. Cornell routinely offers massive open online courses (MOOCs) and small-private online courses (SPOCs) to the public on various topics, including technology and entrepreneurship. Cornell MOOCs, for example, are hosted on the edX platform and available at no cost. IBM offers courses to the public through CognitiveClass.ai. These courses are also offered at no cost, and you can take the courses on a timeline and speed that suits your interests. Courses are offered at a variety of levels, from beginner to advanced, and cover topics from an overview of big data to blockchain basics to data journalism. Finally, Founderkit is a resource that provides reviews and advice from leading founders on a variety of different tools for entrepreneurs on the market.

Mona Anita K. Olsen is an assistant professor at the School of Hotel Administration in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business​ in Ithaca, N.Y. ​She is also the founder of Innovation Barn 58N6E and the 501c3 iMADdu (I make a difference, do you?) Inc.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 29, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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