How to start a company without an IT professional

Have you ever noticed that IT professionals are grumpy? I think that part of the reason is because they never get calls like this: "Hey IT guy, just calling to say that everything is working okay today and you're a great guy!"

The calls are typically more like this: "Hey IT guy, why is it that the only messages our spam filter filters out are our sales leads? Luckily, however, it does let all the Viagra ads through, which is good because it gives us something to read while we're not selling anything. Did they have classes in spam filtering at the college you supposedly went to?"

Working in IT is somewhat like being a fireman. You can never respond to the fire fast enough no matter what you do. If I was starting a company today, I wouldn't even buy a server. I would do my best to avoid acting as or hiring an IT professional. Rather, I would do everything with Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS (which means it is hosted online on someone else’s server).

I would use a customer relationship management (CRM) tool like Salesforce, and Sugar for contact management, and an application like Quickbooks Online Edition for accounting. I would outsource my email to someone like Amicus and my document storage to someone else.

In a nutshell, if I were starting a brand new company today, I would really try to have no servers at all, thereby sailing pass the stale Linux/Windows debate. Without servers and their accompanying headaches, I could focus on serving my customers instead of building a bunch of technology infrastructure that is, at this point, redundant.

Servers require updates, maintenance, backups and more backups, which translates into plenty of work. Very few companies, regardless of their size, do a good job with backups. Disks have grown faster than tapes have and this is causing a real problem: Where do we put all the data? Not only that, but all disk drives fail eventually. After 10 years in business, I've seen a number of disk drives tank, and it is never, ever convenient.

Consider this: if a tornado (or a disgruntled employee) obliterated all of your servers right now, how long would it take you to get it all going again? How do you know the tapes will work? And where are they? Not in the same room as the servers, I hope. Did you know that tapes can sometimes be written to but not read from due to the technology of the tape drive and the error rate on the tape itself? Are those machines still for sale so you can buy replacements for the ones that were destroyed? Where would you get that copy of the operating system you were running? How many millions of patches from Microsoft did it have on it again? And how long will it take to install them?

But wait a minute. "What if a tornado destroys the SaaS site of my chosen vendor?" you ask. That's a great question.

At my company, Journyx, we have hundreds of customers who run their business on our SaaS site. If we weren’t up and running pretty much immediately after such an event, we would be out of business, and I would be out of a job. Moreover, some of those customers would come and find me and kill me.

That frightening vision is very motivating to me. So much so that we have redundant hardware, lots of backups, tapes in a salt mine, multiple sites for data, etc. But sometimes I still don't sleep well. No one can do a better job of keeping our application up and running than we can.

"But what if someone nefarious and evil steals my data and gives it to my competitor - or my mother?" you ask. The bank has all of your data, and you aren't worried about them giving it away. What's the difference? What about the phone company? They know a lot about you. SaaS companies should be under the same constraints for protecting your company's privacy as banks and telephone firms are. And so far, they all seem to be doing a fine job. I've never heard of anyone swiping a competitor's sales leads out of Salesforce, for example, and they have a lot of customers.

If you're starting a new company today, go SaaS. Get a laptop. Office at Starbucks. If your time, your data security, and your piece of mind are worth anything, it's definitely cheaper.

By Curt Finch

About the Author: Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx, an Austin, TX-based provider of Web-based software that tracks time and project accounting solutions to guide customers to per-person, per-project profitability. In 1997, Curt created the world’s first Internet-based timesheet application - the foundation for the current Journyx product offering. Curt is an avid speaker and author, and recently published “All Your Money Won’t Another Minute Buy: Valuing Time as a Business Resource”.

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