SpatialDev’s first year was a great learning experience in how to efficiently run (and hopefully grow) a small business. One of things that helped us was a great set of tools to do everything from managing our financials to testing our products. This post gives my review (in random order) of some of the tools we’ve tried and the ones we’re sticking with.
Collaboration and Content Management
We started using BaseCamp back when SpatialDev was still just a pub based conspiracy. It is simple, cheap and worked beautifully when we were starting up. Now that we’ve got larger and more complex projects, we find ourselves wishing for a few things BaseCamp doesn’t have… like document folders. It’s also a hard sell with clients who are invested in SharePoint (a product that makes me want to cry every time I try to use it). BaseCamp is great for “mastering” our key project and product documents, but we’re pragmatic and not religious users. One of the coolest things about BaseCamp is the ecology that has grown up around it. We’ve been using a bunch of cool tools built on Rails that use the BaseCamp API and like BaseCamp, they are cheap and for the most part just plain work.
Anyone looking for a simple timekeeping system to use with or without BaseCamp integration should seriously consider Tick . It’s a very straightforward timekeeping system that can draw projects and work-breakdown structures (WBS) from BaseCamp and comes with mobile apps to enable you your crew to log time on the go. It is super simple to set up projects, generate billing details to accompany invoices, and keep track of burn.
SourceCode Control and Bug Tracking
We use Springloops which is basically a hosted subversion service that has straightforward Rails UI and basecamp integration. Another Rails web service that we use is 16 Bugs. Its easy to set up and provides a simple interface that testers of all backgrounds can use. It doesn’t do anything fancy like manage the testing process, it just does bugs tracking and resolution and does it well.
I’m a Mac guy at heart and one of the things I always wanted to do was have a Mac as my primary computer at work. I use a 27” iMac loaded with RAM running Parallels . I haven’t used a PC emulator in quite some time and am totally blown away with the features and performance of Parallels. With the screen real estate I have on the iMac, I can truly run in parallel with Win 7 and Snow Leopard. This way, I can get access to all of the Windows-only software I need and stay in the Mac world where I belong.
Cloud Storage and Infrastructure
We’ve used Box.net and it works fine, but the business customer pricing is a little high for what you get. The desktop integration with Dropbox is cool and we used that as well. These are great tools and work well, but we can do the same thing with S3, so we’ve started moving to Amazon Web Services for all of our storage and flexible infrastructure needs. Now that Azure is part of the Bizspark program, we may check that out as well.
Dedicated Server Hosting
We still use dedicated servers for production hosting and we’ve been happy with what GoDaddy provides. It is also pretty slick to have your domain registrar and hosting provider one in the same. As ActionMappr continues to grow, we’ll move to provisioning new client sites through AWS.
Our Interactive Art Director uses the heavy duty tools to design and create UIs, but from time to time, we need to draw up a workflow, a context diagram, system block diagram, a crude wireframe, what have you. Visio is good, but I have found OmniGraffle to be way better, despite the weird name. The shapes behave like I expect them to, the guides for placing things are more helpful in getting things straight, and the ability to apply styling is easier. The best thing about this software though is the availability of stencils that are directly relevant to what we do. There are a ton of free stencils developed by the user community and available at “Graffletopia” . You can find stencils for iPad, Android, Napkin UML and tons of other stuff that relates well to agile development.
One of the biggest boosts to our start-up business has been access to all of Microsoft’s products through their BizSpark program. Microsoft gets its share of criticism for many of the things it does, but this is a very generous program that really makes bootstrapping possible. Other software companies create high barriers to entry for using their products and miss out on the good will and loyalty to be had by helping a small company get off the ground. Kudos to Microsoft for BizSpark!
Being a bootstrapped startup is always an exercise in resourcefulness and endurance. We found some great tools that alleviated some of the pain of building from scratch. For others considering a start up or searching for tools to relieve pain, I hope this helps.