Brian Bailey Preface to the Revised Edition

A Free Launch

Can you launch a new product for free? What are the best tools for building a web app quickly and cheaply?

It seems like nearly everyone has ideas for apps and sites they’d like to build and share with the world, myself included. Over the past month, I’ve put a band together to do just that. We’re toying with a few little things [1] which I’ll talk more about soon.

Your time and the time of the people you’re working with are by far the most expensive parts of bootstrapping anything for the web. And that assumes you can find awesome, talented people willing to give up some of their weekends to do what that they do during the week for actual money. [2] Developers are looking for designers and founders are looking for co-founders. There are only a few people who are capable of creating an entire product by themselves. They should know that the rest of us hate them.

Unfortunately, I can’t help with finding co-conspirators, other than to say, make friends and be consistently helpful, humble, and kind. That person you meet at Build might help you with your app icon two years from now.

What I can lend a hand with is the tools part. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at options and asking people for advice. My guiding principle was, What is the easiest, quickest, and cheapest way to accomplish this? I’ve seen too many small ideas and experiments lose momentum to over-complicated, sometimes custom-built, solutions that attempt to anticipate and solve problems (especially of scale) you’re unlikely to have.

With the following choices, you can go live with no recurring costs. [3] The only expenses you’ll incur are when your traffic requires more hosting resources or people spend money [4]. This removes the financial limitation from bootstrapping. Now you just need skills, time, and a few good ideas :)

Hosting

Heroku
Amazon EC2
Google AppEngine

Decision: It’s difficult to top the simplicity of Heroku and it’s not unusual to run small apps for months entirely for free. There are limitations in this approach and monthly fees can increase rapidly, but you’ve eliminated a great deal of complexity from your getting started phase.

Blog

Jekyll
Wordpress
Drupal
Tumblr

Decision: There are endless blogging options and nearly all are free, so it’s more a question of what you’re most familiar with. I do love Jekyll and static sites, but Tumblr is my likely choice here, primarily for making it easy for a group of people to contribute.

Store/Shopping Cart

Gumroad
Big Cartel (Free to $10/month)
Shopify ($29/month)
Big Commerce ($25/month)
Limited Run (pay as you earn)
Spree Commerce (open source Ruby on Rails project)

Decision: Gumroad is perfect for selling anything digital, but it can work for small volumes of physical items, too. It’s has the simplest, most beautiful payment experience you’ll find. They take 5% and it’s not a store, per se, but it’s the fastest way to see if people want to buy your stuff. Plus, you only pay when others pay.

Email Newsletters

TinyLetter (free, limited to 5,000 subscribers)
MailChimp (free, limited to 2,000 subscribers)
SendGrid ($10/month for 40K emails via API, Heroku app option)

Decision: I’m inclined to pick TinyLetter, but either free option works.

Analytics

Google Analytics (free)
Gaug.es ($6/month)
ChartBeat ($10/month)

Decision: I really like Gaug.es, but if the goal is to get monthly expenses as close to $0 as possible, it’s hard not to choose Google Analytics.

Project Management and Shared Docs

Google Apps (free for 10 people)
GitHub Issues (included with your GitHub plan)
Asana (free for 30 people)
Sprintly ($9/month per person)
Basecamp ($20/month)

Decision: Email and free Backpack pages are working for now, but Asana would be my next choice.

Chat

Campfire (free for 4 people)
HipChat ($2/month per person)

Decision: I’ve been using Campfire for years and it has a free option, so this is an easy one.

Code Repository

GitHub (free for public repositories, $7 for 1 collaborator, $12/month for 5)
BitBucket (free private repositories for 5 people)

Decision: Both are great, but GitHub is the place to be if you might be working with a lot of different people or are considering open sourcing some of your work. A public repository on GitHub seems to make sense unless what you’re working on needs to be private from the beginning.

Support/Help

Desk.com (free for one user)
Zendesk ($20/year)
Get Satisfaction ($20/year)
Intercom (free during beta)

Decision: Two conclusions: 1) For a bootstrapped experiment, you should be able to avoid this initially. 2) Intercom is building something really interesting.

Swag

Buttons: Busy Beaver
Stickers: Sticker Mule
T-Shirts and Posters: Threadbird, Ape Do Good

Decisions: You’re really doing all of this for a sticker to put on your laptop, so make it happen :) There seems to be a strong consensus on the best choices for buttons and stickers. There are hundreds of t-shirt vendors and often the best option is a local one, but I might give Threadbird a try.

Total Recurring Costs: $0

I don’t expect these choices to be the same as you would make in your specific situation, but hopefully this will make it easy to research the best tools for you. A big thanks to everyone who helped out.


[1] This isn’t a tease wrapped in false humility. I really mean little things, fun, small experiments that may entertain, befuddle, or intrigue.

[2] You say you’re an awesome, talented person with unfulfilling weekends? Say hello!

[3] Seeking out free options may seem a little contradictory given my Means to an End post. For me, the difference is these companies are building tools for businesses, not consumers, and offer free tools specifically to entice small teams to use them, be successful, and grow into their paid plans. Presumably, that strategy is working for them.

[4] One thing I didn’t cover is payment processing, which you’ll need to charge people to use your new app or game. Stripe, Braintree, PayPal, and Recurly are options worth looking at. Skipping this also allowed me to skip charges for SSL. Once you go down this path, free is no longer an option.