Navigating the shark-infested waters of the business world is hard enough for start-up entrepreneurs without doing it using substandard tools. That's why we're launching this monthly look at the most start-up-worthy software and hardware we've reviewed in the previous month.
Continue Reading Below
HARDWAREUnless you're lucky enough to score six or seven digits of initial investment dollars that cover leasing professional office space, today's start-ups tend to forego that expense in favor of working virtually. But no matter how virtual your organization, there are still several key pieces of hardware that you just can't do without, and June's examples are notebooks, routers, and storage.
Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260: For "startrepreneurs" watching their budget dollars, the recently reviewed Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 represents the best price performance value out of the most recent crop of notebooks tested by PCMag Labs. It's got plenty of horsepower, especially on the graphics front, which produced excellent overall benchmark results. That's coupled with an upgraded, pack-leading battery and a slew of cutting-edge features, including built-in 4G/LTE connectivity and an integrated stylus. Yet, even with all of those goodies, it's a lightweight, 2.93-pound convertible-hybrid, which makes it the perfect form factor for oft-mobile start-up scenarios.
Linksys EA7500 Max-Stream AC1900 MU-MIMO Gigabit Router: Whether your start-up is a collection of individual home office workers connecting only online, or whether some or all of them are housed in a small office/garage/Mom's basement somewhere, you're going to need a fast wireless router with business smarts to get online safely, reliably, and without breaking the bank. Enter the Linksys EA7500.
This dual-band router did very well on PCMag's throughput tests and supports the latest Wi-Fi standards, with throughput speeds up to 600 megabits per second (Mbps) on the 2.4-GHz band and 1,300 Mbps on the 5-GHz band. It also supports the latest router technologies, including easy setup via WPS as well as USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports so you can easily hook up shared peripherals.
The EA7500's router control software supports direct external storage access, advanced routing and VLAN options, along with guest access and security settings that go from basic WEP up to advanced WPA2 personal and enterprise. It's got a firewall that supports internet filtering and VPN pass-through, and there's even a mobile app that'll let you control the router from anywhere.
Western Digital My Cloud Mirror Gen 2 (4TB): Sure, you can store your start-up's shared files exclusively on cloud services such as Editors' Choice winners iDrive or Microsoft OneDrive. But if the cloud is your only solution, you're at Murphy's mercy should anything go wrong with your service provider or your internet connection.
Having local copies of your files shared on a local network or across the web is a necessary second tier to your company's cloud storage measures. That means a small-office network attached storage (NAS) device and the current cream of that crop is the Western Digital My Cloud Gen 2. This 4 terabyte (TB) device comes with two 2TB drives that can be set to back each other up as well as Western Digital's Cloud OS control software, which lets you access files both locally and across the internet (meaning you can create your own cloud-style storage service that backs up the same data you've got stored on other online storage services).
SOFTWARE AND SERVICESHardware is important, but the DNA of every modern start-up is software. Spanning the desktop to the cloud, our start-up software finds range from productivity and project management (PM) applications to security and web hosting software.
Google Apps: Microsoft Office may still be king of the enterprise-class productivity suite market, but start-ups have different requirements, including tighter web integration and a lower price tag. That's where Google Apps shines, providing not only email/scheduling, word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation functionality, but also excellent mobile capabilities and integrated and shareable cloud storage with Google Drive.
Teamwork Projects: Every start-up is working on at least one project at a time. With team members likely distributed in different geographic locations, you'll need a PM package that supports both virtual teams and as much advanced functionality as your company can handle. Teamworks Projects isn't the easiest PM tool we've ever reviewed, but it is definitely one of the most thorough, and it's even offering special support to start-ups that can get you free access to the software for one full year.
KeepSolid VPN Unlimited: Security is key in this day and age, and not even budding start-ups are exempt. For distributed teams looking to share information and access a variety of web services, using personal virtual private network (VPN) software on every device is a key consideration. One of the best personal VPN clients is KeepSolid, which offers not only excellent performance and advanced features but also a very low price.
DreamHost Web Hosting: Creating and maintaining a professional web presence is a must-have for any modern start-up. To do that, you need to find a solid web hosting service that won't rupture your budget. Editors' Choice winner DreamHost is just such a service, with advanced capabilities such as virtual private servers (VPS) and cloud storage, though you'll need to build your site using a third-party tool.
APPSMobile devices are another fact of life every start-up should leverage, especially in a virtual team scenario. Therefore, picking the best mobile apps for your venture can be just as critical as picking the right software or cloud service. Here are three excellent contenders reviewed last month that cover social media marketing, mobile communications, and even crowdfunding.
Instagram (for iPhone): Snapchatmay be the digital marketing darling of the moment, but Instagram is still a key component of any effective marketing campaign. Instagram for iPhone underwent a recent update that includes simple but effective photo editing, along with photo filters and a private photo sharing feature called Instagram Direct.
Viber (for Android): Virtual teams are a common start-up strategy but they need one key component to make them work: powerful and consistent communication. Viber is a powerful Android communication and collaboration app that lets users text and make voice or video calls. It's got stiff competition from services such as Google Hangouts and Signal, but it offers an excellent feature set in its own right, and does very well when combined with the company's PC-oriented softphone client.
Start-Up Tool of the MonthKickstarter (for iPhone): If you're like most of the start-up world and didn't score a few million venture capital (VC) dollars as soon as the ink was dry on your business plan, then you've probably at least looked at Kickstarter. Since its founding in 2009, this site has had a massive impact on how start-ups get funded and, well, started. For those depending on Kickstarter to back their business ideas, the site's new (and free) iPhone app is a boon. You can scan Kickstarter for other projects that might compete or partner with yours, and it'll even let you post updates to your project while you're mobile.