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Category: software

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Why You Should Work at a Startup

Startup communities are cropping up all over the world. Global News called 2014 ‘The Year of Startup Communities’. Almost every day, a new accelerator program is announced. We prefer the announcements and results coming out of existing accelerators than to hear another one has been born, but still - the spirit of the entrepreneur is spreading. Since anyone with a computer and an internet connection can start a company, and learning to code is becoming cooler than ever; the growth and unwavering hype around everything startups does not look like it’s going to slow anytime soon.


If you’re reading this you might already have an interest in startups. You might not have a ‘big idea’ right now, and might not be an innovation leader yet - but have you ever considered working for a startup? Your interest doesn’t need to be as a co-founder, and you don’t need to aspire to be the next Zuck - startups need good people and people need to do work they’re passionate about. You don’t even need to necessarily have experience - fresh grads and startups are a great match.


Here’s why we think YOU should consider working for a startup:


  1. Startups need good talent arguably more than large companies do. Lets face it, large companies have enough man power to get things done while they are busy looking for more staff. They’re going to get by. But for a startup, every day missing a key skill or knowledge can be crippling.
  2. Second-to-none experience to be gained. In large companies there are teams of people working on key tasks or objectives. You won’t always get a chance to try something new. Startups need confident and ready risk-takers. The best lessons and experiences come from diving in and having a go because there’s simply no time to waste! With your contract you’re handed a lot more responsibility at startups than you might find at established companies, which leads us to number 3…
  3. Maximum impact. Being with a company from its humble beginnings means you get to see your passion and hard work make real impact over time, influencing the outcome of the team’s work. Been chipping away at your established workplace for years, but not feeling fulfilled or like you’ve made an impact? Startups are everywhere and they’re ready for your influence. Alex Lynn of Real Ventures told MTL NewTech last month that people working for startups benefit from seeing the future before it happens - meaning these people are also shaping the future.
  4. Savvy graduates need not be just a number. Large companies are full of faces. Numbers, even. Fresh grads are often lured by well-known brand names and companies with impressive history. But will you be just another number? Choose a startup and you might just skip years of waiting for promotions, waiting to be noticed and waiting to make an impact - for your moment to shine. You can step into high-level positions right away, or maybe even just something closer to the job you really want; you don’t always have to spend years working towards that if you find the right fit at a startup.
  5. Increased flexibility. Although a lot of companies are switching it up to let you work remotely, (P&G major announcement last year, Work From Home Program) many startups don’t have offices yet and working from home or the nearest cafe with WIFI can often be the norm. Plus, if your startup hooks up with a local co-op space, you’ll experience a fresh and new kind of environment. These kinds of shared spaces can spark creativity and innovation just by being surrounded by people equally as passionate from other like-minded companies doing all kinds of different and amazing things.


Busbud CEO and Co-Founder LP Maurice, a leader in the Montreal startup community thinks you should work for a startup too. “I think that startups offer some of the most exciting career opportunities right now, partly because you can learn a lot very rapidly, partly because you can play an active role defining your work environment, but mostly because of the potential to have a big direct impact on society.”.


Even the PPLCONNECT Co-Founders Jenviev Azzolin and Denzil D’Sa left a large, Fortune 500 company to begin PPLCONNECT. Jenviev shares her view on the appeal of startups;


Startups offer very meaningful experience, especially for young graduates eager to learn quickly and accelerate their career. Typically, startups have very little to no hierarchy, which means you can gain a wide-breadth of experience and exposure to complex corporate challenges, which would otherwise be reserved for more senior employees. At the end of the day, you can have a major direct impact on your team, end-users and tackle a worldwide problem.


The trending keyword here seems to be ‘impact’. Having an impact in your daily work ultimately leads to fulfilling work. And the best part? The growth of startups means that supply of ready and willing startup employees is always low. If you find a startup you’re passionate about and you’re an intelligent person smart enough to know when to take risks, then the chance to shape the future is yours for the taking.



Keslow Camera Always Ready for “Action” with a Tablet Solution

Keslow Camera may not be a household name, but if you watch TV or go to the movies, you’ve seen our work. As one of the largest camera rental companies in the Los Angeles/Hollywood area, we have a long list of credits ranging from Lone Suvivor to Disney’s upcoming Tomorrowland, to popular television shows like Sleepy Hollow, Chicago Fire, Shameless, and many more.

Our success comes largely from a culture that always puts the customer first. This requires commitment, talent and very efficient business processes. That’s why Keslow Camera abandoned its old paper-based system for a custom FileMaker solution for iPad, iPhone, and Mac computers that we affectionately call Flawless. Today, the solution touches every aspect of our business, from managing contracts and bids to fulfilling orders, tracking equipment worldwide, invoicing, and forecasting sales.

After implementing Flawless, I’ve learned several ways to succeed with tablets.

  • Don’t get bogged down in paper: Instead of spending several minutes trying to locate an order or determine what’s in stock and what is already rented out, our team can now respond instantly to customers. This flexibility enables us to land important contracts with major media and entertainment companies.
  • Involve the entire staff: We now have over 50 employees across various offices around the U.S., all using Flawless running on Macs, iPads, iPod touches, and iPhones. The equipment puller, shipping & receiving team, and prep technicians all use iOS devices to accomplish their work.  Any time barcodes are being scanned in or out to build contracts; an iOS device comes into play.
  • Engage management: We’re using iPhones running Flawless remotely, either from home after hours or anytime we are out of the office to check availability of gear. This capability is especially handy throughout weekends when we get emergency calls.
  • Keep speed in mind: Production teams need to know in advance what equipment is available if they need additional gear shipped out. Flawless helps us submit bids faster than the competition so we are the first to respond to the customer.
  • Think paperless: We need to manage a large number of PDFs – purchase orders, contracts and invoices. With our custom solution, the company can maintain these documents externally to the solution in managed storage, while still being able to have instant access. 

Developer Scott Rose of ScottWorld developed Flawless. The database is hosted on a Mac Pro for easy access across Keslow Camera’s offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Santa Fe, and New Orleans. Managers and staff can tap into the information they need anytime, from anywhere, including via iPads and iPhones. The FileMaker Go app brings the full, rich application to Keslow’s iPad and iPhone users – it’s not just a slimmed-down version of the database.

Plus, unlike typical off-the-shelf software, it’s really easy to make updates and improvements to our solution, as our business grows – no waiting for months or years for new features. With our new solution, ScottWorld can constantly and quickly make improvements any time an employee has a good suggestion.

Keslow Camera is growing roughly 30 percent year over year, so having this kind of power and flexibility is essential. This blazing-fast solution, accessible to our staff nationwide, is really helping set us apart from our competition.



Simple Software Design is a Complex Process

Developing user-friendly software for the small business market is a challenge. These customers generally fly by the seat of their pants. They may be experts in the subject matter of their business, but when it comes to accounting, payroll, developing a website, handling human resources, and hiring, they have their hands full. Much of their time is spent figuring out how to keep their doors open and the bills paid. They don’t have time to learn a complicated software program or have the resources to hire more people. Many times, they are doing everything themselves, and some of it badly. They come to us looking for help. They need simple software that works smoothly and doesn’t slow them down and make them have to think. That’s what we try to deliver.


Why did I bother developing software for small business owners, when I could have developed software for more established businesses? Well, I’m kind of partial to entrepreneurs, since I’ve been one myself for nearly three decades. All that time that I was starting other businesses, I experienced the frustration of adapting my small business needs to software designed for bigger companies. I made it work, and eventually hired people to take on the jobs I didn’t have time to do. But I knew we could develop something better to help out small business owners — so we did.


Here’s how we make it happen. It all starts with the need. We start by figuring out the bare bones of the software, first by establishing what the business owners really require, and nothing else. We want to design software that is nimble, fast, and unhampered by bells and whistles that will just be more noise to the typical small business owner. Case in point: We knew that many small business owners would prefer a simple cash-based method of accounting to the more complicated accrual basis. We designed our bookkeeping software that we’re getting ready to launch to meet that basic need. It’s a simple money-in and money-out design, with an easy way to print invoices and keep track of 1099 contractors. That was the goal.


After months of developing the back-end functionality and testing the basic design of the bookkeeping software, we turn to our internal “Fresh Eyes Testers.” This group of employees puts the brakes on all other projects and dives into testing each facet of the software. We’ve intentionally kept them out of the development process until now. With their fresh eyes, they can see where the dots don’t connect, where the wording won’t make sense to a small business owner, and where the pages don’t flow or offer an easy path to completing a task. The testers read through every help article to make sure it is actually helpful. They essentially put themselves into the software with the mind of a small business owner and create scenarios to replicate the user experience. They write down all their observations in a long report that they share with the team.


Afterwards, our new software development team starts the painstaking process of reading all the tester comments. They take action on items that have merit and jump quickly on problems that have been noted by more than one tester. Each separate item becomes a project in Project Tracker, our proprietary project management software. Then everyone collaborates in an exhaustive back-and-forth of ideas to improve the look, feel, personality, and ease of the application. On each item, we look for consensus, and then move on to the next; this is how our software moves forward to a mature stage of development.


Once our internal testing is complete, our next step is bringing in a sampling of external users, including existing and potential customers who have expressed an interest in the software. This gives us a real-world perspective by having them use the software for their own businesses. When we finally have a new application to introduce to the small business market, we don‘t stop there. Because our customers are so busy running their businesses, they naturally require a great deal of support. Our customer support team gets up to speed in advance of the software introduction and anticipates the kinds of questions they can expect from customers. And even after the software is introduced, we continually consider new ideas from our customers (since they have the freshest eyes of all.) The beauty of SaaS is that we can continue refining the product as new ideas are born or new needs arise, with little to no disruption on the customer side.


So that’s how we work to make software that’s easy for the user. If it’s simple, then we’ve met our goal. But getting there is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work from our whole team.



Bespoke or Off-The-Shelf Software?

When deciding what kind of software is the most suited for running your company, think about what’s the best for its operational needs: Is there something on the market that can do the job, or would you be better off having a custom software?


Certainly, there are different off-the-shelf software programs available, for practically any application, but because companies have different requirements, anything from accountancy to payroll, to engineering monitoring systems and many more, such mass-market programs may not always be the best fit.


Having a software program tailor-made for your company’s operations will ensure it’s more efficient and runs smoother. Starting with initial consultations with a software development firm, explaining all about your company, how it works, and how you want it to work better, software designers and engineers can create programs that perfectly fit your processes.


Such bespoke software may be especially necessary in cases when a company has grown out of the automated systems that help to keep it running over the years. There may be more staff and more requirements in the accounting department, for instance, or the company’s IT-based internal communication system may be outdated and inefficient, holding the company back.


However, in considering which is best for your company, bespoke or off-the-shelf software, a critical factor is the cost. Mass-market software is relatively inexpensive, while corporate software can be a lot more. By comparison, having software tailored for your company is a lot more expensive, but that’s in the short-term.


In the long-term, which is what any company really thinks about, custom software can work out to be more cost-effective, and there’s the enormous advantage of having programs specifically designed for your company’s operations As the company evolves, and expands, bringing rise to different sets of requirements, bespoke software can be tweaked to accommodate those needs.


In addition, in terms of costs, off-the-shelf software is often limited to one installation only, meaning that if there are a lot of terminals, a lot of copies will have to be purchased. Then there may be configuration issues that raise havoc with systems and there’s practically no one to help.


By comparison, a software company that writes programs for an organization will install them wherever they’re required to, thus bringing down the per-unit cost of installation, and  providing seamless, and trouble-free experience carried out by experts. This critical support from the software designers goes a long way to reassure a firm, because when issues arise, and they do, there’s help at the other end of a phone line.


When a software firm has finished writing a program for a company, they will test it to make sure it’s compatible with their client’s hardware and other software systems. Any problems that arise during this stage will be fixed before the software is installed, thus eliminating any potential disasters, something that may occur with off-the-shelf programs.


12 Tech Tools to Help You Succeed

Hundreds of startups are hard at work creating tech tools designed to help other companies succeed. Ironic? Perhaps, but the beauty lies in the fact that they are available for all to share and use.


Whether it’s the ability to outsource a design for the new company logo or to optimize the content on a website’s homepage, tech tools have the power to improve your company’s workflow significantly if used effectively. So which are worth paying attention to?


The company I work for – AnyPerk  – utilizes online tech tools to assist with mainly three things: 1) boost productivity 2) improve efficiency and 3) recruit top talent. As a startup that has grown from five to almost thirty employees in the last year, the ability to outsource certain tasks has been crucial for our company’s growth and success.


So here are the 12 tech tools that can also help streamline your business:


Virtual Assistance: If menial tasks are eating up a lot of your time, your best bet is to outsource them. A couple great virtual assistance services are Fancy Hands and Red Butler, which offer monthly memberships allowing you and/or your colleagues to call on independent contractors to make the reservations, pick up the packages, and schedule the flights that otherwise would cut into your time. This way you can spend more time focusing on important tasks that require your particular attention.


Design: Outsourcing graphic design can be a cost efficient way of vamping up a company’s corporate image. 99Designs is a unique tool that allows a user to create contests in which different artists compete to create the perfect design. Once they are all submitted, the user can select their favorite to purchase or otherwise, not pay a dime.


Web Optimization: Optimizely is a great web tool that allows users to run A/B tests and track clicks, conversions, and signups to best tailor a website to its users in order to maximize engagement. Altering a website even slightly – changing the font or even darkening the shade of a color – has the power to dramatically increase conversions.


Recruiting: The Resumator is an effective recruiting tool that a) provides an easy application process for applicants and b) allows companies to customize their features according to their unique recruiting workflow. One can easily manage all job posts plus manage and track all applicants from The Resumator dashboard. When looking for a qualified intern, InternMatch is strong recruiting tool that connects businesses with students around the country looking for part-time or unpaid internships. It partners with university career centers to help find the perfect fit for your company, and provides free templates and advice on intern recruiting.


Prospecting: SalesLoft is an incredibly useful tool that integrates seamlessly with LinkedIn so sales reps can pull the most important information – including the individual’s name, where they work, their contact info, and job title - from multiple sources and aggregate them onto one dashboard. Rapportive creates contact profiles in Gmail that includes a photo, links to their social media sites, recent messages and more; this can be helpful when trying to verify the accuracy of a contact’s email address, if you don’t already have it.


Legal Services: For small and growing companies, the efficiency and affordability of online legal services is key. Though they each have varying membership programs, LegalZoom and RocketLawyer are both great tools that allow individuals to access legal documents such as wills, trusts, and LLCs and reach out for further legal advice. This will save you the time and the cost of hiring an attorney.


Retention: Google and Facebook have helped set a high standard for company culture. For small to middle-sized companies that can’t afford to offer extravagant perks like on-site laundry and gym services, AnyPerk is a great alternative that provides employee discounts to gym memberships, movie tickets, cell phone plans and more. Plus, it provides HR with the ability to easily reward employees with online gift cards and track the activities trending via which perks are redeemed by their employees. CEO Chef is another unique team-building tool that brings teams together through gourmet cooking classes and competitions. Company culture has a direct and positive impact on employee engagement and productivity, so if you haven’t started thinking about how this affects your company, we encourage you to start.