Get Your Business Tech Stack In Order (Finally!)

This article originally appeared in Youngry.
Written by Aliya Amershi, Founder & CEO at AskaTechie.


After working with hundreds of customers and colleagues over several years, I’m baffled by what so many of them are hiding. On the surface, they may possess a beautiful website or app, consider themselves quite tech savvy, or they could even be making millions of dollars…. but when I take a look at their technology behind the scenes, it is a total nightmare. By the way, this is beyond the technology stack for a website, app, or product – that is a completely separate discussion. What I’m referring to is the VERY basic business tech stack (aka productivity tech stack), consisting of common technology tools and services to increase productivity. It is mistakenly assumed most businesses have already got that all in order, but truth is, it’s really not the case (even tech-focused ones). Perhaps in the bubble of Silicon Valley, where people are on trend with tech, but we’re talking about the other millions of startups and businesses outside of the Valley.

Just imagine: excel spreadsheets that are being used to manage 100s or 1000s of customer accounts just doesn’t cut it – that’s a customer fiasco waiting to happen! Confidential company discussions that are taking place on Facebook groups – and bosses question why employees are distracted by Facebook during work hours. Data and documents that are stored on each person’s hard drive with no backup – fingers crossed no one spills coffee on their laptop. Team tasks that are being managed and tracked using Notepad, or even worse, pen and paper – gasp! I have seen this too frequently in startups, small-medium sized businesses, as well as enterprise corporations.

If you’re guilty of any of the above, I’m going to break the news to you; you need a tech intervention, especially if you’re an Entrepreneur.

Say you went to a lovely restaurant and they presented you with a succulent, gourmet meal, but  then you visit the restroom and it’s a disgusting cockroach-ridden, backed-up sewer mess. My guess is you would never eat there again, no matter how tasty the food, or how ambient the dining room.

It’s the same thing with your business! People aren’t going to respect you as a tech savvy Entrepreneur if they find out you can’t really walk the walk. And top talent, whether they be Developers or Digital Marketers, will be horrified and may not work with you when they discover your antiquated technology practices – unless you’re hiring them to specifically get you digitally up to speed. Your business tech stack is a direct reflection of you as the Boss, whereas your market-facing technology is usually created by your CTO/ Tech Lead or a third-party developer. If you are indeed the CTO/ Tech Lead, what’s interesting is that many truly technologically advanced minds also need a little push when it comes to organizing simplified, practical technology for their business. Besides sheer embarrassment, not having a solid tech stack is costing you time, money and even business. Sooner or later the digital disorderly chaos will catch up with you.

To help you fast-track your digital transformation at the basic level, or if you’re a new startup to get your business tech stack started off right, I’ve compiled a list of the best basic productivity tools Entrepreneurs & Business Owners need to start using ASAP to stay digitally on track, digitally.

1) Team Communication

Recommendation: Slack

Move over Email, Skype, Facebook Groups, Whatsapp, and AOL/ MSN Messenger (  total throwback here). Slack is the new standard for real-time, company-owned team communication. There are a slew of benefits: it keeps all team communication in one place, you can create public channels for different topics or private discussion groups with select people, and even communicate and share files with just one person if you wish. So if you want be “with it”,  get with Slack.

2) Cloud Drive

Recommendation: Google Drive, DropBox or OneDrive – DOESN’T MATTER, JUST USE IT!

This may seem obvious, but you’ll be surprised how many people are not on the cloud – maybe their head is (chuckle), but not their business. Some benefits are: no more fear of crashing your laptop, leaving files on your other computer before a major meeting or needing to work in the cubicle from the office computer. With the cloud drive’s amazingly affordable prices for 1TB of data, you should be be able to backup everything, without having to pick and choose. No more fumbling with external hard drives, plus you always have access to your files from any computer or mobile device. To help you decide, here is your rule of thumb: Google Drive is best for Googlers, OneDrive is best for Microsoft users, and Dropbox is best for the rest.

3) Cloud Enterprise Suite

Recommendation: G Suite (aka Google Business Apps) or Microsoft Office 365

Either is fine, just as long as you are using the Cloud version which is key. Why? Because just like with your cloud drive, your documents are always backed up and available from any device. Plus it allows for easy sharing and live updates, eliminating the need to email back and forth attachments that always seem to get lost. The difference between the two is if you just need basic functions for document, spreadsheet, and slide creation, than G Suite is perfect. Plus any Microsoft document can easily be converted to a Google doc, and vice versa. However, if you need more advanced features and programs, then 365 is the better bet.

4) Organizational App

Recommendation: Wunderlist

Wunderlist is great for getting your whole team’s Todo list in order. It’s the ultimate checklist that you can share, email, and print. Want to change a priority? It’s as easy as dragging dropping. So nix the Notepad and start “Wunderlisting”. I should note that once you have a larger a team, a more advanced project, or multiple projects, you’ll likely need to use additional tools and processes, but that’s a whole other topic.

5) Video Conferencing

Recommendation: Zoom or Google Hangout

I know you are thinking “but what about Skype”?! Truth is, Zoom is now the hottest player on the block, having mega startups as their customer, such as Uber, who prefer to Zoom. With a multitude of features such as your own custom business url, a direct dial-in number (with no password), HD recording capabilities, screen sharing, and remote desktop access, it’s worth it to dish out the few extra bucks a month for this service. That way you can always be connected with your virtual team and customers as if they were right next to you. Looking for a free tool? Google Hangout still does the job, all you need is a Google account.

6) Digital Signature Software

Recommendation: Adobe Sign or DocuSign

If you have a business, you’ll be continuously signing and sending documents to be signed. Don’t embarrass yourself by not using an e-signing tool and requiring others to print, sign, scan, and email (fax?!?) documents for signing. Seriously that’s like 4 annoying steps – why, oh why?! Make it simple by having your own digital signature software so that they can easily sign and send in seconds. Adobe is good if you are already subscribing to the Acrobat, but if you aren’t, then DocuSign is a solid choice. Plus their user interface is a lot more friendlier.

7) Calendar Booking System

Recommendation: MixMax or Calendly

Being an Entrepreneur is going to keep you busy and the last thing you want to do is play email tag! Most of us fall into this ongoing email trap, from weekly or daily meetings with team members, partners, customers, and investors. The solution is a handy smart calendar to help you book all your meetings, without you doing the work! Two options I like to recommend, and both operate a little differently, are MixMax and Calendly, all you have to do is choose based on your needs and style. MixMax is a chrome extension for Gmail, and one of their main features is their built-in scheduling tool, which connects directly with your calendar to select available time slots on the fly and will embed directly into your email. Calendly on the other hand is more of full-featured booking system that can integrate with your email, website, CRM and more. So if you don’t have Gmail and you want a more advanced off-the-shelf scheduling system, Calendly is a great option.

BONUS: CRM – Customer Relation Management System (Advanced)

Recommendation: ZoHo

There’s a lot to be said about using a CRM, but let me break it down in a couple of sentences. Your customers and their data is arguably the most valuable asset of your business. So do you really want to be managing that using a basic spreadsheet? A CRM allows you and your team to collaborate in keeping your 1000s, maybe millions, of contacts up to date, whether they are a hot lead or current customer. It’ll identify where they are in your sales funnel or when they were last contacted in your marketing campaign. In addition, generating custom dashboards and reports can be done in a snap. When people think CRM they think of the super expensive and complicated Salesforce, which has it’s merits. But if you’re starting out, or are a small-medium sized business, then Zoho is the perfectly simple and cost effective solution. Plus it can scale as your business grows, with it’s many business extensions and integrations.

Using the appropriate tools and processes from the start is basic business 101. Impress your future employees, customers, and even investors, as a tech savvy and digitally organized Entrepreneur by understanding and using the latest tools in tech. Having your basic business tech stack setup from the get go will do you wonders and allow for much more success to come your way.

Too busy to set up and learn these productivity tools yourself? Contact us at www.AskaTechie.com to get you up to speed fast so you can do what you do best.

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Kickstart Your Startup Credibility With A Prototype

This article originally appeared in Forbes.


These days, everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, pitching their latest and greatest new idea, and looking for someone to give them money. Angel investors, like me, have long figured out that asking to see the prototype is a quick way to separate the ‘wannabes’ from serious players. Talk is cheap, but entrepreneurs who show you a working model of their idea know how to execute.

In reality, it doesn’t take a huge investment of money and time to build a prototype today. If it is hardware, look for one of the ‘makerspaces’ such as TechShop, with all the tools you need to make almost anything yourself. Software products and apps can be quickly wireframed with free tools like MockFlow, or even Microsoft Powerpoint to lay out the key screens.

Here are the key objectives that you can achieve by building a prototype, which are really the reasons that investors and partners will give you a whole new level of credibility as they evaluate your startup for potential funding:

  • Something you can touch and feel helps validate opportunity. When you wave your arms and describe your future product, everyone sees what they want to see, and it looks great. With a realistic prototype, you can get more accurate feedback from customers on their real need and what they might pay, before you invest millions on the final product.
  • Quantify the implementation challenges. Many ideas I hear sound great, but I have no idea if they can be implemented. Building a prototype at least allows both of us to ask the right questions. Visions and theory are notoriously hard to implement. A prototype has to be real enough to be convincing, without looking like science fiction.
  • Give yourself time to pivot without dire consequences. It doesn’t matter how certain you are of your solution, it’s probably not quite right. Every entrepreneur has to deal with the realities of constant change in today’s market, and it’s much easier to pivot the pre-production prototype than to dispose of unsellable inventory.
  • Show investors that you are committed, and past the idea stage. Without a prototype, most professional investors won’t take you seriously. In reality, the process of designing, building, and validating a prototype does dramatically reduce the risk, and allows everyone to hone in on the real costs of going into production.
  • Reduce the time to production and rollout. For both software and hardware technology, multiple iterations are usually required to achieve production quality and performance. Time is money, and may be your primary competitive advantage. Don’t spend your whole development budget, before finding that you need another iteration.
  • Support early negotiation with vendors and distribution channels. A three-dimensional prototype is always better than just a documented specification when negotiating contracts for manufacturing, support, and marketing. As a startup, you need all the leverage you can get.

If you are not comfortable or skilled enough to build a prototype yourself, it’s time to find and engage a co-Founder who has the interest and background to at least manage the work. You should never outsource the management of your core technology. At worst, maybe you can find a trusted friend to guide you, or a nearby university with expert professors and the proper tools. There is no magic formula for success while inventing. Proceed with your wits about you.

Overall, building a prototype is still a great way to bring your idea to life, for yourself, your team, investors, and future customers. Your target cost expectation should be one-tenth of the total commercialization cost, with the assumption that it will be throw-away. Even still, I can’t think of a better way to validate your solution early, and get credibility with the people who count.

Need help with building your prototype? Just AskaTechie!

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The Don’t Quit List

By Aliya Amershi

We all love lists – right? You see them everywhere – “10 Ways to Become a Successful Entrepreneur”, “The 7 Secrets of the Rich”, “Top 5 Movies this Week”. In fact, Buzzfeed is all about presenting news and stories in a list format. And who could forget David Letterman’s “Top Ten List”. Although those are all the fun lists, we also have our own lists, like our never-ending “To-Do” lists, or perhaps it’s a shopping list of groceries or a planning list for a party. Or maybe we make lists when we have to make major decisions, like “Why should I choose this opportunity over the other?”. Okay so maybe we don’t always love our own lists as much, since looking at it can be quite overwhelming and stressful.

But what if we could make a list that would make us feel happy to look at? So happy that we wish it wouldn’t end. Well, I would like to introduce the “Don’t Quit List”. This is a little inspirational tool I created for myself being a start-up entrepreneur, which is much needed as it’s the toughest job I have ever done. Aside from the non-stop hours, you are facing criticism and rejection on a regular basis. Which is a strange feeling, considering I have always been an overachiever and quite successful in my studies and professional field. I suppose that’s all part of the process of growing when you venture out of your comfort zone to try something new and daring. I have to remind myself to “be brave, not perfect”, as Reshma Saujani perfectly said in her Ted Talk.

I just needed something to keep me motivated in the face of setbacks and because I am a list junkie, the “Don’t Quit List” was perfect for me because it was a list of all the action items I can do to achieve success. There are only two questions I ask myself before I add the item to my list and they are: “Will this action item generate users or revenue?” or “Will this action item generate funding?”. If I answer yes to either or both, it goes on the list, simple. Then I write the action item in past tense form so I can visualize and feel that I already accomplished it every time I look at it. Some items on my list include the following: “Created & published my first blog post”; “Launched my MVP website”; and “Pitched on Dragons’ Den or Sharks’ Tank”. Once I have completed the item successfully on the list, I move it to another list called the “Win List”, so that I can keep track of all my achievements thus far. Which includes this blog post! Plus every time I look at that list it makes me smile. In the event that an item “fails”, I simply cross it off my list so I don’t have to see it and can move on quickly to the next action item on the list. This way I don’t dwell on what didn’t work out since as an entrepreneur we don’t have time to live in the past.

An amazing app that I love to use to create all my lists is Wunderlist, which you can download onto your desktop or mobile device. It also has a web app version that you don’t need to download. The beauty of Wunderlist is that it allows you to create, update, and organize these lists effortlessly, which can be accessed anywhere and also shared with anyone. So say if you are reaching the end of your list, a trusted friend could add some more ideas to the list in real-time, right when you need it the most. You can also email and print these lists if you want to go a little old school. Plus you can add notes, links, deadlines, team members and comments. The list goes on, pun intended.

wunderlist3

Now let’s say you do get to the end of your “Don’t Quit List” and you haven’t reached the level of success that’s right for you. And you have honestly thought of and tried every action item you can do, then that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to quit. Pivot instead and go a different direction. Look at your “Win List”, analyze what aspects of the business was working and run with that. Or try something new completely, whatever it is just keep moving forward and “Don’t Quit”.