When you think about building a startup in your spare time, one of the biggest barriers to that, particularly if you’re a .NET developer is that you’re going to have to spend a lot of money to purchase Visual Studio, servers, subscriptions to payment gateways, and more. It’s easy to buy into the perception that it’s harder to build a startup company on the .NET stack than it is on something like Ruby on Rails or Java, that’s completely open source and free (including usable IDEs). When you come right down to it, though, I think this can easily be debunked. Here’s 5 specific ways and products you can use to build a Software as a Service based startup for free, where you’re guaranteed to not spend a penny until you’re making money.
First and foremost – sign up for BizSpark. BizSpark is a program from Microsoft that offers 10 free MSDN Ultimate subscriptions for the first 3 years of your startup (or until you’re revenues are more than $1 Million. Plus, when you graduate at the end of the 3 years, you either pay $100 or you can continue with a steeply discounted rate to keep your MSDN subscriptions. At the end of the 3 years if you aren’t making enough to cover the cost of a subscription, then you’d probably better re-think your business model anyway.
LaunchRock is a web application that lets you collect email addresses for people that sign up. You can put the idea of your startup and request people’s addresses for access to your beta. There’s great analytics and it even lets users who signed up refer others so they can get into your beta or special deal faster, meaning more potential customers.
3. Mail Chimp
Mail chimp is an email marketing webapp that lets you have a list of users that you can send emails to. It takes care of all the legal and unsubscribe stuff that goes along with the can-spam act and other laws. Best of all, it’s free up to 12000 emails per month for less than 2000 subscribers, which is PLENTY of freeness. When you have more than 2000 paying customers, you’ll definitely be able to spare their next tier of service.
If you’re going to be building an application, you’re going to want source control. Many super hardcore developers have a VPS that they run their source control on, but if you want to really get down to $0 cost, you should check out Assembla or Bitbucket. They’re similar to Github, but it offers free private Git or SVN repositories. While they’re small, it’s plenty to get you rolling until you’re at the position where you’re making enough money to cover something more robust.
If you’re building a software as a service application, then you’re you’re going to want a way to get paid easily (duh!). For SAAS applications, you need someone to manage your subscriptions, billing, cancellations, etc, and potentially, different tiers of your application, which are different prices. I’ve heard great things about Cheddar Getter, but they have a flat rate per month that you pay, and we’re looking for free until your first customer! Saasy is the only company I’ve found that only charges you when a customer is billed. The rate is a little higher than others, but you do get the flexibility to know that you don’t have to have customers to cover your costs – because you have none until you have customers! That makes planning a breeze.
Bonus! – Windows Azure Websites
Once you’ve built your app, you need a place to host it! Currently, Azure has a rocking deal of up to 10 shared IIS websites hosted on Azure for free. You only pay for when you want to scale up. If you need something more dedicated, remember that the BizSpark MSDN Subscription comes with free Azure time to host your app if you need something a little more hardcore (service bus, CDN, blob storage, SQL Azure Database, etc).
All-in-all Microsoft has taken huge strides to lower the barrier of entry for startups. That, combined with free hosting, marketing, market research tools, and the CRAZY productivity of Visual Studio 2012, C#, ASP.NET MVC, Entity Framework Code First and some great starter projects, you’ve got a great chance at breaking loose from your day job and building the next great thing to help solve the world’s problems.
Do you have a great resource that you love to use to get tons of value for little/no money up-front? Share it in the comments below!