Do not be afraid of deploying simplicity

Bootstrapping a startup without the advantage of deep pockets or VC investment, means that cost and cash-flow management is immensley important at the outset.

There are some important things you probably can't do without (the internet and mobile phone for example), but the early phases of the startup process requires a critical evaluation of the vast array of potential apps and services out there, to determine what is going to be core to getting the business off the ground.  

Basically a process of differentiating between the nice-to-haves from the need-to-haves.

Being in the client service business, it was essential for The Datastack to have a robust 'project management and client account management and time keeping and invoicing and financial reporting’ solution.  As important administrative functions, ‘the solution’ would need to handle the heavy lifting of these foundational business processes in an efficient manner.  

The commercial accounting package I use could optionally go part way there….for an extra $360 odd per year.  However for that investment it would only provide one piece of the puzzle, and would require the purchase (or more commonly subscription) to other applications to provide the further functionality required.  From some research of the market place there was a nice partner app that integrated well with the accounting system, but this in itself would have run another $350+ dollars per year.  

Sure not big money in the scheme of things, but avoiding $700 - $1000 in expenses during the startup phase is always a plus.   That said, the temptation can be there to go 'all-in' from the beginning, and have multiple subscriptions to connected services and have all the bells and whistles from day one.  But this temptation needs to be tempered by the fact that is will come with a cost to match.  

keep it simple and only scale when needed

So in such fiscally-contained scenarios "keep it simple and only scale when needed" has to be the core mantra helping to drive the decision making process.  And its not just applicable for selecting the finance system for a bootstrapped startup ... it applies to solutions we choose and decisions that we make everyday.  

In this particular instance, not being afraid of taking the route of simplicity lent the situation to a good old DIY approach …. build a simple yet fit for purpose system in house.  And that approach has resulted in a simple yet powerful tailor made setup that is streamlined exactly to my specific workflow.  

Right now would this solution compete in the market against other leading apps?  No.  But the beauty is ... it doesn’t need to.   What it does do is provide all the core functionality required, and be a fit-for-purpose solution for the startup stage of the business ….

  • Manage projects …. tick.  Projects can be created and tracked, recording contract information and managing documents which can be attached to the project for reference.  Project status attributes differentiate between active projects and those already completed.
  • Manage client accounts …. tick.  Clients can be registered with contact information such as billing address and personal contact details, with multiple client contacts being configurable for a single organisation to help transition through personal changes or different contact points where applicable.  
  • Time keeping …. tick.  A time sheet management solution to accurately track time spent on each project.  If you have had to submit a project based or cost centre based timesheet before, you know the drill here.  
  • Cost management …. tick.  Be it time charge rates, disbursements, non-invoicable internal costs, lump sum cost management - these can all be managed and customised to each project.  
  • Invoicing …. tick.  With the inputs gathered, invoices can be generated at billing time, automatically populating key details such as client information, invoice numbers, purchase order numbers, tax calculations and GST details.  A invoice preview function is there to make sure everything checks out, before the final invoice is created with a pdf version auto named, saved and exported.

A simple solution that gets the job done.  And it can either remain a scalable work-in-progress with new functionality only added at the point in time it is really needed, or the switch can be made to off-the-shelf product(s) when there is a business need for this and the investment can be justified.

Right now would this solution compete in the market against other leading apps?  No.  But the beauty is ... it doesn’t need to.

So it is worth evaluating whether the complexity in the design of a solution is justified for the situation, and will deliver sufficient value to offset the cost, time, resources and learning-curve that will come as by-products of that complexity.  

Off the shelf solutions can provide phenomenal feature sets and can have a fantastic level of polish.  And in many situations there is a need for complexity in a solution so that it is fit for purpose.  However if there is a viable 'simple' option on the table that can be scaled when needed, but importantly does what you need today and will get you in the game now, then do not be afraid of deploying simplicity.