Corrected on 1/11/07: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified StoreVault's parent company.
When it comes to technology, start-ups have little wiggle room in their budgets for costly business services normally geared toward much larger players. But next year these often ignored small fry will get some attention. More companies, themselves tiny start-ups, are figuring out that while small businesses may not spend much per firm, there's a lot of them, and that can add up to big sales.
The idea motivated Untangle to offer its online security software free to companies with fewer than 10 employees. The software keeps spam and hackers at bay and makes blocking websites easy for business owners with other things on their minds. It's a service for business owners who don't have a dedicated tech staff, the company says. Because funding often comes from their own pockets, many start-up owners have to be persuaded to part with cash for technology. About 80 percent of Untangle's customers have more than 10 employees, so the free service is a good marketing move, helping spread the word about the service.
A lot of start-ups already take advantage of Internet calling to cut costs, but consumer-oriented offerings like Skype don't come with business bells and whistles. Now a crop of companies is offering bundles geared toward small outfits that want fancier phone systems without the cost of maintaining a full phone network or hiring a receptionist. Vonage's small-business package offers services like a dedicated fax line. Companies like GotVMail and RingCentral have packages starting at around $10 a month that include toll-free numbers, voicemail boxes, on-hold music, and other features that can make a start-up sound grown up.
Sticky notes on a computer monitor can take a business only so far. Side Job Track is a free project management service for people who have side businesses or are independent contractors. It won't manage multiple users, but it has features such as Web-based job tracking and invoicing. For bigger companies that need to make invoices look a little more professional, there's FreshBooks. Starting at $14 a month, it lets companies send and accept payments online, as well as manage employee time sheets.
Even firms that normally target big companies are setting their sights higher. Earlier this year, Network Appliance, which handles data storage for large companies, got into the small-business market by starting a division called StoreVault. With prices starting at $5,000, Network Appliance acknowledges that it's targeting growing companies that will one day need bigger services. But it's a steppingstone for companies that have outgrown more consumer-targeted online storage companies. Meanwhile, Yahoo! started a small-business center that hosts company websites. And look for big things from Google. The search giant has moved into the market with Google Checkout, which is competing with eBay-owned PayPal.