5 Web Apps Every Start-Up Must Have

Last Updated Mar 16, 2010 2:15 PM EDT

If you are starting a business today, thank your stars for Internet-based applications. For very little cost you can build your own starters tool box that includes everything from a full suite of productivity apps to a bill processing system, from cheap server space to electronic shopping carts.

Ten years ago these apps would have cost your business thousands of dollars and monstrous monthly fees. Now you can find solutions that, if not free, are mucho affordable.

Where to begin? Thanks to Harvard Business School professor Tom Eisenmann for pointing out on his blog two great product lists, both offered by entrepreneurs who use these tools every day. The first is from Eisenmann's former student, Sunil Nagaraj, CEO of Triangulate. The second, and much more extensive list, comes courtesy of Peldi Guilizzoni, of Balsamiq.

Not all of the apps they list are Internet based, but most are.

Here are five tools that show up on both lists:

  1. PivotalTracker. "Free project management tool perfectly suited for managing development features for a small team." --Nagaraj
  2. DropBox. "We use it for (storing and sharing) ALL of our internal files, from graphic assets to contracts, invoices, UI mockups, screenshots, and accounting data (we're totally transparent internally, even more than externally). --Guilizzoni.
  3. SliceHost. "Incredibly cheap server-space -- lower-priced plans than Amazon for getting started -- $20/month with no setup cost for server that should handle most consumer internet sites until user traffic really takes off." --Nagaraj
  4. Skype. "Valerie and I use Skype internally for our daily catch-up meetings--we use it as an instant messenger, we use Skype chats as "war room" for development, we use the new screen sharing feature all the time (which is a bit flaky but nicely integrated). I have been interviewed for a number of podcasts via Skype as well." --Guilizzoni.
  5. Twitter. "Every entrepreneur must be on Twitter to stay "plugged in" and to market his/her product." --Nagaraj
There were also several apps I had never heard of but win high praise from one or the other entreprener including Viral Marketing Calculator, E-Junkie (shopping cart), Charles (a Web debugging proxy for developers), Freshbooks (client tracking and invoicing), and GetSatisfaction (online support community for your customers).

Which apps do you rely on, and why? Please help us start our own list.

(Tool box image by M i x y, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.