Anatomy Of An All-Cloud SMB

Startup runs on nothing but cloud applications. Here are the 16 apps they use and what they gain by skipping onsite IT infrastructure.
10 Important Cloud Apps For SMBs
10 Important Cloud Apps For SMBs
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Can real businesses actually run on nothing but cloud applications?

BetterCloud certainly does. Launched in February, the software developer makes add-ons for Google Apps, most of which deal with deploying and administering the platform inside business environments. As its name implies, the 14-person firm is entirely comfortable with anything and everything online. Therefore, the decision to skip on-premises infrastructure and rely solely on hosted applications didn't require a particularly long leap of faith.

"This is the DNA of the company," said BetterCloud CEO David Politis in an interview. The startup uses 16 cloud apps to run its day-to-day business. Politis didn't need much breath to summarize BetterCloud's onsite technology portfolio: Laptops, monitors, and a handful of IP phones. "We have nothing--zero infrastructure at all," Politis said.

[ Before you sign on the dotted line, consider Cloud Contracts: 5 Questions SMBs Should Ask. ]

While it may have been a natural move, Politis listed two other key drivers behind the company's strategic choice to go all-cloud. The first might sound familiar to other small businesses: Doing so allowed the tech startup to get off the ground with minimal capital expenditures. "The upfront costs for a startup are probably the most prohibitive piece," Politis said. His company's annual cloud tab, on the other hand, runs somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000. That keeps ongoing expenses in check, too, as BetterCloud builds its business.

The other reason speaks to the flexibility required of almost any new, growth-minded venture. What the company needs tomorrow will likely be different that what it needs today. A practical example: BetterCloud currently occupies shared office space in Manhattan while it looks for a more permanent home. The firm's lack of on-premises infrastructure allows it to pick up and move at a moment's notice. Its last relocation involved showing up to the office at 7 a.m., unplugging the phones and monitors, and hailing a few New York City taxicabs to drive them to their new digs.

"We moved into the new office and plugged into the Internet an hour later," Politis said. "The only reason it was an hour was because it was all the way downtown in New York. For startups, if you start like this, you're never tied to anything."

Picking the right tools came down to a mix of the obvious (Google Apps), the well-known (, prior experience (Vocalocity), Google Apps integration, and business need.

Politis broke down the 16 apps BetterCloud currently uses into four categories. Here they are:

1. Core Applications
Google Apps, QuickBooks, Recurly, Vocalocity

These were the four apps BetterCloud had to have on day one--they can't work without them. The choices were fairly straightforward. Google Apps was a no-brainer considering what BetterCloud does--no Microsoft licenses here. Politis came from Vocalocity, which became the easy pick for a hosted PBX system for voice communications. Politis and other BetterCloud employees had plenty of experience using QuickBooks for accounting and Recurly for billing.

2. Business Development
Pardot,, GoToMeeting

With just 14 people, BetterCloud has to maximize its business development efforts without the benefit of a massive sales and marketing department. These three platforms serve as the firm's backbone for sales, marketing automation, and collaboration.

3. Development Tools
LucidChart, Protoshare, Google App Engine, JIRA

BetterCloud is ultimately a development company, and its team is spread out. Though it's based in New York, Politis said the company will hire staff anywhere in the world as it grows. These five tools allow the firm to code efficiently and quickly without needing to be in the same room. Protoshare, for example, allows the team to collaborate and comment on prototypes regardless of location.

4. Day-to-Day Simplicity
Expensify, Smartsheet, Harvest, Google Hangouts, DomainWatch

These tools make some of the more mundane business tasks--expense reporting, for example--a bit easier. When it looks to fill new needs, the first place BetterCloud usually turns to is the Google Apps marketplace. The company's own apps, such as DomainWatch, fit that bill. Politis said it only makes sense to look there for outside tools as well. "It was important to us that they were available as integrated apps with Google," Politis said.

Politis does note one challenge in the all-cloud model, but it's not security, availability, or any of the other common concerns some businesses have about moving critical applications and data online. Rather, it's a matter of time: While most of the applications BetterCloud uses can work with each other, integration rarely comes out of the box.

"The one thing that is time-consuming is the configuration," Politis said, noting that BetterCloud did the integration work in-house. "In order to get all of these systems to work seamlessly together, that's not always necessarily the press of a button."

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