About to embark on a startup? Used to work for a BigCo or even a mid-sized company or a cool company like Google where they took care of all that annoying back office stuff like IT for you? If you want lunches ordered in like we do at Oyster, then, in NYC at least, seamlessweb is the fast and easy answer. But unfortunately, IT rarely has such a quick solution. Here are a few helpful pointers. This is the first in a series of posts about startup IT. Technical readers will want to skip most of these.
IT is your modern day spade - commit to making it a competitive advantage or at least not something that hurts you.
If you were a farmer, would you have a great tractor? Of course you would. It’s your competitive advantage. In knowledge businesses, computers are our tools. Insure you have great tools and get the most you can possibly afford. Save money somewhere else. I was recently out looking for new office space in NYC and we looked at the office space of a division of a large company; I’m not 100% certain that this was the case but I think that the reason they were giving up their space was because the company was downsizing. I saw their software developers working directly on laptop screens and had a good laugh (and perhaps discovered the source of their business problems?). This is a company that could easily afford new monitors for all of their engineers. Even a 23″ monitor per engineer would be a huge upgrade. My co-founder Eytan tells me that at Microsoft they had this penny wise pound foolish mentality as well and despite Microsoft making a billion a month in net income, he knew an engineer who had bought his own 30″ monitor. I’m guessing someone in finance did the math of 30,000 engineers at Microsoft and multiplied it by $1,000/monitor and decided that $30,000,000 is a lot of money. And of course, $30M is still a lot of money. But not for Microsoft which is after all a software company where the only tools worth mentioning are computers.
People are your most expensive asset – not computers
If you remove an employee, you can upgrade the computers of all the other employees in your startup AND buy them lunch each day to boot. For a small startup, it’s very hard to save money in IT at the current price of hardware. Unless you are in a particularly capital equipment intensive business, your people are your biggest costs and also your biggest lever on success.
Reduce the number of people you have to reduce your costs and then improve the productivity of those you have through better people using better tools.
Computers last longer than you think
With good upkeep and selective upgrades – and in the case of Windows (Vista and XP at least – too early to tell on Windows 7), a reinstall of the OS every now and then – a computer will now last 3 to 4 years from the time you buy it before it’s really hurting you. And as I state below, SSDs may change the game even further.
A faster CPU is no longer the best way to improve the performance of your computer
I hate slow computers. I want the computer to be able to go at least as fast as I can go and I don’t want to wait. Ever. It used to be that that meant I was upgrading my computer every year or so – sometimes more often than that. Decadent? I use the computer an awful lot so I’d rather skimp elsewhere. I could probably afford to skip a meal out or two and at 50 bucks/meal (Manhattan…) it does not take that many before I’ve made a decent down payment on the next computer.
But I recently discovered the wonder of solid state drives (SSD). Coupled with an upgrade to the pretty amazing Windows 7, I’ve got a nearly two year old Lenovo T61 laptop that feels faster than my incredibly souped up desktop (quad core CPU, 8 GB of RAM, 2x10K RPM in RAID0).
Don’t worry about the geek talk if your eyes glazed over on the speeds and feeds verbiage. The point is that if you want to upgrade a bunch of old PCs, you should not buy new computers. Instead, add a big monitor (you may need to upgrade the video card to make effective use of the larger monitor), an Intel SSD (about 200 bucks now), and make sure you’ve got the RAM as high as it can go. Then install Windows 7 (64 bit) and prepare to be seriously impressed. Everything now happens instantly.
Engineers need big monitors
Get your software developers 30″ monitors – 2 of them per person if you can afford it. Joel Spolsky has an extensive guide to how to treat your engineers. I know that there are varying schools of thought on this but as with Joel and as with Microsoft, we strongly prefer to keep our software developers in offices where they can old fashioned peace and quiet. Lost productivity of a software developer is even more expensive than the cost of additional expensive (but decreasing) Manhattan real estate.
It’s not just engineers – everyone need a big monitor
A big monitor is probably the cheapest thing you will buy this year relative to it’s value. How many hours do you sit in front of your monitor for each year? How much does the monitor cost? What is the cost per hour? A bigger monitor makes you more productive and obviously the cost amortizes well. Just be forewarned – Once you go to a bigger monitor, you’ll never want to work on that tiny laptop screen again and working while traveling will become a bit tougher than it used to be.
Everyone other than engineers gets at least one monitor at 1920×1080 resolution. If you can afford it and they are using a desktop, get them dual 23″ monitors. Laptop users should connect to external monitors. HP and Dell both make great 23″ monitors that cost about $200 and run at 1920×1080 resolution.