Starting a Company: What Software Do I Need?

I recently helped start a company called Trafero and had to put together all the software I thought we needed. As an advocate of Open Source, I tried to use as much open source software as was sanely possible.

Here’s what I learned.


It Starts With a Name

Naming a company should be easy enough, right? It turns out that finding the right domain name for your company is actually fiendishly difficult, because they all seem to be taken already.

If you don’t believe me, give it a go.

There are a few other places you might want to register your brand. For me it was:

Github and docker may not be your thing, but that’s ok.

Once you find that domain name, register it with a general purpose registration service, such as godaddy.com or (my favourite) 123-Reg.

Email and Calendars

I have used mailu before for email. It takes quite a bit of setting up, but there is a bigger problem: Calendars.

For “home use” I use Google for calendars, and something different for email. This is bad. Every time someone emails me a meeting invite, there’s a merry dance I have to go through to get that invite in the right calendar and send them back a meeting acceptance. This is not how to run a business.

There are a few Open Source Groupware products out there, and I hope that at least one of them is good. Sadly, I don’t know, as I did a rare thing in the world of computing and thought of my users. They’re used to running Gmail, so I took the easy route and went for G Suite.

The Website

Branding is important, and your website should ooze your brand from every corner of the web browser.

Have you done a Three-Hour Brand Sprint? Do you know what your brand colors are? Do you even have a brand font? It’s good to get these questions right first, otherwise, when it comes to building a website, it somehow just won’t feel like you want it to. Without the right questions being asked, you may well waste valuable time trying to get it to feel right by trial and error.

Website content is important to. It’s good to have real content ready to go before the website design starts. An empty website looks, well, empty.

Website Software

Wordpress is an old favourite. There’s a hosted solution for it, if you don’t want to run it yourself. It is powerful and used by many large companies. Wordpress is written in PHP behind the scenes. Luckily, no coding is required to use the product, because coding in PHP is like trying to eat a bowl full of bees; it only makes sense if you have no pain receptors, and even then, it’s a questionable act.

A lot of the startups these days use Wix instead, however it’s not Open Source. I favour jekyll. You might even see the similarity between this jekyll theme and my company website if you look hard enough.

Jekyll is open source and free, but will probably require you to do some HTML editing, as well as learning Markdown. The silver lining to this cloud is that you might be able to host your jekyll site on Github for free.

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Contact Us!

Mautic belongs to a group of software that you may not have considered, but I love it. It will allow you to create contact forms that you can incorporate right into your website such as this, or any other forms, such as surveys or sign-ups. Once you have that data, it can automatically send out email responses. You can also generate email campaigns right from Mautic, using all those email addresses you harvested. There’s also a hosted solution if you don’t want to install it yourself.

Mautic’s flexibility is a strength, but its complexity is a weakness. Prepare to spend a few hours getting to grips with it. It will be a love/hate relationship at first.

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CRM

I still think I need a CRM for all my customers, even though I don’t. If you’re like me, you might want to try SuiteCRM, which is an offshoot of SugarCRM. SuiteCRM has a slightly more up-to-date user interface (only slightly). There are hosted options available if you Google hard enough, otherwise there’s always the ever popular (and Closed Source) Salesforce.

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Wiki

I didn’t think I needed a wiki, but now I have it, I use it a lot. There’s so much information and research when creating a company. It’s all inter-connected, but sometimes it’s hard to know how to make those connections. Wikis are amazing, in that you can throw information in there in a random way, but, by linking documents together, you can still get all that value out again.

Mediawiki is an old favourite. Wikipedia uses it. The one disadvantage is that you have to learn how to format documents using special notation, but it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it.

There are hosted options for MediaWiki too if you google for them.

Accounts Packages

I use something called GnuCash. It does proper double entry accounting, it’s Open Source, and, in keeping with many paid-for products, looks like it was last updated in the early 90’s.

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Wrapping it Up

All of the open source software at Trafero is hosted in AWS and installed in Docker containers, using docker compose.

Please let me know if this page could be improved, if you want copies of our docker compose files for building your own, or if you want Trafero to build any of this for you.