Run a Startup on Google Apps?

In my quest to become less dependent on PC-based programs (that’s you, Microsoft Office and Outlook) and to become more web and “cloud” centric, I have experimented with running a couple startups on the Google Apps platform. It is both impressive, and scary, at the same time.

Google Apps is a single log-in for a set of functions necessary to any company or organization: e-mail using a shared domain (e.g., group and individual calendars, shared and individual document repository and a wiki to keep track of all the details. Of course, any individual can use Gmail, but that introduces a host of logistical and lack-of-company-control issues. Apps integrates all these functions.

The amazing part is, the cost to a small company (say, under 50 e-mail addresses) is zero. To get guaranteed up-time and access to more advanced features, like Google Video and Blackberry Enterprise Support, the cost is $50 per user per year. In contrast, my Yahoo Business Mail account for one person is $96 per year.

Gmail and calendar are great functions, but the Apps module which sold me is the wiki, known as Google Sites. As I am now running a number of micro-startups under multiple domains, I am faced with detail overload – how to track dozens of partners and the dialog with each, dozens of log-in credentials to different services, constantly changing documents like price lists, to-do action lists, links of competitors, etc. And my collaborators are located on the other side of the world – so anything I work on has to be accessible to them constantly. Like most wikis, Sites maintains an audit trail of changes and e-mails me whenever my partners update any part of the wiki – which helps me stay on top of changes without drowning in e-mails which get buried in my inbox.

Those who read my blog know I’m no blind fan of Google (see my predictions of Google as a monopoly), but I checked out a number of alternatives – ZoHo, Zimbra, Yahoo, Outlook/Exchange hosting, ACT, etc. Some of them are better at individual functions than Google Apps, but none can beat the pricing and overall integration of Google.

The downside is almost complete dependency on Google, which is the scary bit. Google’s infamous non-transparency as to how it applies its own rules, and the inability to reach an actual customer-service person, create frustrating situations. For example, a few days ago I had to send the same e-mail one-by-one to about 70 clients, with minor text variations. Lo and behold, Google’s rule of “sending a max 500 e-mails per day” suddenly kicked in and I received the dreaded bounce-backs with a message “Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently” and a link to a Google Help page explaining why they now think I am sending SPAM.

Of course, this happened after just 70 e-mails, and the ban was lifted without notice about four hours later. But I had no clear explanation of why the limit kicked in so quickly. Nor is there any way to appeal such a decision.

Am I being dangerously tempted by Google’s Siren Song? Is my business venture, which is pure “white-hat” legitimate work, at risk of being squashed by Google? Am I really just trading one monopoly in the Windows platform for another monopoly in the cloud? Is Microsoft actually the underdog on their home turf? Stay tuned…

Google Apps:

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4 Responses to Run a Startup on Google Apps?

  1. Soren Sarstrup says:

    Interesting post. I don’t have the nerve to go Google all the way, as much as the idea appeals conceptually, very much for the reasons you state above. I love the cloud but I don’t want to keep ALL my stuff in it.

    With regards to sending the 70 emails, you’d be able to do this with a standalone mass-mailing app, depending on the “minor text variations” – but of course you probably know that!

  2. Ben Kuo says:

    Thanks for sharing — it is indeed a question of how much to rely on Google. If you rely on Google for your email, web site — not to mention, all those inbound search queries to your business — you do become awfully tied to the whims and fancy of Google. I think you’re right, though, there’s a battle between Google and Microsoft for the desktop/your life going on…

  3. Ken Hayes says:

    Turns out I got quoted (alas, not accurately but the gist is correct) in an article for Inc Magazine about the use of Google Apps:

  4. I’ve only used google apps for the last couple of years in my business. As long as I got internet connection I can control my empire anywhere in the world 🙂

    Gmail works much faster (and user friendly) than outlook, just the other day another consultant with a client showed me that outlook was taking up 4.5GB memory on his 8 core 8gb IBM laptop… How can an email app take up 4.5GB memory?!

    Google rules when your a small start up (and even medium sized business).

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