Guest author Scott Gerber is the founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council.
The early stages of a startup can seem like the exact wrong time to invest in hardware of any kind. But certain technology is worth the upfront cash. (And quite a few of the items on this list can probably come right out of your pizza budget.)
I was curious about what equipment passes muster even when budgets are tight, so I asked nine successful entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) what their first major hardware investments were and why. Their answers are below.
1. MacBook Pro
I've put so many hours on my MacBook Pro working anywhere, anytime. When you're doing a startup, you need to put in a lot of hours, and you'll find that it's best if you can squeeze in work anywhere you can. For instance, after a meeting at a coffee shop, I might spend another 15 minutes getting caught up on emails and other busywork because I'm already there with my laptop. At night, I might find myself at home with Netflix going on in the background and my laptop propped up in front of me as I'm doing work.
2. Mac Mini
Unlike many other startups, our first hardware purchase was a Mac Mini. We needed more computing power so that we could process more data, and the Mac Mini proved to be a great machine. We were able to ramp up data processing while also having another machine that we could use for a slew of other tasks, such as design and word processing. I highly suggest that any startup processing large amounts of data invest in a Mac Mini.
3. Dell 1U Servers
We bought Dell 1U servers that we racked in a level three data center. We did this specifically to host our custom voice platform (the piece of Speek that actually hosts the audio on our conference calls). This was very expensive for where we were at the time, but we deemed it extremely important. We knew that the audio quality on our conference calls would make or break us.
By putting this part of the system on physical hardware and in the same data center as the vendor providing our connectivity to both the Internet and the telephone network, we aimed to reduce variables to the bare minimum. This allowed us to quickly troubleshoot and fix any audio-quality issues we faced early on.
4. Paper Shredder
When I began my last startup, the first piece of hardware that I purchased was the strongest cross-cut paper shredder I could find on the market. I learned this lesson the hard way.
At my first startup, criminals went through my trash and stole documents that helped them commit fraud and identity theft. I later discovered that some of my employees had been routinely throwing other important documents directly into the trash as well, such as early drafts of contracts and transcripts from marketing strategy brainstorming sessions. If my competitors had gained access to this information, my company might have never lifted off the ground.
5. WD Livewire
We started operating out of my garage, which was a great way to stay lean. But we ran into major issues with my home's Wi-Fi not being able to reach or provide the level of connectivity and reliability we needed.
After frustrating attempts with extenders, we landed on Livewire, which produces Cat 5 Internet over electrical lines. For $70, you plug it into any electrical outlet and you get super fast and reliable hard-wired Internet. It's great for any startup operating in scrappy locations. We have an office now with better Wi-Fi, but still use Livewire at our desks because of the increased reliability.
6. High-Resolution Webcam
A high-resolution webcam was our first hardware purchase. I run a virtual company, and video conferencing is one way we bridge the gap between typical company structures and our structure. It improves team collaboration, and video-based interaction develops personal relationships within our team and with clients effectively.
I bought MiFi devices for myself and Poshly's CTO Bradley Falk. MiFi devices, which allow us to get online wherever there is a cell signal, keep us connected at all times no matter the location. They have proven to be lifesavers when we needed to answer important emails or allocate tasks to the team on the go.
Also, MiFi devices are useful for client meetings. Instead of going through the trouble of connecting to guest Wi-Fi, we're able to get up and running to do a demo of Poshly much faster because we carry our own MiFi devices. Because entrepreneurs have hectic schedules and so many tasks to complete, MiFi is an ideal piece of hardware for always staying connected.
8. Apple AirPort
We think MacBooks are cool and decided it's worth the extra cost to get the fancy aluminum laptops. I didn't realize the full benefit of this decision until we bought an AirPort. It allows us to plug in any USB printer for simple wireless printer sharing, has great coverage and was a lot faster than our Netgear router. For the price, it's a great purchase for any startup.
9. Reliable Power Supply
Our first office was in a basement with "dirty" power, so we often had sudden dips and spikes. Basically, we lost power all the time. (At least it seemed like it happened all the time!) Losing power meant losing work and then having to spend hours redoing it. Investing money in a back-up "battery" that powered our computers long enough to save work was a huge timesaver.