Tools to help startups beat big businesses

Rob Kerr is a business advisor with Virgin Startup and is the founder of Giant Sparrows, a manufacturer of personalised mobile accessories and Lovefone, a smartphone repair and buyback network. Here he talks about how budding businesses can come out on top when competing with big businesses, and the tools that can help. 

As a freelance business advisor for Virgin Startup I have the privilege of meeting and working with a diverse set of passionate entrepreneurs on a regular basis. While competing with established and big businesses can still be a headache for startups, one thing is making itself increasingly apparent: small is becoming the new big.

A rich set of tools and platforms that were once only available to the big corporates is now available from the cloud for a few quid per month. We can have world class ecommerce, CRM and workflow automation systems at the touch of an App. Ironically it’s now the big corporates that are saddled with expensive, inflexible legacy systems while we tap dance around them optimising our processes on the fly.

The odds still are stacked against us and there are much easier ways to make a living. We do, however, have one secret weapon - agility. We’re simple, they’re complex. We bend, they break. This is your key weapon when it comes to competing against big businesses - and it might just see you beat them.

Here are my top five tools to level the playing field and get startups ahead.

1. Agile CRM

Who it’s for:

All startups should have a customer relationship management system. CRMs allow you to keep track of customer details and allow you to segment them based a number of criteria such as sales frequency, order value, etc.

Why it’s awesome:

It’s free for a few users and it has powerful marketing automation tools that allow to create automated marketing campaigns to your customers based on how they respond to your marketing.

2. Typeform

What it is and who it's for:

This is a new form of survey tool that can be use for much more than just surveys. Think forms, contests, customer satisfaction - you can do it all with typeform. Every startup should have a look at this.

Why it’s awesome:

Typeform have developed a user experience that is super intuitive and allows for flexible use of their forms to serve a variety of functions.

3. Kickstarter

What it is and who it’s for:

A crowdfunding platform for anyone looking to raise funds for a creative project, ideal for funding your first production run.

Why it’s awesome:

The community is huge and Kickstarter is a great place for concept validation and initial traction (assuming you get funded).

4. Pulse

What it is and who it’s for:

Cashflow is king and this app helps us avoid the one deadly sin in business - running out of money.

Why it’s awesome:

This app allows you to forecast your income and expenses on a monthly, weekly and daily basis. Invaluable for the cash-strapped startup.

5. Trello

What it is and who it’s for:

A free project management tool similar to basecamp but based around cards and lists. Very effective when you get the hang of it.

Why it’s awesome:

Amazing collaboration capabilities and the ability to create checklists, forms and boards make it an essential tool.