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Tech Gadgets Often Vital to Entrepreneurs

October 23, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Small-business owner Julie Ruvolo is certainly tech savvy.

She worked in ad sales and strategy for digital media companies AdBrite and DivX, and as a freelance writer for interactive media publisher iMedia Communications. In 2008, she co-founded Solvate, which helps folks find “virtual assistants” online that help with administrative tasks such as bookkeeping and travel planning.

Ruvolo uses many gadgets to keep on top of work and personal demands, such as the ultra-small Samsung NC10 netbook that transports easily in her purse. She also uses a high-definition Eyeball Webcam so she can videoconference with her staff.

But one tool makes her gush: her iPhone.

“It’s absolutely beautiful,” she says of the device that accesses work and personal e-mail accounts, snaps photos, pulls up maps — and wakes her every morning with its alarm.

Vista Software Group owner David Mendoza feels that way about his BlackBerry World Edition. He uses it to tap into customers’ systems and e-mail servers, as well as to access his company bank account and maintain invoices while on the road. He also uses the alarm to wake up. “I take it everywhere,” he says. “It’s become invaluable.”

IPhone vs. BlackBerry vs. Google’s Android smartphone. Mac vs. PC. Cloud-based computing vs. an external hard drive. Small-business owners have a vast array of technology choices. “There is so much out there that it can be overwhelming,” says Thom Ruhe, director of entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Entrepreneurs often lack time and money but need the latest technology to keep their businesses running as smoothly as possible. In addition, small-business owners “really don’t have the luxury of a personal life and a business life,” says Ruhe, so they need devices that work in both worlds.

It’s vital to do homework before buying technology. Ruhe suggests entrepreneurs check out reviews on websites such as CNet.com, ask peers for tech feedback at networking events, and even head to bookstores to browse magazine and book racks.

Small-business owner Jim Balis acknowledges that he lacks in tech know-how. So he relied on the advice of others in two networking groups — the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and the trade group Turnaround Management Association — on what technology could help his restaurant-restructuring firm.

Real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, who now runs a business-consulting company, says she has her own tactic for keeping up on technology: When she sees a “young person” on a novel device, she walks up to them and asks, ‘Hey, what are you up to? What are you doing?’ ”

Varying business models have varying needs, says CNet.com editor-at-large Rafe Needleman.

“Since every business is different, the best resource is someone in your business who is ahead of you in technology,” he says.

For those who need more formal help, he suggests looking into “value-added resellers” who offer customization and training on the technology products they sell. (Entrepreneurs can find many of these “VARs” by searching on the Web and checking out reviews on sites such as Yelp.com.)

And those who want to save cash should investigate low-cost and no-cost services such as Microsoft’s and Google’s business services, as well as OpenOffice.org, which is primarily sponsored by Sun Microsystems, Needleman says.

“One of the most interesting things for any business right now is that so much can be done on the Web for so little money or for free,” he says.

A look at some tools small-business owners and famous entrepreneurs use:

  • Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist. He’s a fan of devices such as the MacBook Pro, the iPhone 3GS and the Samsung NC10 netbook. He’s experienced troubles using iPhone’s calling features but likes its calendar and contact-keeping service. “I use a bunch of apps, many of which are used for transportation, like Routesy (which provides public transportation information),” he says via e-mail. “Also, Rimshot and (Leaf) Trombone (which each provide sound effects) have proven very effective in public speaking.”
  • Sebastien de Halleux, co-founder of social gaming site Playfish. His 200-person company uses cloud-based computing, which means all data are stored on remote servers hosted by outside companies. Security and server updates aren’t Playfish’s worry. Among services that Playfish uses: Google Apps, which offer e-mail and calendar and document management. “That means if an engineer joins us in China or an artist in London or a business person in San Diego, they are all online and connected to our entire company resources within a few minutes of getting a company laptop.”
  • Julie Ruvolo, co-founder of Solvate. She loves her iPhone, but she’s also fond of other tech advances such as Google Voice, which lets consumers use one Google-issued phone number for home, office and mobile lines. It also transcribes voice mail and offers unlimited free texting. She uses Vark.com, a social search engine that routes a user’s question to his or her social media network of friends, family and acquaintances for answers. She also pays more to fly on Virgin America, which has Wi-Fi, so she can be networked while in the air.
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