4 Online Tools to Build and Streamline Your Business
BY John Caplan
Virtual tools help you outsource legal services, reach more customers, improve inventory decisions, understand and track sales, and raise capital for your projects.
I’ve chosen four firms--of the thousands--that represent a cross-section of online tools to help make running your emerging business more efficient. Think about how you’re allocating your capital and whether you’re getting the return you need. You may find one of these will help you streamline a process, cut costs, or grow your distribution or sales.
Outsource legal services.
Growing companies tend to consider the time and money they spend on documents and contracts as sunk costs. And while they’re essential to every company, they’re also expensive to procure. Thankfully, legal services are finally becoming democratized.
In a remarkably short time, UpCounsel, a virtual law firm, has built a platform to match high quality lawyers and vault of legal documents with entrepreneurs who want affordable, efficient, and high-quality on-demand legal services in an open marketplace.
Lawyers join UpCounsel because they get the power and infrastructure of a big firm while also having the independence and freedom of a solo practice. Entrepreneurs choose UpCounsel because they don’t want to overpay to support the cost structure of a traditional brick-and-mortar law firm.
UpCounsel also just opened up their international patent practice to help entrepreneurs throughout the world get affordable patent services (and to protect U.S. patents in international markets). This gives them a leg up in a tech world dominated by patent trolls. And it helps customers save 50 percent on patent services by great lawyers.
Connect to your wholesale buyers.
Every company that makes and distributes goods needs to find new customers and to properly serve them. The antiquated process around connecting brands and retailers is now being replaced by an efficient, easy-to-use online marketplace.
Joor is a platform that connects manufacturers of high-quality goods to a marketplace of retailers making wholesale buys.
The trade shows, the paper order forms, the lack of access to reliable data in real-time--these are a thing of the past. Using Joor, retail buyers have an online channel to access collections across multiple brands in one place, which saves time.
That means buyers can easily access inventory in real-time and view future collections, which improves decision-making down the line. They also get access to order data that they can export directly into their own purchase order management or point-of-sale systems. That benefit saves yet more time and reduces the likelihood that they will make luckless buys.
At the same time, brands can see in real-time which styles, categories, silhouettes, colors are trending across geography or stores so that they can better predict demand and optimize their supply chain. That can improve their conversion rate. In three years, Joor is on a run rate to process more than $1 billion of wholesale volume through the platform.
Manage your POS.
Started by a retailer, ShopKeep is a simple application that turns your tablet into a point-of-sale system. (Isn’t that what Square does?) Yes, but ShopKeep goes further. They are focused on the data and information that makes decision-making for the small business easier and faster.
ShopKeep lets you understand inventory in real time, manage the time schedules of your temporary staff, and understand how your sales are changing, trending, and selling. Yet it’s not technically a "marketplace" tool. ShopKeep’s system is part of the larger trend--information and speed are essential to productivity and growth.
Raise personal capital.
Perhaps the most progressive concept is the movement of people who are selling a piece of the future earnings as a way to fund their own personal and professional development.
Pave, a company based in NYC, and founded by hard-core technologists, allows people to seek and get investment from mentors. The capital being raised is being used to fund education, projects, pay debts, or pursue dreams. This is a democratized. MacArthur-style “genius grant” for people who have a project and personality to fund. As an investor, you make investments in the most talented people, and as an ambitious and talented person, you get access to capital. This isn’t about funding a business--it’s about funding people.
JOHN CAPLAN is the founder and CEO of OpenSky, a social network for shopping. OpenSky launched in April 2011 and now has more than 2.5 million members. Before OpenSky, Caplan was the CEO of Ford Models and president of the About Network, which sold to Primedia in 2001 for more than $500 million.