Recently I came across this article about some neat software applications that might just save you some time and increase productivity.
What small-business owners need to know about technology.
Academics predicted the rise of a paperless society decades ago. We’re not there yet, but at least on the small-business front, we’re getting closer. In fact, a host of new tools have arrived recently, including Shake, an app platform that allows users to create, sign and send legally binding agreements from their smartphones; Zipmark, a digital checkbook; and SimpleScan, a mobile scanner and document management system that integrates with cloud apps used by small businesses.
Shake was started in 2012 by Jared Grusd, Jon Steinberg, Abe Geiger and Stuart Ellman, a venture capitalist with RRE Ventures, which has invested $1 million. It takes long, complex legal documents and shortens them, putting them into plain English and allowing them to be dispatched and signed digitally. “People sign things all the time they don’t understand,” Mr. Geiger said. “We think the most important thing is to sign something you understand and that will hold up in court.”
The app is geared toward freelancers and small businesses that need to get deals done quickly with documentation but don’t have the time or money to go to a lawyer. It offers six templates: a freelance contract, a hiring contract, a standard nondisclosure agreement, a buy/sell agreement, a rent/lend agreement and an agreement for loaning money. There’s also a create-your-own agreement, which is referred to in-house as “the napkin agreement.”
So far, the app works only with an iPhone or an iPad, although the company expects to introduce an Android version. And for now, Shake is free; the company plans to roll out premium options that will range in price from $10 to $50 a month.
Zipmark’s software lets a small business with recurring invoices — like subscription-based services, businesses with monthly membership fees or rent — accept online payments that clear within 24 hours. Zipmark’s application is embedded in a host of invoicing platforms small businesses use, said Jay Bhattacharya, Zipmark’s chief executive.
“Businesses can send an email invoice — my children’s piano teacher now does this — and at the bottom of the email is a place to click that says, ‘Pay with your checking account. Powered by Zipmark.’ The customer registers and is automatically taken through the process of paying,” said Mr. Bhattacharya, who added that it works much the way PayPal or a credit card does, but the fees are lower and the payments clear faster. Zipmark also allows business owners to create their own payment website, where customers can find and pay their bills.
The company started in 2010 and has raised almost $4 million in venture capital. Its digital check tool works with many of the accounting systems that small businesses use, including FreshBooks, WorkingPoint, Apptivo and Toast Invoice.
“We do real-time risk management in such a way that we can economically provide a risk-free digital check,” said Mr. Bhattacharya. “We created our own algorithm that pulls in a variety of data and determines the likelihood the check is going to clear.” Another key segment for the company is B2B payments, where the risk of insufficient funds is also very low. Zipmark charges businesses 1 percent of the transaction with a cap of $5.
Mr. Bhattacharya, who opened Zipmark with Jake Howerton, is a veteran of Citigroup, and helped start Citi Ventures. He worked in the credit card division, where charges can be as high as 3 percent of a transaction. “I saw this as a pain point in the small-business community,” he said. “These businesses that do recurring billing have relationships with their clients so the risk is very low that the transaction won’t clear. Yet they are forced into a payment system where they are charged the same amount as a business that doesn’t know their customers.”
Finally, SimpleScan is a mobile scanner from Document Capture Technologies, which has designed and built mobile scanners sold under other brand names, like Xerox and Brother. Introduced in July, SimpleScan signals a shift from hardware to software, said Karl Etzel, who is chief operating officer of DCT. It works on a cloud-based document-management platform that integrates with many small-business applications.
Users get a free account and through SimpleScan’s Web interface, they can direct scanned documents to cloud-based apps like Evernote and Dropbox. “SimpleScan will just send a scanned document to the cloud app you want to send it to,” said Mr. Etzel. And if you forget where you put it? “We have a feature that keeps track of that for you,” he said
The scanner also offers users the ability to snap photos of receipts with a smartphone and send them to the cloud. It ranges in price from $159 to $199. For small businesses that want additional document management functions, a premium service will be available for $5 a month later this year.