By now you’ve probably heard of web sites like GasPriceWatch.com, GasBuddy and MSNAutos, which help consumers find the cheapest fuel prices at gas pumps in their geographic area. Such “cost-optimization” sites are now proliferating across all sorts of verticals directly relevant to your most basic startup operating expenses. We’ve assembled a list of a few we like that can help you shop for everything from health insurance to web hosting to wireless service plans and more.
If you’ve discovered, or possibly even built, additional tools for cutting commodity costs, please add them to our list via the comments section.
1. Phone Service/Wireless Plans
Carriers make it hard to do head-to-head comparisons of their plans. BillShrink.com will help you find the cheapest plan for your immediate needs, and then monitor your usage pattern over time to continue to match your needs to the carriers’ constantly changing service offerings. Like many sites included here, BillShrink (funded by David Cowan of Bessemer Venture Partners) is designed for consumers, not businesses, but as co-founder Schwark Satyavolu notes, startups find it handy, too: “The vast majority have fewer than five employees so they use family plans or extended family plans that go up to 10 lines, the very same services consumers use.”
2. Credit Cards
Many founders bootstrap their operations in the early days using credit cards. There is nothing wrong with this, so long as you do lots of research up front and remain extremely vigilant about managing your accounts. Credit Cards.com does a nice job of winnowing down and showcasing the many different small business credit-card offers out there.
And in coming weeks, BillShrink plans to add a credit card service that will, like its wireless service, marry your borrowing patterns to the best-available credit card offer. Whether you carry a balance or pay it off, BillShrink will assess your “cost of ownership” on each card, and rank them for you. Stay tuned.
3. Insurance Plans
Most Choice.com offers you custom quotes for all kinds of insurance, including health plans, liability policies, even directors’ and officers’ liability coverage. See the left column of various listings, go to Group Health Insurance and in the search field use the tab for Professional Scientific and Technical Services.
Vimo.com, another Bessemer-funded site, is directed at helping consumers source insurance plans and physicians, and generally get more out of their health care expenses. Its tab for small businesses is where you can also get quotes for group plans.
4. Web Hosting
We found this category to be particularly tricky as there are so many different kinds of hosting (shared, dedicated, co-location, etc.). One choice is FindMyHosting.com, an independent site that, despite a cluttered home page, has a simple field where you can enter your parameters and get a quote. Also check out its Guide to Budget Web Hosting.
For comparison shopping, WebhostingClue.com simply displays a list of competitive offers.
There are fewer optimization resources for co-located hosting, but one that came recommended is WebHostingTalk.com, a discussion site where you can ask questions in topic forums, get tips, even special pricing from vendors. Note, however, that the rules strictly prevent lead generation or advertising.
5. Storage and Remote Backup
Founders tells us this is even harder to source than hosting, but we suggest you try BuyerZone.com.
6. Office Supplies
You want 24-inch LCD screens to prompt your developers’ creativity? FatWallet.com aggregates and publishes the best prices for office wares from a range of retailers including Wal-Mart and Buy.com.
Roosster.com aggregates content from the aggregators, including FatWallet. Penny-pinching expert Schwark Satyalovu of BillShrink built this site, also. “I bought ALL of our office equipment, including our computers, LCDs, projectors, printers, by finding the best deals on these sites — including 24-inch LCD screens — for only $299.” They’re no longer quite that cheap, but still not bad.
7. Electricity & Other Utilities
Everyone will tell you that the first thing you need to do is get an energy efficiency audit, where someone looks at your electricity usage profile and recommends ways to save. “You may be tempted to switch to solar power,” says Hannah Russin, of Sungevity.com, which specializes in turnkey solar systems for homeowners. “Solar is a years-long investment. It’s not a good idea for a startup if you don’t know what your income stream will be in five years.”
Instead, hire someone to do an electricity audit for you, such as Silicon Valley-based GreenNowUSA.com.
Even better, do your own “usage overhaul.” Russin highly recommends the blog MichaelBlueJay.com. Michael explains a few electricity myths, offers up explantions as to why your bill is so high, and shares tips on how you can to cut down on your electricity bill, including mandating that your employees kill their screen savers. (Active screen savers mean your computers never actually sleep.)
Earlier we recommended Telebright.com, which offers wireless and energy expense management. For straight cost comparisons on your power vendors, also check out WhiteFence.com, which serves many geographies.