As learned from the lean startup method, it’s important to try out new ideas as soon as possible to get real feedback and learn from the mistakes you make in the progress. In this section we try to give you some ideas on how to do that while bootstrapping and not to go broke in the process.

8 Ways to host your idea (almost) for free

The secret to this question is obviously to use a small part of the vast resources available in the cloud. But use them in such a way that you don’t have to pay anything, or let someone else pay, while hosting multiple services and apps at a low scale. This, until you have proven that your idea can sustain itself by making enough money to cover more than the hosting costs.

In the options below, we will use Microsoft as an example as we know all of the proposed ways exist, it may be different if you look at other vendors. (Don’t hesitate to share other options that we don’t know of yet).

1. Know your free cloud service tiers

The most obvious place to start is with the cloud service providers themselves, make sure you know the services offered be all of them and how much free ‘trial’ resources you can use, and for how long you can use them. Combine multiple of these offers at the same time, as well as combining them sequentially (moving from one offer to the next) to stay up and running for free. Watch out not to exceed the free limits though.

2. Use services in innovative ways

Many services have a pricing model designed for scale and at first sight seem to have only value when used at scale, but you can use them in very different and often cost effective ways. F.e. Windows Azure storage services (or Amazon’s S3 service) have been designed for large scale file storage at a low cost. Turns out that these services are ideal webservers when you stick to static sites or SPA’s, just upload your html, javascript and css there and serve your users for a few cents per year. The same goes for other online services, like hosting a webshop statically on a facebook page. Just think out of the box!

3. Chase beta’s and preview services

Most cloud providers will also offer free resources while in beta, or preview or whatever the vendor calls it, in return for feedback on the product. Try to get into these programs and use the available resources to their full extend. Watch out for the date that the service goes in production though, don’t let that surprise you as the amount of resource you get during these programs will be quite a lot larger than the free tiers!

4. Chase promotions

Just like many people do with cell phone promotions, you can also chase promotional offers from vendors as long as they last and switch vendor when a new promotion arrives elsewhere. This does require that you design irrespective of the vendor, which may be a bit hard… but that’s a desirable state to be in in the long term anyway so it might make sense to go this direction.

5. Enter vendor specific startup programs and accelerators

Some cloud providers have specific programs for startups that come with substantial amounts of resources for several years. F.e. Microsoft’s bizspark program comes with quite a lot of Windows Azure resources and free access to the appstores. Check out, http://www.microsoft.com/bizspark/, for more information. There are no real catches here, unless you consider vendor lock-in a catch, but it is a bit harder to get into these programs. PS: We learned that you don’t need to have a company (yet) to apply.

6. Become a friend with benefits

This is probably the hardest way to get free resources, but also one of the more sustainable and easy ones, once you’re in. Affiliate yourself with a vendor and join one of their programs for partners. F.e. the Microsoft’s MVP program is the most publicly visible one for individuals, membership of this program comes with an MSDN license that includes the same amount of Windows Azure resources as the bizspark offering. Besides the MVP program, there are others, like the partner network, TAP and insiders programs.

7. The cuckoo's nest

It may be hard to become a friend with benefits, we realize that, but you probably know someone who is in some way. You could kindly ask your employer, customer or peers to use some of their excess resources if those are available and plant the seeds of your idea there for a while.

8. Collocate

If all of the above fails, you can still team up with some people and collocate your services on the same box, or publish your apps through the same appstore account. Forget about SLA’s and the best practices that you are supposed to follow, the odds that your app or service has to scale to the millions immediately are pretty much non-existent. It’s more likely that you can put up to a hundred of them on the same machine. €40/month for a server divided by 100 is quite affordable if you ask us.

So go ahead, have a blast launching the craziest ideas for free! And don’t forget to share them with all your friends here!

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