Tech companies often offer services with generous free tiers, to entice new users. Free trials are good for them, because they can drive word of mouth sales, and marketing doesn’t get much cheaper than word of mouth.
For us startups it’s also gold, because we can experiment with all the tools without having to pay big bucks. Often you can build production-ready product on entirely free platforms.
This blog is running on free stuff too. (Thanks WordPress and thanks, Heroku!)
Free is free, but there are caveats. Often free is free as in puppy rather than free beer. Founders are generally good at recognizing these tricks, but here’s a friendly reminder: the full price is rarely the one on the price tag. Spending time to learn the tools comes at a price, and avoiding vendor lock-in is at least as important.
In this post, we collected some of the free or super cheap services that we used before to build apps. Free, as in beer that is.
- Heroku offers a generous free tier that’s good enough to support a popular blog or an app backend. The platform takes care of continuous delivery as well, ready to support any project. It’s my clear favorite for Python, Ruby and PHP projects.
- MongoDB Atlas will give you a decent free tier on MongoDB, enough for a service that’s not super popular yet.
Beware of the vendor lock in: against popular belief, the MEAN stack isn’t the best fit for most startups, and Atlas doesn’t have many alternatives.
- Google Cloud’s App Engine is another powerful tool with a free-forever tier. A great fit for small Java and Python apps, but its learning curve is a bit steeper. As with other Google product’s, it can also change any minute.
- Firebase is Google’s backend as a service offering. You can use it to store data from a variety of frontend clients, like a mobile app, or a web browser.
- Mailchimp for newsletters, free for the first 1000 users. We use it here and use it everywhere.
- Mailerlite is also free up until 1000 subscribers, and it also does automation in its lowest tier.
- Netlify offers static file hosting and works with Github, Bitbucket and Gitlab. You can use it on custom domains and https. One user, 100GB bandwidth and 300 build minutes are all in the free tier.
- CloudFlare is free for smaller companies and generous traffic. It’s the easiest way for DDoS protection, but also, a lazy but secure way to set up working https for any domain.
- AWS has a free tier for one year. It’s quite easy to find their $10K offer in startup circles, but that comes with a catch. You’ll have to spend all the $10K within the first year, and the likely bloated stack will be hard to support after. Other than that, S3 and AWS Lambda are super cheap products that can get you to scale fast.
- Azure offers 25+ services on a free tier, including web hosting and lambda functions. It’s a good alternative for AWS in most regions.
- Zoho offers a Google Apps alternative with a free tier. Use it to send and receive emails on many different aliases.
These are some of the freemium services we used throughout the years, and are happy to recommend. There are many more services out there — if you’re happy to experiment, check out one of the curated lists.
Besides the above, you’ll find vouchers and temporary discounts. In their campaign, AWS offered $100 in monthly free credits for anyone who published a free Alexa Skill. Google does the same with their Google Assistant actions every now and then. Look out for free stuff out there, and don’t be afraid to ask for help!
For founders, it pays to be a little scrappy.