Google Apps for Startups

I’ve toyed with the idea of this post for a long time. Recent interactions and my time spent with Start-Up Chile have really shown me that it needs to be written. I get too many business cards with @gmail.com email addresses. Give me a break. It costs $10 to register a domain name and Google Apps is free.

If you own a small business, or a startup, then you absolutely need to use Google Apps. Hands down, Google Apps is the best tool to manage your business. There’s a reason over 4 million businesses have switched.

Your role as a startup owner is to run your damn business, not fiddle around with mail servers and worry about document backup. That’s where Google Apps comes in.

Google Apps is FREE for small business and startups who have less than 10 user accounts. If you need more than that you’re either funded, have revenue, or you have too many partners anyway. You can find Google Apps’ free page here.

Step 1:

Enter your domain name, obviously. Or you can buy one if you don’t already have it. I’ll assume you already own one.

Step 2:

Fill out the Account Administrator fields. I only fill out what is required. First Name, Last Name, Email Address, Phone, and Country/Region. Make sure your administrator email address is something you will never lose access to, you will need this if you ever have to reset your password, which has happened to me.

Step 3:

Select your administrator account email and password, I usually just pick eric (or admin if it’s a client). This counts as your first account.

Step 4:

Set it up! Your Apps account will prompt you to run through a setup wizard. If you think you’ll learn something then go ahead and walk through it. Personally I like to just learn as I go, so I just close the dialog box.

Step 5:

Before doing anything else you need to activate Google Apps. You can ignore anything else until you do this since there’s no point in using Apps unless your domain name knows what to do with it.

Google tells you that the recommended way is to upload a special HTML file to your server so you can prove you own the domain. But there are alternatives!

I prefer to select the 

Since I use Media Temple to host my DNS records, even if I host the website elsewhere, I have to select Other since Google Apps doesn’t have instructions for how to verify a Google Apps account with Media Temple. Good thing I’m writing them here!

The instructions for verifying an account with Media Temple should be fairly similar to any other web host or domain registrar. I’m using Media Temple’s Grid Server service which lets me host up to 100 domains on a shared server for very cheap.

I edit the DNS Zone File so I can add the custom TXT record that Google has given me.

You will have various settings. Simply click Add a Record, select a TXT type for the record, leave the name blank, and paste in the TXT value that Google Apps gave you. Hit Save.

Media Temple’s DNS propagates instantly so as soon as I saved the new TXT record I can click the Verify button back in my Apps tab and it instantly verified my account!

Step 6:

Arguably the best reason to use Google Apps is for email. So let’s Activate your email. On the home dashboard for Apps you’ll see the different services that you have available to you. You’ll notice that there are some really ugly links like http://www.google.com/calendar/hosted/surrealwifi.com. Don’t worry, we’ll fix those in a bit.

For now, click Activate Email.

This next page has a ton of information. Google Apps does a good job of explaining how to set up your MX (mail exchange) records but again they don’t have Media Temple as an option. It’s all pretty generic anyway. Here are instructions on how to set up your Google Apps email with Media Temple’s Grid Service.

Remember that DNS Zone File that we were editing back in step 5? Yeah, we need that again. I start by clicking the Add a Record button 5 times since we need to add 5 MX records. Change each new record type to MX from their drop down menus.

Google Apps prefers if you set priorities for the records. Media Temple doesn’t have a specific field for this so we prefix them with their numbers. This of course could vary depending on your host. If in doubt, Google says to leave the priority blank and just make sure they are in the right order.

I use these:

  • 10 ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM.
  • 20 ALT1.ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM.
  • 20 ALT2.ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM.
  • 30 ASPMX2.GOOGLEMAIL.COM.
  • 30 ASPMX3.GOOGLEMAIL.COM.

Leave the names blank, just change the values.

Save the new MX records and then click I’ve completed these steps in Activate Email screen for your Apps account. You will be taken back to the home dashboard and under email it says “We are checking MX records for your domain. This may take 48 hours to complete.” In reality it usually takes less than an hour.

Don’t close this tab, we still need it!

Now let’s change those ugly URLs that are set by default.

Step 7:

Click Settings from the menu bar at the top of your Apps account.

I mainly use Email, Docs, and Calendar, so let’s change those URLs. The latest version of Google Apps lets us change them all at once.

Click Change URL under the Calendar section.

Then click Change URLs for all domain services

For the heck of it let’s change all the URLs. I’ve left the default suggestions like docs., calendar., email., etc.

Hit Continue.

Head back to your DNS Zone File settings. If you’re like me, which is slow, your host might log you out for taking too long. That’s ok, just log back in and find those settings again! I actually reload the page just to make sure that I’m logged in, otherwise I might make a bunch of changes just to find out that I’m logged out, and that is a real kick in the teeth.

Add 5 more records. Change their types to CNAME.

In the Name section of each record enter in your custom URLs prefixes. I left them as default so I used:

  • mail
  • start
  • calendar
  • docs
  • sites

Each record should have the value set to ghs.google.com. Save them. Your provider might spit out an error saying that you have two records the conflict. For me, Media Temple creates a mail record by default, so I just deleted their default one so the only thing left was my Google Apps record.

Click I’ve completed these steps in your Apps account and they should all redirect. This was instant for me but it all depends on your DNS.

At the time of this writing, Google Apps doesn’t support custom URLs for their Contacts feature.

Your Media Temple DNS records should now look like this!

Now would be a good time to test out your custom URLs. Just type http://mail.[yourdomain].com to try it out.

Step 8:

By the time I’d finished the custom URLs, the Email section on the page now said “Updating Google servers… This may take up to 1 hour to complete. We are updating Google servers to enable email for your users.” Hardly 48 hours, eh?

I suppose there really isn’t a step 8. You’re pretty much done. Plus this post is already over 1200 words… thanks for sticking around!

Google Apps has many more features to explore and they are really pushing their app marketplace. Personally I don’t use any marketplace apps, but you might find them interesting.

If you’re clicking around your Google Apps dashboard you might want to try the following:

  • In Settings
    • Enable Calendar labs to get the latest features.
    • Enable the Preview for the new Contacts manager.
    • Change the default document visibility in Docs so you don’t have to share it with your coworkers every time you make a new document.
    • Enable Google Sync in the mobile section so you can add your new account to your smartphone the proper way.
  • In Domain Settings
    • Enable SSL to Automatically enforce Secure Socket Layer (SSL) connections when your users access Gmail, Calendar, Docs, and Sites. In short, it makes your accounts a lot more secure if.
    • Upload your own logo to customize the branding of your Google Apps account.

I would not enable 2-factor authentication. I had a really bad experience with it when I moved from Canada to Chile and time zones changed and my authenticator iOS app wasn’t working and blah blah blah. It was also really annoying in general.

This post is really long, and has 8 steps, but Google Apps is so worth it.

Please post any questions, comments, or suggestions below!

Eric is a jack of all trades. From running social networks to internet cafes, he’s been in the startup scene for almost a decade. Recently returned from a stint at Start-Up Chile, Eric spends his days focusing on his startups Backup Box and Surreal WiFi.

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  • Eduardo G. da Silva

    Thank you! Good motivation, I am also startup founder and was taking some time to take this step because thought it would take me longer :)

    Good luck with your startups! Cheers!


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