The line between 'Technology Tinkerer' and 'Early-Stage Startup' is faded and gray. Both are driven by passion, both are tight on cash, and both are run by people with a clear view of the bigger picture looking for tools that can easily get the job done. It's no wonder that the toolsets enjoyed by one would be incorporated by the other.
CadSoft EAGLE is a prime example of a tool that works perfectly for startups. First, the capabilities of the tool are expansive, and far beyond what a casual user would ever need. There's a schematic editor, layout editor with an integrated Gerber Tool, and autorouter, which are all straightforward and simple to use. It also runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac, which for some reason isn't as common as one might think in CAD programs.
As can be strangely glamorized, many early startups' initial funding comes from a conversation with the husband/wife. This can lead to a less-than-impressive expense account for someone trying to explore an idea. EAGLE comes to the rescue with a free license for hobbyists that limits the PCB to two layers, 100x80mm, and 1 schematic sheet. Thanks to the gray area between a hobbyist and someone trying to start a company, it would be easy to rationalize the first couple prototypes as hobby projects and then look to the commercial licenses when it's time to get serious about making money. Buying the license is also cheap and simple – with the commercial license of the free version costing $69, and the 'fully loaded' version (with autorouter) priced at $1640. Even better, everything can be bought online in minutes instead of having to call a supplier.
Once a user starts working in EAGLE, more time saving features become quickly apparent. No CAD program is 'easy' to learn, but the simple layout and menu structure of EAGLE makes getting off the ground quick, if not painless. When the inevitable problem does crop up, the user base is known for fostering a remarkable support community on the forums. These discussions are visited often by EAGLE experts and Cadsoft staff, making for many excellent responses. Another hassle for startups trying to get a quick board out is creating schematic symbols and footprints in EAGLE from scratch. Element14 has a library of EAGLE parts ready for download, saving a ton of time for a new user. For parts that are not already created, learning to make them is easy thanks to Sparkfun's step-by-step tutorial. Once the company buys any license, there is free tech support offered by phone which can be handy when in a crunch trying to meet a board house's submission deadline.
A final EAGLE feature that startups love has nothing to do with CADsoft. Where to get the boards made? OSHpark is a board house that makes prototype boards for pretty cheap (but take a couple weeks). The real benefit of EAGLE and OSHpark is that users can upload the layout file directly to OSHpark's website and be done. This takes the normal PCB-purchasing requirements of gerber files, fab drawings, and compatibility issues out of the PCB ordering process, making orders almost as easy as hitting 'print'.
From start to finish, EAGLE has some real perks that startups will notice. Easy to get going, easy to buy, and easy to have boards made. Because that's what it's all about: getting things done in the fastest, cheapest, and easiest way possible.