There are many startup tools to help you with building, designing, marketing, operating and selling your product/company. The abundance is a blessing and a curse, but we’re here to make things easier with this ultimate shortlist of tools and resources that will make your entrepreneurial life better.
Best in Class Award:
Slack – If you are still using email to communicate with your team, stop that. Slack is hands down the best way to communicate quickly in groups or 1:1, organize discussions by topic (i.e. channels), and have everything in one place so it’s easy to find. It’s unbelievable how much time is freed up when you don’t have to craft an email for each quick sentence exchanged with your team. And of course it comes with a mobile app and integrates with a bunch of other apps that you’re probably already using. It also just rolled out voice and video calls for its premium users.
Do you have to pay for this magic? Nope. Slack offers a freemium model, but the free tier will probably grant all your wishes.
Best for Team Video Conferencing:
Google Hangouts – When it comes to video conferencing, this is a no-brainer if you’re using the Google Suite. It’s free and super easy to set up on Gmail. You still have to check with external parties before you schedule a Hangouts session though, as it may not work on computers that don’t have the G Suite enabled.
Worth looking into:
Trello – Use Trello and your programmers will love you. It offers the easiest and most collaborative way to organize, visualize, assign and monitor tasks as a team. It follows the Kaban list structure by letting you organize projects and tasks into boards (topics), which are made of lists (task-lists), which in turn are made of cards (tasks). While it’s great for project management, Trello’s multi-purpose: it also works for brainstorming, agenda planning, and any other list-based activities. To make things even better, it operates on a freemium model where the free tier provides all the functionalities a small team would need. Bonus: it integrates with Slack. What more do you need from a project management tool?
Asana – There’s a Trello camp and an Asana camp. While we already cast our ballot, Asana’s merits are definitely worthy of recognition. Like Trello, Asana is a very robust tool and also offers a freemium model. The structure, however, is not immediately as intuitive, so there’s a bit of a learning curve. On the plus side, Asana offers some more advanced organizational functionalities than Trello, making it a good pick for complex projects where you may need more rigorous tracking.
Best for Bootstrappers:
Balsamiq: If you’re a startup founder, scrappy is your middle name, and that’s what Balsamiq is. If you’re still in the early process of building your MVP or charting out new product features, Balsamiq allows you to make very quick wireframes and get feedback. It’s basically like whiteboarding, but on your laptop, so faster and easier to share. Not free, but the pricing is flexible and startup-friendly.
Best for Product People:
Sketch: Sketch is an intuitive, vector-based wireframing tool, which can be used for anything from designing a website to an app to a deck to a resume. It offers a rich library of resources with wireframes and icons so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Take advantage of the free trial and if you like it, grab your license at a one-time $99 price tag. Only works on Mac though, so if you’re on the Windows camp you’re out of luck.
Other very decent options:
The Showstopper Award:
Prezi: Prezi gives presentations movement, and we’re not talking about Powerpoint-like animation effects that remind you of the late ‘90’s. You have to see it in action to totally get it, but basically it allows you to create truly dynamic, movie-like presentations. The downside is that the Prezi presentation format doesn’t work with every content structure you may have in mind for your presentation. One type of structure where it thrives is one that starts with giving the full picture first, and then going more deeply into each piece of that puzzle. Give it a spin with its free version.
Most Practical Choice:
Keynote: Keynote is PowerPoint’s cooler, younger sister. As most things Apple, it’s superior in design. It also has many good available themes, and supports multimedia and animations better. If you have a Mac, ditch PowerPoint (sorry, old friend!)
To go with your presentations:
Scheduling & Calendars:
Personal Fave Award:
Calendly – Skip the tedious email back and forths to schedule a good time to meet. Calendly allows you to share your calendar link with whomever you choose and allows those people to book time directly in your calendar. It syncs with all your emails and, on top of avoiding conflicts, you can set up rules for what times people can book. When a meeting is booked, it sends out an automatic invite to both people’s calendars. What I also really like is the feature to create a widget of your calendar and include it, say on your website, to make scheduling product demos easier (it’s what I used on the day100 homepage). The basic features are free, making it perfect for bootstrappers.
Back to the Future Award:
x.ai – Virtual assistants are here. And boy, they’re good. With x.ai, your personal assistant Amy Ingram will take care of all your meeting scheduling. Amy’s really good at sounding human and understands context in email so she will pick up the discussion and ask the right questions to the other person in order to set up the meeting details. Just CC: her and she’ll jump into the email conversation. You may not want to involve Amy with your highest-profile clients, though—just in case.
More good stuff:
Best for Saving Trees (and Time):
HelloSign – I love anything that will allow me to skip printing and scanning. With HelloSign, you can fill out, sign, and share forms and documents. Legally binding ones. As an entrepreneur, this can be your go-to for signing NDA’s, advisor agreements, freelancer work contracts, and everything else your lawyer may throw your way. Free for up to 3 documents a month, which usually suffices.
Best for a Growing Team:
Justworks – Payroll, benefits, taxes? If you’re anything like me, you cringed your way to under your desk. But fear not, Justworks is here for you. Its intuitive software and customer service process is designed especially with small companies in mind (starting from 2-person teams), so they will hold your hand through all the least sexy parts of building a startup.
More helpful tools:
Buffer – Your social media game requires constant nurturing. Interrupting other, probably more important tasks to post a tweet is unacceptable. Buffer will help out. It lets set schedules for the content you want to post on social media, and then queue it up so it posts automatically at your specified time. It works with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. And it’s free.
Social-everything must have:
Hootsuite – All your business’ social media on one dashboard. With Hootsuite, you can engage with your audience more easily, get analytics on your social platforms, and quantify your social ROI. If your business relies a lot on social, this should be a no-brainer. Plans start from free.
Keep being social:
People & Hiring:
Early Startup Team & Interns Goldmine:
AngelList – If your business is a technology startup, you probably already have an AngelList profile. Did you know you can find and source talent from there, for free? Yep. People who are interested in startup work will express interest in your job, and you can engage them from there. AngelList also comes with a Trello-like board for you to track the status of your applicants.
Best for Hiring Smart:
day100 – Each hire you make as a small startup can make or break your company. That’s scary. day100 gives you rich, human-sourced data and helps you know each potential hire as if you’ve known them for 100 days, so you can hire the best-fit people with confidence. Disclaimer: I’m a founder, so I may be biased, but don’t take my word for it: give it a spin for free.
Best for Design Talent:
99designs – There is SO much design work to do when you establish your company. From a logo, to the website design, business cards and promotional materials, 99designs can help. It offers the quality and the artistic creativity of a pro without having to pay the salary of a full-time graphic designer. It works with your budget (logo pricing starts at $299) and you can either run a contest and pick your favorite of over a couple dozen submissions from different designers, or choose a designer with whom to work on a longer-term basis.
More hiring resources:
HIRED for top-notch technical talent; Vettery for pre-vetted candidates for tech and finance companies; Greenhouse for tracking your applicants when hiring reaches a high volume; Scripted for freelance marketing pros who’ll take care of your blogging and social media needs.
Content & Marketing:
Best Newsletters Award:
Mailchimp – Newsletters are so 1999, right? Not with Mailchimp. It makes it super easy to create nice-looking newsletters that people actually read. If you’re running a B2C business, a newsletter is a must to boost your sales. For B2B, you can still effectively use newsletters to build brand awareness and for content sharing. Get on it.
Forms that Don’t Suck Award:
Typeform – Who knew forms could be, dare I say, fun? Typeform actually makes filling out a form feel like an interactive journey. Your can use it for registration forms, contact forms, order forms, surveys, and even job applications. Templates abound for all scenarios, or you can create your form from scratch. There’s a free plan and paid plans depending on usage and extra features.
Test It to Believe It Award:
Optimizely allows you to A/B test anything. A startup mantra is “iterate, iterate, iterate” and Optimizely allows you to do just that by experimenting and making data-driven decisions. You can use the tool to test website copy, pricing, presentation and other elements of your web presence or product, both on web and mobile.
More good stuff:
Unbounce to A/B test landing pages without building the backend; Biteable to create a great little intro video for your product; Moz for search engine optimization so you make sure customers can find you when they look you up; SurveyMonkey and Google Forms for robust, albeit not as beautifully-designed, alternatives to Typeform.
Best for Bootstrappers Award:
Reply – With Reply you can send to a thousand people, in one click, a cold email that feels warm. Well, if not exactly warm, an email that has their name, company name, city, and other personalized details. Use it for sales and to keep relationships warm. At $70/month, it’s a decent deal for startups.
Smartest Automation Award:
ZenProspect – What sets ZenProspect aside from other email automation tools is its lead generation functionalities where you can search and find new contacts using very specific search inputs, e.g. software they use. ZenProspect comes at a heftier price tag than most email automation tools, however, as well as requires a yearly commitment, so it’s definitely a funded-startup kind of solution.
Sneakiest Plugin Award:
Boomerang – Do you want to impress coworkers by sending a work email at 3am while you’ve actually hit the hay hours earlier? Boomerang will be your accomplice. It helps you schedule emails so they’re sent at the time you specify. Some more relevant uses than pretending to work till late are the ability to schedule emails at the time you think they’re more likely to be read (e.g. first thing in the morning), or schedule automated follow-ups in case people don’t respond. It’s a Gmail plugin which makes it super easy to use, and it’s free.
More email goodies:
Rapportive to get a neat little card whenever someone sends you an email with basic information pulled from their LinkedIn and other social media; Wisestamp to make an email signature that stands out; Bananatag and Sidekick to track email opens and clicks.
Skillshare – Learning on Skillshare is fun. You may have already seen cooking Skillshare videos popping up on your Facebook newsfeed, but did you know they also offer online classes on a variety of business, design, technology and artistic topics? And that many of these videos are totally free? For example, if you choose to heed our advice above and check out Trello, InVision or MailChimp, you can go straight to Skillshare to take classes on each of those software and master them in an hour or less. Make sure to check out our 99designs customized track for entrepreneurs and get a 3 month free trial for all of Skillshare’s offerings.
General Assembly – GA has revolutionized how today’s most in-demand skills are learned. Its offerings range from full-time, career-transition courses to short-form, one off workshops. They offer both in-person and online classes, most popular ones being coding, data and design classes.
Busy Bookworm Honorable Mention:
Blinkist – for those who miss the old days when they had the time to read actual books, Blinkist is as close as it comes to the real thing in under 15 minutes per book. Its repertoire consists in over 1,500 non-fiction books which you can access for $50 a year.
Shop & E-Commerce:
Shopify – If you’re selling a physical product online, Shopify should be your first stop. From the storefront to the backend, it covers everything you need to establish an e-commerce business. With Shopify you can easily build a great-looking website with pre-built e-commerce features like a shopping cart, manage customers and order fulfillment, track analytics, boost social presence and SEO, etc.
Get Paid Award:
Square – If you search your email inbox right now, I bet you can find a receipt from Square (probably from your favorite coffee shop). With Square, businesses can accept credit card payments. That’s it, and that’s the beauty of it. Most popular with physical stores, Square sends you a free card reader and simply charges you 2.75% of every transaction, with no hidden fees. It also integrates with some e-commerce platforms to enable online transactions.
Invoice2go – It’s got to be done; asking for payment is part of any job. Invoice2go allows you to set up everything in-app so you can invoice immediately once the job is done. It’s a total pain to keep track of jobs sometimes, so doing it on the fly is much easier and removes the risk of the odd job slipping through the net when it gets to the billing part. It’s really cost-effective, with starter packages priced at US $49.99 that allow you to create up to 50 invoices a month.
Absolute Best Podcast Award
StartUp Podcast – This is a podcast about starting a podcast company. Meta much? Yep, and amazing. Season 1 of StartUp details the path—with all its struggles, dilemmas and laughs—of Gimlet founder Alex Blumberg in building his company. It touches on the initial questions about the risks and rewards of building your own business, company naming, finding a cofounder, getting funded, and it even includes a cameo appearance from Chris Sacca. Entrepreneurship does feel like a lonely journey sometimes, but StartUp knows that you’re going through and is there to tell you that it will all be alright.
Best Advice Award
Great fucking startup advice – We all need some honest advice sometimes—even too honest. This tongue-in-cheek project by Jason Shen packs quite some truth in simple punch sentences. It reminds you to work out, get some sleep, quit tweeting, keep your team happy — all in a language that us entrepreneurs will understand.