[Updated Jan 2015]
I thought it was about time I put this post together: Essential tools & services (mostly on-line) for startups. It’s a collection of tools, services and stuff I use and find essential.
A lot of services are free (it amazes me really!) others are monthly paid services. Let’s begin.
Finding a Domain Name
If you are just starting out, deciding a name for the company or product, finding a web domain can be a pain.
Lean Domain Search is very clever – pop in key words and it shows a list of possible domain names and whether the domain (and twitter account) is available. As too is Instant domain search – just start typing and see if your domain is there.
These tools will only find available domain names – where you register them is up to you. I strongly suggest pick one provider and stick with them. We manage several domains and at the start we used different websites to register domains because it was cheaper etc.. When it came to renewals we getting (or not getting) emails and jumping over to websites to renew a domain. It wasn’t scalable and eventually found it hard to keep track of everything. In the end we moved all our domains to one single vendor to manage the renewals – now it’s all automated and renewals are seamless.
Choosing Hosting & Email
Now you’ve got a shiny new domain name registered it’s time to setup a website and email address(es).
Email is an easy one. Google Apps for business. You can’t go wrong. It comes with everything you need.. shared calendar, contacts, analytics, Google drive (more later) and hangouts/Google Talk/IM.
Hosting is a bit trickier. It really depends on what you want. Our business is in providing enterprise SaaS so we use Amazon AWS for our primary production cluster. We have the option to scale up/down and throw more hardware if we want. We also host our non-product website(s) on a single tiny and very cheap AWS micro-instance. If I was to recommend other scalable providers it would have to be Joyent or digitalocean.com. Google have now entered the scene too but are more expensive.
If you’re not building a SaaS solution then you probably can go with some local providers (Blacknight appears to the best with people in Ireland- like everyone else they do have some downtime). Your CTO will advise you (read: tells you!).
If you are using Gmail Apps I highly recommend Yesware for tracking emails, setting reminders etc. It uses the same kind of tracking used in email-marketing tools. It shows if/when your email is opened, where it was opened and how often. Very clever stuff.
Speaking of clever stuff check out Gmelius. Gmelius is a browser extension that gives a cleaner and smarter Gmail inbox. Removes ads, changes the label position etc.
Building a website
Since we provide an enterprise grade SaaS all our production code is hand-crafted from scratch. This code is sacred and nothing is allowed near it. We don’t rely on too many frameworks so the code is very clean and manageable. I’ll encourage our tech guys to write up a post on how they develop & maintain everything.
When it comes to websites about the company we use WordPress. It’s hard to go wrong with WordPress and a decent (responsive) theme. With a couple of SEO plugins it will be up and running in no time. We also have a site based on twitters bootstrap which is pretty cool too. For our support website
we use OSTicket.. it’s okay but it’s something I think we can improve on we use freshdesk. Zendesk (it allows the same support portal to be branded as different products which is very handy).
As I mentioned all the non-product company websites run on a AWS micro instance – cost effective and very powerful.
The majority of our ports are closed but that doesn’t stop bad guys hitting and attacking the servers. You might want to look at OSSEC for a bit of security.
CRM & Accounting
There is a such a selection out here. My concern with a lot of them is integration with each other. When choosing make sure the CRM can talk with your accounting service and project management. We use CapsuleCRM which plugs directly into Xero. As a policy we BCC our CapsuleCRM address on every customer correspondence. CapsuleCRM allows you to create sale opportunities, build a sales process, build a profile around a customer (twitter/linkedin), attach files and schedule tasks. It also integrates in Gmail – another big win.
If we were to switch (but we are too committed to CapsuleCRM) it would be to onePageCRM (feature wise is now playing in the big league).
When it comes to accounting you need to be on top of the books. Again lots of alternatives but we choose Xero. The ability to handle multi-currency being the one feature that swung it for us. It does our payroll, expenses, invoicing, VAT calculation and bank transaction reconciliation. I could spend hours raving about how awesome Xero is but I won’t (I should be part of their sales team!). I’ll just say one thing: Xero has made life so much easier and I love using the service. Big shout-out and thanks to @domybooks (Ralph Smith). If you are looking for a Xero guru and top accountant give Ralph shout. One downside to Xero (and to be fair nearly all accounting packages) you can’t connect Xero to your business bank feed (with AIB personal account I know you can.. but all our accounts are AIB Business). However, AIB and other banks allow you to export transactions into CSV which is a start. Use this site from Sean Blanchfield to convert them into the Xero accepted format and then let ‘auto-reconcile’ be your friend.
For collecting payment on-line we would recommend Stripe. It works really well with invoices generated in Xero.
Programming related stuff
For API documentation – we use Apiary. It’s fantastic and we’ve been complimented a lot about how we present the API. No more out of date API docs.. and the great thing is that you can provide sample code and test an API call on the site. Also check out POSTman for adhoc testing APIs
Remote monitoring. If you are running a website you’ll need to know when something goes wrong. We have a fairly extensive way of monitoring our production cluster, in fact it’s a custom build as it’s an integral part of our failover mechanism. It’s a thing of beauty. For non essential websites we use sites like Pingdom or monitor.us to keep tabs of things. Glad to say we don’t get many notifications. Pingdom also allows you to produce a public status page – which is handy.
For checking the status of an API we’ve started using runscope and use the results to create an API Status page for our customers. For testing the morethan160 dashboard we use Ghost Inspector which has been recently purchased by Runscope.
Desktop related tools should also get a mention
- Sublime2 (best editor for just about everything)
- Navicat (for SQL..
becoming is redundant for us now)
- MongoVue (Quick view of what’s going on in our mongoDB ) or RoboMongo
- Putty/SSH/Winscp/Terminal for Windows (would be lost without these.. I live in them 🙂 )
- SourceTree (Gui for GIT)
<NerdFilter>. We got caught out by hosting our service on cheap and cheerful providers.. we then moved to AWS .. BUT .. the DNS management was still on the cheap and cheerful provider. We got stung when their DNS went down.. resulting in our API going down. We were not best pleased so looked around for provider. We choose DynDns – managed DNS. It’s quick and allows an API call to update DNS entries at a moment notice. Very useful when you offer 99.999% SLA and implement failover. </NerdFilter>
Day to Day Apps
Dropbox – if you’re not using dropbox .. what’s wrong with you!? Dropbox changed the way we worked. Just copy a file to Dropbox and all the gang has it. You’ll never have to run a back up again. No more emailing files to people. If you (or someone else) delete something.. no problem Dropbox will allow you restore it via their website.
One caveat with Dropbox – you’ll have issues if multiple people are trying to edit documents at the same time – so we just use Google Drive for editing docs/excel sheets. I still think MS PowerPoint is king of presentation tools (if you know how to use it properly!) but as for word documents and excel – we are using Google Drive more & more.
Twitter – Tweetdeck not only does it provide a never ending stream of tweets for entertainment you can use it for monitoring tweets related to customers etc. It’s good to know, how & what your customers are doing/saying. You can also use it to find possible sales leads.
Linkedin – Brilliant for finding (out) people, finding possible sales leads, getting introductions and discovering events. Caveat – I’ve found the Inmails don’t work any more. You’ll need to be creative to get talking to the people you want to talk to.
Just a few bits and bobs I use every day.
- MightyText (send receive SMS from your desktop/tablet/ using your phones SMS)
- Any.do – great day to day reminder for mobile and desktop.
- Evernote – never forget anything
- Launchy – I hate messy desktops. I launch everything with launchy (not so much an online tool but I use it everyday!)
- Skype – Enough said.
- everything.exe (a realtime windows file search.. way better than the POS that windows ships).
- join.me – We run all our web demos / screen share using this service. Worth every penny. It even comes with a conference bridge number (multi-country) but I’ve found the call quality to be hit and miss.
- HelloFax/HelloSign – for sending Fax (yeah I know.. who sends Faxes these days!?) and for signing PDF documents.
So that’s my take on startup tools and services – I’ve probably forgot a few so will update when I realise it.
If you want to leave any of your recommendations… pop them in the comments.