‘Founder’s Tech – Tech trends, tips and advice for founders, entrepreneurs and bootstrappers’ is a recurring column by Jake Hare, founder of Nashville-based Launchpeer, a web & mobile application development agency focused on startups, entrepreneurs and bootstrappers.
Trying to kickstart your tech startup can be difficult, especially when your budget is close to zero. Staying lean is easier to do now than ever before, but maintaining a smooth-running startup can be difficult with tons of tools are out there that run from $15 to $30 or more per month, with that cost adding up quickly. Because my company has been working with startups for so long we’ve been able to find and utilize some incredible tools, not only for our agency but also for our clients whose budgets are trying to go toward their product or payroll and not toward software costs. Below are some incredible tools, all free, that can help any startup run.
Uber Conference: Ever tried to use Skype or GoToMeeting for conference calls or screen shares? For us, it was less than reliable. Then we heard about Uber Conference, a free online tool that gives you a dedicated URL for your startup along with a dedicated conference line that you can use anytime. With the free tool you can collaborate with up to 10 people, sharing screens and talking on your conference line, and it also has an in-app chat so you can share files and notes with those on the call.
Trello: Whether you’re managing complicated workflows or just need a place to collaborate on product requirements, Trello is lightweight enough to do it all. With the Kanban-style boards it’ll be easy for you and your team members to use without being stuck in the monotony of detail that some other tools have. What’s more, Trello allows you to collaborate with not only your team members but also outsiders who you can give read-only access to.
Slack: If you don’t know Slack by now you’re wrong. The company is growing at a self-reported rate of $1 million a week in revenue, and there’s a good reason why. Slack is an incredible tool for team communications, allowing you to add in as many team members as you like, create private and public channels to communicate with different team members on various topics, and also upload and comment on files when needed. The company is even looking to add screen sharing and conference calls to its list of features, which should scare a lot of competitors. If you want a taste of Slack, go check out Nashville’s own NashDev Slack Channel, a community of people in Nashville interested in the tech community. Nashville’s not the only city to have such a channel; Charleston, Atlanta and Huntsville along with many others are using the tools to connect startups, entrepreneurs and business people in their city in a way that’s never been done before.
Wave Accounting: When our company was looking for an accounting solution, we figured we’d have to shell out $30 to $50 per month or more to find a tool or service to do bookkeeping. Then we found Wave. Wave is a free, lightweight accounting tool that connects to your bank account and does the heavy lifting for you. All you have to do is login and assign items to categories like travel expenses, sales, payroll and more while Wave keeps detailed reports for you. The premium plans even allow you to manage payroll at a really reasonable rate. Definitely recommended, and your accountant will love you for it.
Zapier: Ever wish you could automate some parts of your business? Zapier will let you do it. Zapier has worked for years connecting different software tools for you. For example, we’ve used it to send automated emails to clients when an item in Trello gets marked as complete. We’ve also automated our sales process, so when a client signs a proposal they’re automatically sent an invoice. Zapier can save you hours a week if not more, time you could be spending building your startup.
Invision: Creating good wireframes and mockups is incredibly important for most tech startups. Without them your developers are left hoping the front end reflects your wishes. Invision is a great tool you can use to create clickable mockups that mimic your product. It lets you add actions to various elements of the mockup, such as ‘On Click’ send the mockup to a new screen. You are also able to collaborate with team members and outside people within the tool with a unique share link, at which the collaborators can comment on various elements of the mockup.
Canva: Creating social media images, blog graphics and infographics used to be a pain for us. We were using an Adobe Illustrator license that’s not cheap. Then we found Canva and it’s like our whole world changed! Canva is a free tool that lets you create any sort of graphic you can think of. It has a ton of predefined templates for you to use that are all incredible, and you can even upload your own images to use. The templates are also cut at predefined sizes so no more worrying about ensuring the images you create are appropriates sizes for your needs. This tool also saves us hours a week in design work that we’d rather be spending on our clients.
Calendly: Appointment scheduling has never been easier than with Calendly. Whenever we need to schedule a call with a new prospect, partner or client we send them a link to our business’s Calendly page where they can choose a time that works well for them. The best part is that it syncs up with your calendar so people can only schedule appointments at times you’re available. The only downside to it is that you have to have a Gmail or Outlook account to connect your calendar.
Typeform: Google Forms are great but they’re also pretty ugly most of the time. Typeform is a beautiful form-building tool. It has a ton of predefined fields such as checkboxes, dropdowns and numbers so users enter only the information you’re trying to capture. It also can send an automated email to the people who fill out the form which you can customize to fit your needs. It’s a great way to capture whatever information you need. If you want an example of one go check out our old Project Calculator.
Hubstaff: OK, this one’s not free, but it’s worth it. Paying team members, especially hourly staff, is not easy. We used to do this manually, having members track time in our project management tool, then manually adding numbers up and paying them with a check. That sucked. Hubstaff lets you add team members, set their hourly rate and then pay them through the tool. The best thing about it is that it lets you add projects to which team members can track their time against. Your team can just click a ‘Play’ button and it’ll track the hours they’re working. If you want to get really fancy it also has a feature that lets you record the screens of your team members while they’re tracking time, a good way to ensure your team is working the hours they say if that’s your cup of tea.