005. Tools and Services for starting up
In this episode Thanasis and Dimitri talk about tools and services for starting up.
- Famous lists on the internet
- Essential tools to get started
- Project management
- Platform specific hosting solutions
- Email Marketing
- Site builders for landing pages
Dimitri [00.00.10]: Are you an entrepreneur, a designer, a developer, never before has it been easier to get your new venture off the ground. Whether you’re just getting started or have already begun your journey, you’ve come to the right place. In each episode we will dive into a new challenge breaking it down into simple, digestible items. I’m Dimitri…
Thanasis [00.00.22]: …And I’m Thanasis.
Dimitri [00.00.26]: And you’re listening to Listen-Ship-Repeat, this is episode No.5 “Tools and services for your startup”
Thanasis [00.00.41]: Awesome, so what’s new Dimitri?
Dimitri [00.45.00]: Nothing much, as usual. I’ve just been catching up with some TV watching and some reading. I’ve been catching up with some “The Walking Dead” and I’ve been reading an interesting book called “The Hike”, I will put a link in the show notes because I’m really enjoying it. So basically kind of relaxed, chilling out, I pausing my side projects so I’m catching up with some entertainment. That’s pretty much it.
Thanasis [00.01.25]: Awesome, that’s also what I’ve been doing pretty much. My wife is out of town so I’ve been enjoying some college year times.
Dimitri [00.01.31]: Okay, I don’t want to know…
Dimitri [00.01.41]: Cool! So today we’re going to be discussing tools and services and I’ve been looking forward to this episode, honestly so let’s get started and talk about the “can’t live without” type of stuff. What do you think Thanasi?
Thanasis [00.01.58]: Right! So, our first approach will be with the essential tools, the tools that we use in our everyday lives. Both me and Dimitri have put all these down and found out that we have much common ground on what we use. Needless to say that this is our own opinion, what tools we put on the list, but most of them are industry standards, so we will go ahead with them right now. So, number one and the most important of all is your email and the top of line is “Gmail”, because with gmail you don’t just get an email, you get a whole bunch of tools and services which are also essential and most of all you get the best security there is out there today in terms of your mailbox. So, gmail is the industry standard today in terms of the generic email that you will use, versus for example having a corporate one, which is another case.
Dimitri [00.03.03]: Or something like “Hotmail” or “Yahoo”, which is a big no no. It used to be so uncool, maybe that’s still going on, but back in the day it used to be a big red flag if somebody would use hotmail. You just wouldn’t take somebody one of those seriously, I suppose that’s still the case.
Thanasis [00.03.25]: Exactly. Today you cannot expect to be taken very seriously if you come out as a hotmail. Your mail wouldn’t look good if you are a nobody, like we all are pretty much, but I’ve seen some pretty special people still using hotmail.
Dimitri [00.03.47]: Yeah, but I think they can get away with it.
Thanasis [00.03.49]: Maybe that’s right. Now, the next service that comes with gmail is “Google Drive” and it is much more that just cloud storage. It offers collaboration tools, like the office suit that they offer with the “Google Docs” , “Google Spreadsheets” and all the other applications. Again they offer parallel collaboration services, so you work with your coworkers and live edit a spreadsheet and the real benefit comes in when you create a folder and you invite your colleagues in, anybody can create a folder of the departments they’re in, like Marketing, Product design etc. and they can collaborate through that. This actually becomes your working folder and reflects the structure of your organisation, your business.
Dimitri [00.04.44]: Most importantly, it’s free. Of course there might be better competitors out there, like Microsoft, but don’t look past Google Drive.
Thanasis [00.04.54]: Yeah, the thing with Google Drive is that it can open both “.docx” and “.xls” files, which today you should know that these are not proper etiquettes to send as it requires that the recipient has Microsoft Office installed and today it’s not always the case. Everything has to be an “.int” or a “.pdf” format, which is transportable and universally accessible by any platform, printing systems or even mobile devices. The next element that you get with gmail is “Google Calendar”. Google Calendar doesn’t offer much more than the other big players offer, like Microsoft which has it’s own calendar application and there are dozens of other companies offering calendar services. However google calendar is a google app so it is integrated with gmail and it can easily arrange appointments with anybody on the internet, just include their email on the appointment that you want to schedule and it is pretty much the single most important productivity service that you will use as you keep your whole agenda there, like your appointment, things that you need to do, reminders and so on. I’ve been using calendars all my life, I don’t know about you Dimitri.
Dimitri [00.06.35]: Well, it is worth mentioning that gmail, google drive and calendar are the primary ways we collaborate here on this podcast.
Thanasis [00.06.46]: The Holy Trinity…
Dimitri [00.06.47]: Even if your not running a startup and you are doing some sort of paid project, these three tools are really 100% essential. In addition to those I will be talking about “Slack”, which is the primary way that I collaborate on my main project, my side projects and some communities that I’m involved in. Actually it’s hard to find someone that doesn’t use it, it has completely taken over, it’s like for example. Slack is an environment that allows you to create teams, each organization who is involved with is a team and each team has channels and every individual has it’s chatbot, so you could be talking directly, talking in chat rooms, referencing people and they get notified by push notifications, because slack offers apps for every platform that I know of, you can exchange files and it has great integrations too with third party services. Let’s put an asterisk here and we’ll come back to that later, because now I’ll be moving to “Trello”. Trello is an intermediate level tool for project management, it simulates a KanBan board, each of your tasks is represented by a card, each card has the ability to descriptions, checklists or gives the ability to comment and each card has a lifetime so it moves from one column to the next. The beginning column includes the “To Dos” cards, which are the ones you are about to start and then as the tasks in the cards from the “To Dos” are processed and completed move to the “Doing” and the “Done” columns accordingly. Now, “GitHub” offers control and issue tracking, many people prefer “GitHub Issues“ now instead of Trello. I like the fact that GitHub built their their own Trello, because that’s how powerful “Issues” have become and has this KanBan board looking feel to it. I like Github as you can have big projects even in the free version.
Thanasis [00.09.29]: So, the idea with GitHub here is that, of course we are discussing for a personal use of a developer, but from a company standpoint GitHub is the service where you keep your codebase, your source and it is essential that you use code repository as it monitors the changes overtime and it is also a fundamental tool for developers to collaborate on a codebase.
Dimitri [00.09.54]: Not only, if you’ve checked GitHub Issues for example you’ll probably get your non tech people as well, so if you are a non tech founder this is a primary way to bring up Issues to your team.
Thanasis [00.10.09] Yeah, we can discuss this a bit.
Dimitri [00.10.17]: I have no idea what you meant by that, but yeah go ahead.
Thanasis [00.10.18]: I believe that Issues are made from and for developers, non tech people wouldn’t even be able to create an Issue properly, if you know what I mean.
Dimitri [00.10.34]: Well, of course! But then again they get trained and you’ve probably seen people get proficient with it.
Thanasis [00.10.40]: Definitely, if they are trainable. However founders turn not to be.
Dimitri [00.10.45]: Absolutely. So getting back to the Trello, Slack and Github again, where they offer this functionality called integrations where any actions performed on any of these platforms (Github and Trello) will notify Slack’s corresponding channel that has been chosen. If I’m checking out or moving cards or checklists in Trello, people will be notified immediately. I use that a lot, I check the progress of my team the requests and the status of trello cards, but apart from communication I consider these to be powerful as a tool.
Thanasis [00.11.25]: Definitely! There’s also an integration between Trello and Github, so you can assign specific requests or issues directly to Trello cards that I this to be very convenient in my workflow. Now, let’s take it a little bit further in the required tools and services for your startup, next we go to testing automation and testing automation is the process where you automatically test your code and this happens through an external machine and that piece of machine, whenever you push any piece of code to the main repository -Github like we described- this machine will then actually pull the codebase, build it and start running the tests against it. If all the tests pass you get a green flag on Github and everything is okay and you can merge your change into the main codebase, or you’ll get an error, which means that you’ll have to go back and fix whatever you broke. Today, I wouldn’t consider starting a company without any automated tested of any kind. It’s like you are walking down a path full of nails blindfolded as you don’t know the product that you put out there it it actually works in all the cases. Now, i’m going to put out a suggestion, which I’ve seen throughout all my projects and professional work being used continuously is “CircleCI”, I will put that in the show notes. Next on the list is logging and logging is very special because on the one hand it provides essential information to the engineers in order to be able to monitor and watch the performance of the web servers, check out if any errors happened and have them all logged into a service. It’s also important for security so we can run back in history and see who logged in and who performed an offensive action. So the prevailing application service today for logging is “Papertrail” and I find it to be very easy to use, we have every service logged into papertrail anything that happens in our infrastructure, from multiple setups and it’s definitely recommended. Next up we have hosting, where you’re going to be hosting your service and of course opinions here may vary. The go to service when starting up, because it’s very easy to do is “Heroku”. Using Heroku you will get set up within a few minutes versus days, that would be required for a more laborate infrastructure using cloud services - we are going to visit them later on. Last but not least, we find to be essential for team collaboration is password sharing and this is a neglected factor as company creates accounts throughout all those services and passwords and credentials are created. These credentials need to be securely shared with the team, so that they can perform specific actions and that can happen through a password manager. The one that I found to be pretty convenient and with an emphasis on team sharing, but at the same time remaining secure is “Passpack”. Of course, there are many alternatives, but then again is as we said our suggestion and don’t be afraid to explore others.
Dimitri [00.15.23]: I use “LastPass” and a couple of individual apps on my phone, but Passpack is really good.
Thanasis [00.15.31]: Do they do team sharing?
Dimitri [00.15.33]: Not as good as Passpack, which is quite impressive. So at this stage we should mention that if you are a non technical founder and you are just starting up on your technical skills it will very easy for you to get familiarized with the tools that we discussed, for example Trello, GitHub continuous integration solutions and your logging, go back to one of our earlier episodes, hire your first developer because these are going to be the main ones responsible for getting up and running on these services and it would help if you could familiarise and train yourself on these.
Thanasis [00.16.12]: Right! So, now we’re going to go through the white area of what you can do with internet services. We are going to post some famous internet lists of all of those different internet services that are available to you. What we want to do quickly with Dimitri is go through a selection of them just to give an idea of what’s possible and what you can do with SaaS businesses.
Dimitri [00.16.47]: The categories are dozens honestly and what we’ve done is we’ve cherry picked the main pillars I think. So, first and foremost is communication, we touched upon them a bit with Slack and in addition to that I would say definitely go with Slack instead of Skype. Not that Skype is not that powerful anymore, I’ll use Skype just for one to one communication on specific appointments that I have with people. I’d also keep an eye on some competing products that will be popping up over the next few months. Just because Slack is so successful Microsoft is making a similar product. I can’t believe I mentioned Microsoft in the podcast, but it looks like they’re coming again.
Thanasis [00.17.40]: I like Microsoft!
Dimitri [00.17.42]: Well, I always have, but now I feel kind of energised about them again.
Thanasis [0.17.49]: I like the direction they’re talking.
Dimitri [00.17.51]: Yeah, they even got into the Linux foundation recently too, but topic for another time.
Thanasis [00.17.56]: Dimitri it’s also worth mentioning the fact that you compared Slack with Skype, to bring some context to people that are coming into the industry right now, what we used to have before Slack for team text communication was Skype. That’s why Dimitri is saying that he prefers Slack over Skype. What used to happen was, we were creating groups of tens or hundreds of people in Skype where we would chat and that really didn’t scale properly.
Dimitri [00.18.32]: At all actually but is was good enough for the time. It takes somebody to completely disrupt something in order to realise “Oh, my god what we’ve been doing”.
Thanasis [00.18.41]: Exactly! The next thing that we’re going to need are our domain names. The prevailing player here is “GoDaddy” and most of probably already know that or you’ve been attracted by it form it’s marketing. However, its drawback is that it has very aggressive pop up, pop under forms that will make your life very hard and every time you need to interact with it you need to go through various pages of product promotions.
Dimitri [00.19.14]: Yeah, crazy what’s going on there.
Thanasis [00.19.15]: So, what I have to propose is “Hover.com”, which is very simple and effective, does it’s job in low cost and it works. Again, domains is such a saturated industry, there are hundred different options for you, but these are our picks.
Dimitri [00.19.41]: For your project management needs, since you will most likely be building software in your startup, I chose to approach this from a usability expertise standpoint, so your basic tool at this time will be “Basecamp”. This is a super awesome To-Do-List type of project management tool, everything appears in a timeline so you can check, check and check stuff, so it’s a great tool to get started as you or your team are getting more experience. Even if you’re already there and you’re looking for more powerful set of features, you should jump into Trello, we discussed that before, great UX integration to agile forms of development, scrum, KanBan. Finally a very powerful tool, you can probably go to Mars with this, is “Jira”, which is an awesome tool and very powerful with tons of features, you can really get lost in there.
Thanasis [00.20.49]: Do you believe that SpaceX uses Jira?
Dimitri [00.20.55]: They probably do! I mean if you search for it and go to their websites you’ll see that they are in the top 100 brands, so I wouldn’t be surprised if SpaceX uses something like that at all.
Thanasis [00.21.14]: Yeah, however Jira is pretty complicated tool, you’ll need to touch on it a various stages, I guess.
Dimitri [00.21.21]: I’ll go with Trello. Even if I recommended Basecamp, great tool but not for software, but enough with collaborative software products.
Thanasis [00.21.50]: Honorable mention here “Pivotal Tracker”, it’s also an agile tool to use. Next, let’s talk a little bit about hosting solutions and platform specific. Hosting solution, so if you are a web application as we said, Heroku should be your first weapon of choice, starting out, prototyping, very low cost, easy to maintain and very fast to be rolled out. Next we go into the heavier implementations, now let’s make a basic distinction here as for the infrastructure as a service and platform as a service. So, Heroku is a platform that provides complete platform that you are going to interact with, you don’t need to do anything else. Infrastructure as a service are services where you need to build your own infrastructure from the ground up. Those are services like “Amazon Web Services” (AWS) the Amazon Cloud, Google Cloud or “Azure” service from Microsoft. Just to give an understanding, Heroku has been built on top of AWS, so AWS and all the other solutions are step two or three for your startup, as they require more work to get set up. However, Amazon has been making moves to cut through those set up cost with a new service it announced, at around $5.00 per month if I can recall, flat price, which is pretty awesome, but that was announced yesterday so I guess we need to wait a bit in order to evaluate the offer here. You will go to an infrastructure as a service solution like AWS the moment that your hosting costs at Heroku justify the expense in investment that you are going to make building your own infrastructure, which always costs both money and time. So, what if you are an application developer Dimitri?
Dimitri [00.23.59]: As an application developer, you’d definitely be looking at Android and OS and to less extent windows phone depending on what markets you are. There are definitely some parts of the world that have double digits on that at this stage, so your Google Play and Apple developer account so far.
Thanasis [00.24.20]: Next up are hiring tools, tools that will help you hire people and we’ve divided those in two parts. The inhouse, the contractors…
Dimitri [00.24.37]: In house meaning the people that you will bring in as part of your team, right?
Thanasis [00.24.38]: Yes!
Dimitri [00.24.39]: The greatest tool for that is “Workable”, a lot of companies are using it and it is a great way to advertise positions and track potential candidates, the same as “Greenhouse” which is a bit more comprehensive on tracing your candidates side, so people that reply to the ad, you can take notes of them, you can collaborate with other team members and in general keep track with them until you proceed with them at some point and bring them onboard.
Thanasis [00.25.10]: Next you want to hire contractors and contractors can be from the very low end up to the very high end, contractors that you would use on a part of full time capacity and there are many different ways that you can have agreements with them, we can go through them in a different episode. The services are the marketplaces actually and they connect you companies with freelancers and those that are most prominent today are “Peopleperhour” and “Fiverr” for the very low end, “Upwork” for low to medium and from then you go to the high end platforms which are “Toptal”, “Gun.io” and “Stackoverflow Carrers” are boards like that. This is where you put your job ad and you get your recruits, you get them through the interview process and of course all of them are for remote work. Next up are analytics, and towards that end things are pretty standardised and here you go with “Google Analytics”. There really is no second to what Google Analytics does as a generic metrics analytics service. There are hundreds of others that measure specific aspects of what your visitors do. However, Google Analytics is the catch all service.
Dimitri [00.26.52]: It’s free too! I should mention “Mixpanel”, because I came into contact with it very recently, very powerful features, if you want real time interactions that are happening on your product.
Thanasis [00.27.07]: Yeah, I had experience with Mixpanel as well and it’s really getting all the interaction with users so it’s one of the most powerful tools out there.
Dimitri [00.27.18]: You can have a full time person working on that alone.
Thanasis [00.27.19]: Yeah, definitely a very powerful analytics tool! Next up are, email marketing tools. We’ve picked out two, one is Mailchimp, which is for massive email lists and you would want to use is to get started because it’s free or because it’s a consumer facing application and you’re dealing with thousands of users with very low conversion margins in whatever you do. The other solution would be Drip, which is an email marketing automation tools that allows you to create flows based on the user interactions. It’s primarily built for B2B companies where your subscriber numbers are low and each subscriber pretty much represent a lead or an actual customer of yours, so your conversion rates are much higher and the things you need to do with these subscribers are much more complex than just blasting out and playing with email broadcasts.
Dimitri [00.28.34]: Support, technical support and general product feedback mechanisms worth checking out are “Uservoice” and “Zendesk” or “Desk.com”. Another thing to elaborate here is the fact that they are a great way for people to assign their own issues or complaints or feedback for your products.
Thanasis [00.28.55]: Yeah, and now let’s check out really fast payments. For the US there’s a pretty dominant player which is “Stripe”, and it is the easiest to integrate with them, so as to clear out credit cards and payments. For Europe, the equivalent would be “Braintree”, but I don’t have any experience with it, I don’t know if you do Dimitri?
Dimitri [00.29.20]: In the past yes, but these days I wouldn’t look anywhere else than Stripe. You know, sometimes people, we’ve definitely seen that a lot recently, they build an entire startup around applications, but still even if you have the best app you would still want to have a web presence in the form of landing page or something simple. So, for that there are many great site builders for landing pages solutions, like “Squarespace” or “Wix”, which are great tools that I’ve used in the past.
Thanasis [00.30.00]: Next we have the documentation tools and you will need documentation in order to keep track of every critical operation in your business, like how do I perform a shutdown or how do I do database restore, critical information step by step checklists that need to be somewhere. For that, what I personally use is the GitHub wiki and it is actually a second repository that Github offers you for every repository that you make, is purpose is exactly that, to put down notes, information, pretty much whatever you would expect from a wiki.
Dimitri [00.30.42]: And as always, “Confluence”, which are the Jira of documentation, which is really powerful and can document your product perfectly in any possible way. Definitely worth having a look at them. One thing that would be worth mentioning, not as a tool but mostly as a service that you might want to engage in for your product is the concept of crowdsourcing. So, Thanasi, would you want to go through on that? I know you have some very interesting thoughts on that.
Thanasis [00.31.22]: I don’t have so much experience with these, I’ve run some fundraisers for some startups, but I haven’t raised millions. In crowdsourcing there are two main players, “Indiegogo” and “Kickstarter”. Kickstarter is the more prevailing player, the bigger one, but it has the requirement to be in very specific countries in order to be able to start a crowdsource campaign, Indiegogo doesn’t have that restriction so that’s why I’ve gone with it as our country isn’t supported by Kickstarter.
Dimitri [00.32.15]: Okay, so we’ve gone through the main categories you should definitely be looking at some tools for.
Thanasis [00.32.15]: We’re going to need to go through one more, the hidden one, the secret one.
Dimitri [00.32.30]: Alright, that’s surprising, what do you have?
Thanasis [00.32.33]: I’ve got a chrome extension, which I think is an extension for any other browser, named “Rapportive”. It is basically a Gmail extension and gives you an identity and fool social profile of whoever you are communicating with. So, it will look out for their name, their LinkedIn, discover their facebook, their Twitter, their job title and provide you all this info, it’s really convenient.
Dimitri [00.33.05]: On that end I would like to mention that product called “Discover.ly” that goes through public forms on the internet, social networks and compiles a mini profile for you, so it would be worth having a look at it. So after referring to all these resources, definitely pay attention to the first part of the episode, where we talked about the essential services and of course the rest of the stuff that we’ve discussed. We thought that these are the categories that you’ll probably need when you’re starting out, but also take a look at these lists that are in the show notes. There are dozens of categories for any business aspect that you can imagine and there are multiple tools that will help you to get started and continue your startup journey. So I think that’s it for tonight, Thanasis.
Thanasis [00.34.06]: Yeah, that’s it!
Dimitri [00.34.08]: So, please send us your questions by calling us on 8663705050 from anywhere or you can email us firstname.lastname@example.org, subscribe on iTunes by searching for our podcast, feel free to go in there and drop us some stars or a review if you want, this helps us climb up higher in our respective categories and helps us make more episodes. Our website www.listenshiprepeat.com. So until next time, thank you for listening tonight and from both of us, Goodbye!
Thanasis [00.34.55]: See you next time, Goodbye!