Tooltime! A Salute to the Essential SaaS Kit
I’ve been checking our financials for April today — a much dreaded chore which I was more than happy to interrupt when noticing the staggering number of SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) tools we’re using at Die Socialisten. One thing led to the other, and here I am, presenting the essential list of software products our teams are using on a daily basis, including cost & some (hopefully) usefull tips. Enjoy!
Google Apps / Mail — Email, Calendar
I just don’t get how anybody can NOT use Gmail for email. Search, filters, countless extensions — there’re so many reasons to go with Gmail, I won’t even bother to start arguing. The only downside: Google Apps for domains (companies) discontinued their free plan few years ago — count yourself lucky if you’ve have signed up for free before! Using Google Apps also comes with the best way to collaborate & share documents on the web — Google Drive…
Tip: When using Google Apps company-wide, always switch on 2-factor authorisation for added security!
Google Drive / Docs — File Sharing & Collaboration
In 2015 we finally ditched Dropbox in favor of Google Drive for file-sharing. Why? Cost. Dropbox costs about 100$/year for each user — since all shared files count against the quota of every user. Not with Google Drive — we’ve upgraded a single user (mine ;)) to 1TB, all other users are fine with the free account. That’s a 90% cost reduction for a 10-person team! Besides cutting costs, I know of no better way to collaboratively edit & review text & spreadsheets than Google Docs & Sheets.
Cost: 1.99$/month/user (100GB) or 9.99$/month/user (1TB)
Tip: Google Apps & Google Storage pricing can be a bit tricky — spend some time to evaluate your options! ☺
HipChat — Group Chat
In 2014 we finally switched from Skype to HipChat (http://hipchat.com) for our group chat solution. We’re basically living in HipChat now, thanks to solid mobile apps, countless great integrations (Github, Sentry etc.) and of course custom Emojis ;) We don’t use video conferencing and don’t need the deep archive, so the free plan is perfectly fine for us.
Tip: Surprise your team with custom Emojis! ☺
Optimization & SEO
Optimizely — A/B Testing
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably avoided A/B testing your website/app with excuses like “too much work”, “too expensive tools” etc. Well, since Optimizely (https://www.optimizely.com/) now is offering a free plan there’s no excuse anymore. A/B testing made simple & CEO-proven — no need to bother your development team, just insert a JS snippet and start your experiments. You can setup a simple test for your main CTA in 5–10min, that’s how easy it is.
Cost: Free (should be sufficient for most use cases)
Tip: Start testing your main CTA (“Start Free Trial”, “Sign-up for our Newsletter” etc.)
CrazyEgg — Heatmaps
Heatmaps are a great source of inspiration for many business decisions regarding pricing, featureset etc. (f.e. on Walls.io we learned through heatmaps how much our users needed whitelabeling/CSS-customization — we only had it in the “Premium” plan, but everybody was clicking the item on featurelist — we moved the feature to the smaller “Pro” plan — boom, immediate increase in conversion & revenue). I guess Google Analytics (“In-Page Analytics”) has heatmaps, but somehow they never really worked for me. CrazyEgg (http://crazyegg.com) is a super-simple simple solution, I love it!
Cost 9$/month (Basic)
Tip: Start testing your landing page first!
OnPage — SEO
SEO is another one of those topics we never seem to get around with completely — we know we should *eventually* optimize our landing pages & blogs, but somehow never find the time to do so. With OnPage (https://onpage.org) and it’s easy to understand scoring & reports, it’s easy to get started with on-page optimization step by step. I’ve just started with a free trial on our landing pages and so should you!
Cost: EUR99/month (Pro)
Tip: The initial free report takes a while to generate — up to 24 hours from my experience — be patient!
Sales & Customer Support
Pipeline Deals — CRM & Sales
Eventually all SaaS businesses realize there’s a need for actively doing sales ☺ Even if you’re a 1-person sales-team, a lightweight CRM & sales tool like Pipeline helps staying on top of leads & prospects. Adding tasks automatically (f.e. “Request Trial Status after 2 Days” etc.) helps us to make sure every lead is handled consistently & reliably. Like most tools we are using, Pipeline offers a decent mobile app & integrations with other services.
Tip: Try out the Gmail plugin to integrate Pipeline to your mailbox!
Intercom — Customer Support
Customer support is crucial for both our products and we take pride in responding to requests very quickly. With Intercom (http://intercom.io), our users can submit requests both through an in-app widget and email. Incoming tickets are easily handled, assigned etc. Besides user support, Intercom can be used to track & increase app engagement & retention. Quite honestly, Intercom has its issues — mainly performance / stability and missing features (analytics, working search) — but it’s easy enough for end users and that’s probably the most important thing for us.
Cost: Intercom pricing is a complex mess depending on the features you want & the no. of active users of your app (not Intercom accounts!). It starts around 49$/month but can easily go into the hundreds.
Tip: Intercom is also great at managing support for more than one app, which is crucial for us. Of course, 2x apps also means 2x cost.
We’re using the LiveChat (http://www.livechatinc.com/) realtime chat widget on both our landing pages for pre-sales / lead generation. While some might find the automatically triggered “Welcome”-chats obnoxious, it has increased leads & conversion greatly for us, esp. with Walls.io. Incoming chats are managed best with the native Mac OS app.
Tip: We’ve deactivated LiveChat for mobile devices after getting negative feedback from our mobile visitors.
Usersnap — Screenshots & User Feedback
Whenever we need in depth feedback or bug reports from our customers, we turn to UserSnap (https://usersnap.com)! The widget let’s users easily annotate & screenshot websites & web apps, which makes reproducing issues much easier.
Social Media Management
Obviously we’re mostly using our very own Swat.io (https://swat.io, plans starting EUR250/month) for content planning & community management & Walls.io (https://walls.io, plans starting EUR39/month) for social hubs & client projects. All our team members have accounts and are encouraged to jump into any conversation at any time. However, there are plenty of tools which contribute to our social media work… here they are! ☺
Feedly — Content Discovery / Curation / Reading
I’m using Feedly (http://feedly.com) as my main news-reader ever since Google Reader was discontinued. I’ve about 200 feeds subscribed, sorted into topics like “Facebook”, “Customer Service”, “Twitter” etc. so it’s easy to find inspiration whenever there’s a “need” to find content for one particular niche. Feedly is a single-user tool, but you probably can share reading-lists easily with the OPML import/export. Feedly offers great mobile apps themselves, plus many apps integrate smoothly with it. One of them being Buffer…
Tip: Don’t subscribe high-volume feeds like TechCrunch or Mashable — it’s super repetitive and you’ll find their good stuff on your FB/Twitter feeds anyways!
Buffer — Content Sharing on the Go
Everybody loves Buffer (http://bufferapp.com)! It’s probably the easiest way to instantly share stuff on a variety of channels. While we use Swat.io for planning & collaboration, Buffer is great for just sharing stuff ad-hoc while on the go, especially since it’s so tightly integrated with Feedly. I’m using Buffer for Die Socialisten/Swat.io/Walls.io/Private on FB/Twitter/G+, so the “Awesome Plan” which allows up to 10 accounts is my weapon of choice.
Cost: 102$/Year (Awesome plan, 1 user)
Tip: Don’t use auto-schedule but post instantly to avoid outdated content!
Clickatell — SMS Delivery
We’re using SMS alerts for our internal monitoring of apps & servers. Clickatell (https://www.clickatell.com/) is one of the cheapest SMS providers and can be integrated with your app very easily. I like that you can set your account to “auto-recharge” so you never have to worry about running out of credits.
Tip: SMS delivery still seems to be a fickle thing — like all providers we’ve used in the past, Clickatell sometimes has its issues.
Geckoboard — Metrics Dashboard
This is one of my favorites! Geckoboard (https://www.geckoboard.com/) displays key metrics of your company from various sources, f.e. Google Analytics, Social Media and countless other services that are ready-to-use by integration. We’ve installed permanent displays at the office to show our Geckoboards, increasing awareness for these metrics in the whole team.
Tip: Geckoboard really shines when integrating crucial data from deep inside your app with custom feeds — f.e. we use it to keep track of API rate limits, error logging etc.
Disclaimer: I’m a bit out-of-the-loop regarding dev stuff, quite honestly. But our teams are using these tools daily, so it’s safe to say they all rock! ☺
GitHub — Source Code Repository & Issue Tracking
Today there’s probably no tool more important to web developers all around the world than Github (https://github.com). We’re hosting almost 50 repositories with GitHub and use it for issue tracking and internal communication.
Blossom — Agile Project Management
Blossom (https://www.blossom.co/) is a lightweight project management tool perfect for our needs. The kanban-style board is tightly-integrated with Github and visualizes our weekly sprints & each members’ work-in-progress. As nobody really *likes* to use project management tools, it really helps that Blossom has a very pleasant looking UI ☺
Litmus — Email Testing
There’s nothing worse than building pretty & stable email templates. Dealing with countless email clients and byzantine rendering engines is only feasible when using Litmus (https://litmus.com/) for testing & previews.
Cost: 79$/month (Basic)
Codeship — Continuous Integration
I’m not even trying to pretend to know what Codeship (https://codeship.com) is doing for us ;) Seriously, each time our developers commit changes into the master, they pass Codeship for automated testing before they “go live”.
Cost: 49$/month (Basic)
Sentry — Error Logging
Bugs. Everybody has them, and that is ok. But it is not okay for errors to stay unnoticed. We’re using Sentry (https://getsentry.com) to log, track & report errors automatically (both frontend and backend) for our apps. The dashboard allows our developers to identify & analyze critical problems, and the Hipchat integration makes problems “visible” to all team members immediately. Increased awareness after all is the first step to improving your codebase (that’s what our lead developers say ;)).
Mandrill — Transactional Mail
There’s one simple rule about transactional email (=all email messages generated by your app automatically — signup confirmations, notifications etc.) — don’t send them yourself! Staying out of spam-filters & maintaining the infrastructure is a pain in the ass, and Mandrill (http://mandrillapp.com) does a great a job plus adds tracking of opens, statistics etc. It’s also pretty cheap!
PandaStream — Video Encoding
Whenever we have to add video uploading & encoding in one of our apps, we come back to PandaStream (https://www.pandastream.com/). Simple to integrate and rock solid encoding of all video formats for desktop & mobile. Videos are stored on Amazon S3.
Cost: They seem to have changed their pricing, last time we’ve used it was several hundred USD/month.
Amazon AWS / S3 — Cloud Storage
While we’re hosting our apps the oldschool way at 25th-floor (http://25th-floor.com/) in Vienna (whom I want to take the opportunity to thank for ther DevOps magic), we use S3 for storing static files and backups.
Tip: Amazon opened their Frankfurt-based datacenters in 2014, which is important for many of our customers regarding their data privacy policies.
Of course there’s still more. We register all of our domains at EuroDNS (https://www.eurodns.com/) who also provide free SSL certificates, which is simply awesome. Paypal (https://www.paypal.com) is crucial for international payments (TransferWise, which everybody is raving about, is not available in some of our clients’ markets). For Walls.io, we’ve settled for FastSpring (http://fastspring.com/) as our one-stop-shop in all things payments — they take a 6%+1$ cut, but handle all invoicing and cover mysteries like handling VAT internationally. There’s Skype Unlimited (http://www.skype.com/en/offers/unlimited-world-calling/) for international calls, Join.me (https://join.me/) for screensharing, and probably countless tools that are not used regularly / company-wide.
Total Cost — Final Words
Given the fact we’re in the SaaS business ourselves, it’s probably not a big surprise how heavily we’re invested in these services. Still, the number of SaaS products (about 20!) we’re using daily amazes me, everytime I check. Before closing, here’s some random tips on staying sane with all this diversity:
- Whenever possible, opt for yearly payment (safes money & hassle with invoices)
- Except for services you don’t need permanently — subscribe those “á la carte” whenever needed
- Creditcards tend to get blocked once or twice a year (at least mine do). Think about splitting services among several cards (f.e. we use a separate creditcard for the most crticial services, like hosting, exclusively)
- Switching services comes at a cost — before deciding on a tool, research alternatives and give each a thorough try. Don’t trust posts like this one ;) (f.e. we’ve tested 3 group chat solutions, 1 week each, with the *whole team*, before settling on HipChat).
- Integrations are key — when adding tools to your kit, make sure integrations with existing services exist and work as expected
Good news is, the total cost for us clearly is below 1.000$/month (not all services listed are in use for all team members, not all are used permanently — my calculations say it’s 831$, which is just about 80$ per team member). Given the tremendous value we get out of these tools, that seems like a really, really low number to me.
So — this is it, our Essential SaaS Toolkit as of April 2015. Let me know what you think about our choices. Any essential tools we should add/exchange? How many SaaS products are in use at your company?
Disclaimer: We’re friends with the makers of some of the tools mentioned (Usersnap, Blossom, Codeship). While this might have influenced our decision it certainly doesn’t impaire my recommendation!