The Core SaaS new Techstars companies should consider.
Note: This article is long. Here’s how you should use this article, read the first five paragraphs first, then scan the table below. Any SaaS products you don’t recognize in the table, see the justification for why we used them below. Why is this article long? Because I refuse to do listicles for clickbait. I’d love your feedback.
This is as an open letter to companies that just got into Techstars, as well as any others that have just a few months of runway to crush it or fail. When DroneSeed was accepted to Techstars, we knew our next three months as a small team would hold more opportunities than we could physically manage. Fire hydrant, meet mouth.
In order to Do More Faster, we built our own personal operating system as some call it (called an ERP, enterprise resource planning, by large businesses), by cobbling together SaaS specific products to optimize and reduce time on setting up meetings, calendars, mail, expenses, and task management. Some of these things worked, some didn’t. It took us time to figure this out the hard way. Below are the services we found essential based on those experiences. We call these products our team’s Core SaaS.
Before reading on, understand two principles
1. Reduce friction to get more done. Our philosophy to using SaaS products mirror’s amazon’s analysis of purchasing. The more clicks required the less you or your investor will do it. Amazon famously pioneered this by relentlessly reducing the clicks required to purchase an item. Sales went up. Here’s how that works in our startup: if every time I send a link to our promo video I have to look it up in my Gmail from Lauren, the more I’ll get distracted by new emails and not get that extra email sent or I’ll send it way after its relevant. Opportunity lost. See below how we use Streak’s clips feature to solve for this.
2. Don’t suck at email. Communication is lifeblood. Interest is fickle, especially with investors. Its not acceptable to suck at email. See principle 1, reduce friction. Reply fast, hit inbox zero, hypercommunicate. See first steps here from Do More Faster on how NOT to suck at email. We work on this daily like you do. See below for the SaaS we use to be better.
Table: The Core SaaS DroneSeed uses. We use the following. I’ve covered the non-obvious first:
Seems like a lot of SaaS, eh? Well, in total, we pay about $200 per month. We think this is reasonable compared to the alternative of SAP, Oracle, or even Microsoft products.
Note: If you just got into Techstars, nearly all the core SaaS products we use have Techstars connect perks with yearly discounts, sometimes 1-year free etc. Get ahead by getting access to Techstars connect as soon as possible before beginning program and getting organized. Your first two weeks are your craziest.
Our reviews & why we use these products
Disclaimer: Some of these are Techstars companies. We don’t know the teams (but would like to!). These reviews are our own and we’ve received no compensation for them.
2nd Contact reminders via email.
You will make connections to awesome people. They will be busy. 25–50% of the time they may require a second or third email to remind them to send something, make an introduction etc. We haven’t found a better way than Boomerang to track these opportunities. If no one responds to your email, you set boomerang to put the email back at the top of your gmail as an unread email in 2–4 days (you define the time period). Task management by inbox — done right. We don’t know of comparable products. Oh yeah, its got a lot of other features to.
CRM System — Pick a CRM and use it. We use Streak.
We needed a CRM system. You will need one too. We suggest tracking three pipelines: Investors, Customers, & Potential Hires.
Example with investors: You need to record what their investment check size is and if they do convertible notes or SAFE’s. You should be meeting a LOT of investors and you cannot forget their check size and terms preference. If on the second meeting, you pitch a 100K investment and they only make 500K investments or more, you’ve just lost the opportunity or severely damaged credibility.
We like Excel because we can customize it to do anything. We also like management by inbox. Thus, we like Streak because it does both these things.
Another reason we like Streak is it has Snippets. Over and over you will need to send a forwardable describing your business. Same with the links to your promo video and relevant press articles or white papers. Reduce the friction by using clips. Set snippets to paste your list of links. It hangs out in your gmail next to the formatting icon. Click it, click the snippet you’ve saved such as “101 — investor links”, snippets then pastes your list of links into your email. Go pro and use hot typed phrases to trigger the same.
Lastly, we use send later in Streak. We use this to time emails so they reach recipients when they’ll be read. Techstars companies send weekly updates to mentors and potential investors. All 9 companies in our cohort did this, mostly on Monday at 8am. We sent on Tuesday or Wednesday at 7am so ours would get the most time and consideration. Also, not everyone is impressed by your work ethic and 3am emails. For some it’s a red flag. See the book ReWork here on this topic. Use send later instead.
Make appointment times a 1-step process, not “go-fish.”
Ever traded 3–4 emails just to find a time to meet? We couldn’t afford that. We also didn’t want to pay for an executive assistant. Each additional email that says “are you available between 2–4pm Wednesday?” increases the chance of losing the connection. Instead include a link to your schedule in your email signature using Calendly. Everyone can see when you are available including VIP’s executive assistants who will love you. You can fill up your schedule quickly.
Pro tip: When pointing people to your schedule link in emails, include language that says: “my schedule is accessible at the link below to find a time that works for us both.” Don’t act like a movie-god. You’re asking people that are likely higher in the social strata than you to do executive assistant work. They’ll do it to maximize their time and avoid trading three emails, but keep it humble.
Pro tip 2: Block-off work periods each day. Its not sexy to have a calendar that looks WAY too available.
Request to Calendly — give us the option to by default put 5–15 min between each appointment?
Use it to ask for intros. It’s better than LinkedIn.
Want an intro to anyone within 2 degrees of separation? Use Conspire. If you’ve made a list of everyone who has invested in your space in the past and want an intro to Ben Horowitz, then conspire is your best bet.
Conspire requests access to your emails and then analyzes who you email and how often. Yep, that’s invasive. But so is Gmail. With Conspire you get max value in this trade for privacy. It tells you everyone in your network who emails the contact you’re trying to reach and how frequently using a Wi-Fi signal. It does this up to two degrees of separation. Once you’ve found who you’re most comfortable asking, it helps you send a forwardable using a handy template.
Do meetings with agendas, notes, follow-ups. We use Worklife and send to Trello.
Have an agenda. Take notes. Follow-up. Simple best practices, right? Yet few people do it, just the best people. Be the best. After you have that amazing meeting, you’re buzzing, and everyone agrees to do things, write it down and for you and them. I use Worklife because of it’s format. It provides 3 sections, one to have an agenda, the second to take notes, and the third to follow-up. Follow ups export to Trello. The format is clean and delightful and uncluttered like Medium and Google Search.
Pro tip — know that your notes are public if you add people to the meeting. Take notes accordingly.
Everyone has an opinion on Trello/Asana/Github. Your opinion may be correct. It may be ridiculous. Either way, you already know about it and if you don’t see this.
Let robots log expenses.
Nothing screws up team dynamics more than payroll and expenses. Seriously. People are regularly fired over expenses, OR employees walk away with serious misgivings. Companies regularly misstate their accounts because someone had 15–100k in expenses they hadn’t submitted yet. People are reluctant to put things on credit cards and slowing down product development because they feel they always forget to log the receipt.
For all these reasons we use expense bot. Photograph the receipt and all the data entry is done by them. Approvals are easy. It maps to Quickbooks expense categories. There’s far fewer friction points. The expense manager gets accurate cash position. The employee doesn’t spend hours sorting through a shoebox of receipts and tracking down visa statements for the one’s they lost.
You need Quickbooks.
If you raise from venture capital you will at some point get asked for 3 months of clean books in the due diligence process. Have clean books. We use Quickbooks. So does nearly everyone else on the planet it seems. Keep your accounting costs low by using Quickbooks. Use it to track a budget versus actual.
Consider an accountant. If you struggle with your personal taxes then you need a business accountant. They will keep your books “clean” and at least semi-standard so you check the box in diligence. Also, if you have budget you can create an email@example.com like we did and have people send all invoices to the accountant to be paid by wire on the 1st and 15th.
Pay people on time. Trust is just like a bank account, earn a balance by doing simple things on time. Like us you’re a startup, you’ll need that trust in the bank at some point.
Documents Signature Service. We use DocuSign.
Remember what I mentioned earlier about friction points? Printing, signing, scanning, and attaching is four physical steps. DocuSign is usually about three digital ones. We make it dead simple for investors, employees, and customers to sign things. We believe this increases success.
Bonus — all your signed documents are in one place for when diligence starts. We suggest picking one service and sticking with it. You will be tempted to churn the 30 day trials from DocuSign, HelloSign, and SendDoc. Don’t. If you do that, you’ll then have to piece all the docs together from each platform later. This isn’t doing more faster. This is rework.
Put stuff in one place. Expiring links for investors.
We TRY to put stuff in one place. If you succeed in doing this, tell us how. We chose Dropbox over google drive for three reasons: Price, video in browser, and expiring links. Google drive is awesome due to sheets and docs for collaboration. However, at the time we chose it was expensive.
Every investor asks for your deck and videos of your product prior to talking. Your first decks will suck. Your deck will have valuable competitive intel. Investors DO send these to their competitive investments. For these reasons we don’t like our deck or videos floating around. However, what we REALLY don’t like is NOT having investor conversations. We tried a 1-pager to get meetings and it hurt us. We got fewer meetings.
Therefore, we now use Dropbox with an expiring link of 7–30 days. This works for our deck and videos because Dropbox allows in browser viewing for both.
Pro tip: use numbering first in a file name to order folders and keep the order constant. i.e. 100Finance, 200Sales, 300HR etc. You’ll be amazed at how much faster your file access will be due to location memory.
Conclusion, we hope this is helpful. We hope you don’t have to struggle through what we did setting this up. We hope you Do More Faster (we now owe David Cohen another dollar).
If you have your own Core SaaS setup you’ve found to be awesome, write up what the combos are, how much you spend monthly, and post it on Medium, we’ll link to it below.