17 TOOLS THAT HELP YOU START YOUR BUSINESS

This post is part of a bigger roundup where successful founders share the tools they use to build their business empires.

When I started building LinksSpy I had given up on a previous project where I learned a lot about which tools make you more productive and which are just a waste of your time and money. I attribute quite a bit of LinksSpy’s success to having better processes powered by much better tools.

The tools on this list are indispensable to me. Without them running LinksSpy as a side-project (i.e. with 5–10 hours per week max) would be impossible. The tools cover every topic from customer support to development to marketing.

SOME TOOLS ARE WORTH (A LOT OF) MONEY — SOME ARE NOT (YET)

Some founders say that they would only ever consider using paid tools, because they are anxious that free-to-use tools will drop of the face of the earth overnight.

In my opinion there is a certain truth to that: If someone is making a living from selling a product, they are very unlikely to abandon their product. I’m not saying that this never happens, just that it does not happen as often as with free tools.

However, when you are starting out as a self-funded (or customer-funded) business you don’t have a lot of money, but you probably have a bit more time. There’s a tradeoff here and you can risk going for the free/cheaper tools in exchange for some of your time. In the end, it is all up to you.

And don’t forget: Most of these founders build their products on open source stacks such as Ruby on Rails and/or run their blogs on WordPress. So take such statements with a grain of salt ;-)

Anyways, here’s my list of products I use to build LinksSpy.

ORGANIZATION AND COMMUNICATION

TRELLO — FREE

Trello is a to-do-list/kanban board web app, that I use to organize the development process for the LinksSpy app as well as the content creation for the LinksSpy blog. In Trello you can assign tasks to individual team members and move them between different lists easily. Here’s a screenshot of what my development board looks like right now:

GOOGLE APPS FOR BUSINESS/GMAIL — $10/MO

GMail is — in my opinion — by far the best mail application. I still use Thunderbird/Apple Mail for my legacy email accounts, but GMail is so much more convenient to use and has a lot of great plugins. Only feature that sucks is Google’s multi-account handling.

SLACK — FREE

Slack is the new cool kid in town — and rightfully so. I’m in 4 different Slack teams at the moment and that number is going nowhere but up. The integrations are crazy good. I love to be able to monitor whenever a new version of the app gets pushed to production or when a new commit is pushed to the Github repo.

CALENDLY — $10/MO

Calendly makes scheduling appointments a breeze. Just send them your calendly URL and they can select the event type and time slot. Of course you manage the event types and your availability yourself. So cool.

MARKETING

WORDPRESS — FREE

The world’s premier content management system — what else can I say? You can build almost any type of website on WordPress (it sure has been tried by some folks), but I just use it for our blog on marketing, SEO and how to run an agency business.

PERFECTAUDIENCE — ~ $100/MO

I use PerfectAudience for retargeting. What I found is that retargeting in the display networks is pretty expensive (without doing A/B testing to optimize), but Facebook sidebar ads are comparatively cheap at about $1 — $1.50

LINKSSPY — NORMALLY $19/MO

I am using LinksSpy to scratch my own itch here. It’s super easy to find great link opportunities and I was able to build a whole bunch of good links that I discovered through LinksSpy

BUFFER — FREE

I use Buffer semi-regularly to publish stuff to my social media accounts. But to be honest I use Twitter for fun — not for profit. I have hardly seen it drive any relevant traffic for me. I’d like to test Edgar, but can’t justify the costs at the moment.

DRIP — $49/MO

Drip is by far the best email marketing/email automation tool I have used. I ran my previous startup on Mailchimp, but Drip just blows that out of the water. It’s about 10x more expensive, but also so much less trouble to set up & manage.

DRAFT — $30/YEAR

Draft is a distraction-free editor that uses Markdown syntax. It publishes directly to any WordPress site and is really easy to use. Just perfect for the hyper-active nerd.

METRICS

HOOKFEED — $10/MO

HookFeed gives you the basic information you would want for your SaaS application: Monthly Recurring Revenue(MRR) and number of customers. Additionally, you can see which customers have past-due issues, are in trial or are at risk because their credit cards are expiring.

FIRSTOFFICER — $29/MO

FirstOfficer gives you a LOT of information about your subscription business — assuming you are using Stripe as your payment provider. Really great graphs and lots of insights.

DEVELOPMENT

GITHUB — $7/MO

Well… it’s Github, what can I say? Used to store my source code and collaborate with my other developer.

HEROKU — ~$30/MO

I use Heroku to host my application. I pay for database usage and for SSL support.

CODESHIP — FREE

Codeship is my build server of choice. Whenever I push a new version to the Github repository it automatically runs the tests and if they work, everything gets pushed into production on Heroku.

PAPERTRAIL — $7/MO

Papertrail allows me to monitor the log output of my application and to easily search it. Great for finding bugs in LinksSpy.

MISC

STRIPE — 2.9% + $.30 PER TRANSACTION

Stripe is the easiest way I know to integrate credit card billing into your application. Easy to implement and a very straightforward pricing model — what’s not to love about that?

CONCLUSION

That’s pretty much my setup. If you want to see what others are using, you can find other entrepreneur’s stack over on the LinksSpy blog