Our Stack

My team accuses me of an addiction. An app addiction. I’ll leave that up front, so when you think that everything below is over kill for a pre-revenue product, you’ll see where they’re coming from.

But I can’t stand the thought of wasting so much time, money, energy and effort later on. The transition from startup through good growth to hyper growth is hard enough as it is without changing the fundamental underlying systems that support the business. I believe that the products we chose should support that growth for a few years, not just the next 6 months.

So here’s what we’ve put in place so far.

  • Azure, soon to be AWS. We’re running most of the application on Azure at the moment, but we just find it too slow, too cumbersome and lacking some basic security features. So we’ll transition to AWS over the next few months. The stack is fundamentally based on .Net back end, Web API and Ember front end with Sql Server databases, but is architected in such a way that aspects of the application can be built in any language we like.
  • One of our product philosophies is to measure everything. Peter and the guys at Segment have done a great job. A real “picks and shovels” type business. Everything that users do in the application and website is able to be measured with events produced in Segment. Once arrived in their warehouse, those events can then be distributed to many, many of their integrations. The real benefit is making the important process of distributing those events to the relevant applications extremely straight forward. Pretty much everything in this list is connected to Segment in one way or another.
  • Algolia is another “picks and shovels” business and we’re just starting to imagine the full set of capabilities of this product. Everything that arrives within our platform, such as email, documents, gmail and Office 365 contacts, meetings and phone calls will be indexed with Algolia, allowing everything to be completely searchable and presented back to the user at lightening speed. I don’t know their roadmap but the latest integration with Zendesk, still in beta, might be a sign of things to come. Not only will we index our customer content, but also our support content can be indexed as well, presenting consolidated data across our whole platform in one search. The customer experience will be amazing.
  • The jury is still out on Xamarin for us, which is the current platform of choice for the production of our mobile platform. Native might still win the day.
  • FullContact Person API brings back social data including photos, twitter handles and bios, Facebook content, pretty much anything associated with our customer’s clients. We’ll present that information back to the user where appropriate, signaling the ever increasing alignment of social and enterprise user experience. FullContact have just released their Company API, so we’ll explore the possibilities in that over the next few months.
  • New Relic for all our performance metrics, monitoring, etc.
  • LogEntries for our log entries.
  • Salesforce. It’s so ugly. I don’t even like it. But, even after all this time, there’s just nothing else with the integrations and flexibility that Salesforce offers. You have to admire the company that Mark has built and the moat that they’ve established around that business with the incredible power of the app exchange. For the record, we looked at Insightly, Pipedrive, Sugar and lots of others.
  • Marketo. Not quite as ugly as Salesforce, but definitely in the same ball park. We desperately wanted to use autopilot, which is built by some Aussies located here in San Francisco and backed by Draper & Associates as well, but they’re just a little early on the journey for us. Would love to see them do well though, the product will be great.
  • RedShift. With the assistance of another new startup, FiveTran, we’re moving all our data from MixPanel, Marketo, Zendesk, Intercom, Google Analytics, Salesforce, the application, Segment and Xero into a RedShift warehouse. While we’ll aggregate some of this data, everything that is identifiable as a customer is marked with a matching “PermaKey” and can therefore be linked between each schema in the warehouse.
  • Mode Analytics. There’s no point in having all this data if we can’t report on it. Mostly for ad hoc queries of the warehouse, Mode allows us to share and distribute those queries to anyone in the business, but we could put Mode in the hands of users who know SQL reasonably easily. It has pretty strong charting and reporting capability and we look forward to getting more into the flexibility that Mode offers.
  • Domo, Tableau, GoodData, Birst, we’re not sure yet, but leaning towards Domo. The vision for that business is well aligned with our objectives and their array of connectors to many of the applications in this list is appealing. It’s one thing to be able to track your CAC, COC, Quick Ratio, Magic Number, LTV:CAC, Lead Velocity and the vast array of SaaS metrics that boards and investors want to see these days, but if anyone in the business can get answers about our business with the data that’s available to us, then that makes a huge difference. Decisions should be faster and better.
  • We’re just starting to uncover the benefits of MixPanel. We’ll do all our funnel analysis in here and watch carefully the customer journey in the application during our Preview period.
  • Google Analytics. It’s free. And easy.
  • Intercom has come a long way in the last few years, while the domain of Customer Success seems to have become quite crowded with applications such as GainSight, Totango and others. With nearly daily releases planned for the remainder of the year, we like the ability to communicate directly with our Preview customers from within the application. Intercom seems to do that extremely well.
  • We were users of Zendesk way back in the early days and they are a great example of how culture has influenced product as the team has grown into the thousands and their user base continues to expand. Mikkel has done a superb job and they deserve all the success in the world. We love the product and it will be our underlying support tool for years to come.
  • Slack — well, durgh.
  • We’re a full Atlassian shop and big fans of what Mike and Scott and the team have been able to achieve over the years. We use Jira for issue and bug tracking, Bamboo for all our builds — can we have an API for configuration, please?, Confluence for our internal documentation, Stash for our git repository and Fisheye/Crucible for code review. There’s definitely an advantage to having these products all integrated. All of these are hosted on Azure in the Western US data center at the moment, which seems to work ok, although would love to speed them up a little for the Australian team. Perhaps a light weight CDN might work.
  • Zapier for tying some of these products together in relatively simple ways, although a Zap for Marketo would be handy.
  • Sitefinity. We’re using WordPress at the moment to pump out our initial website, but as our content becomes more considerable and workflow becomes more important, we’ll move to the Sitefinity product from Telerik. Your experience as a logged in user on the public website should be different to that of an anonymous visitor and we’re pretty determined to make sure that’s the case. Having a .Net based CMS will assist with that process.
  • Google Apps for email, calendar, etc.
  • Xink for easy control of email signatures, ties nicely into Google Apps.
  • Dropbox. Google Drive seems to be catching up for syncing files and would be a considerable cost saving at only $10 per head. We’ll have to revisit that later on.
  • Boomset. While we’re just testing this at the moment, It looks like we’ll use their event system for all of our offline events. They have a comprehensive API, allowing us to tie our events to Salesforce and Marketo with relative ease.
  • Highfive is our internal conferencing system which is great for US domestic use, but when we include our Australian team the latency can be frustrating. One of the great things about Highfive is the relative low cost hardware that just plugs straight into the TV and acts as camera and microphone. We will reconsider Zoom if the issues with international latency continue.
  • GoToWebinar, only because of the integration with Marketo. I don’t like the user experience and it doesn’t appear they’ve had a designer on the team for the 10 years we’ve been using the product. Zoom could easily challenge here.
  • Our design team use InVision to demonstrate high fidelity screenflows to the rest of the organization and sometimes to customers. We’re great friends with the guys at Atomic and can’t wait to see that product mature over the next few months and years.
  • Oktopost is our platform for managing social media engagement. It helps us manage content and measure the business value of our social media marketing. With calendars and scheduled posts on behalf of our brand and employees it does the job of 4–5 social media staff.
  • Skype, we still use Skype a bit internally for when there aren’t too many people in one meeting room. Some of the team use Hangouts, but I’ve found it impossible to take that product seriously ever since Google included the ability to put a mustache on someone’s face during a call.
  • Outside of the development organization we use asana, with varying degrees of success, to track work about work. I quite like it because there’s a level of transparency included where you can get a pulse for what people are working on, but there are just so many ways of doing the same thing that it becomes confusing. Yet you can’t put a start date on a task and other highly frustrating things. We have implemented the quarterly OKR process and are using asana for that at the moment, although would consider a product like 7Geese or BetterWorks.
  • Okta. Nearly every application in this list has a login via Okta, integrated with an Active Directory located in Azure. They’ve done a great job of enterprise login and the more applications that support SSO, the easier life is for everyone.
  • Xero. We have 2 Xero accounts, one for our US business and one for the Australian business. Our accountant runs consolidated board reports every month for us using Spotlight. We also use Xero for payroll, and I often get very constructive criticism from our operations people about the customer experience.
  • Employees use Expensify for tracking business expenses although we tend to use Amex as much as possible, for the points. This is easier said than done for our staff in Australia because of the lack of acceptance of the card with merchants. We’ve known David and the team from Expensify since the early Xero days and they’ve done a pretty good job with that product.

SaaS is a game of inches. I’m a passionate believer in purchasing and integrating the products on this list for two reasons.

Firstly, we live in an ever-increasing fast paced world and competent team members have the right to access what will soon be a vast array of (anonymized and secure) usage data to continually improve the user experience. To be able to test and analyze and experiment easily and quickly helps improve our chances of success. A 1% reduction in churn or 3% increase in MRR has a significant long term impact. While some of these tools overlap in capability, each one is picked because it does the job it set out to achieve very well.

Second, why build when you can buy? Why have resources dedicated to building CRM or support tools or analysis tools when there are companies and vast teams dedicated to that very same cause? We much rather have our talented team focussing on exactly what the customer sees and improving their experience. There will be a time when we have internal development, but those resources can be focussed on integration, not building things from scratch.

There’s another blog post to be written here about why Salesforce hasn’t been able to capitalize on its breadth of products to expand revenue into businesses like ours. They’re already in marketing automation, support and analytics, amongst others, but you take one look at most of those products and the choice is clearly best of breed. Will save that for another day.

So that’s it. Pretty much everything we use. Hopefully I can look back in a few years and say that we made the right choice in all the important system components. I’m sure the team would like it if the list didn’t expand significantly over that period of time as well.

Like what you read? Give Stuart McLeod a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.