Bootstrapping Ad Reform
We’ve certainly made plenty of mistakes, but in the first 6 months of our SaaS company we’ve only spent $10k. Listed are some of the tools and solutions that have helped thus far.
Growing a company is hard stuff. It’s not for the faint of heart. As a bootstrapped SaaS company, we’re strapped for everything: resources, time, and money. The market doesn’t care about your excuses though. The only option is to figure it out. To be resourceful, relentless, and gritty. We’ve had to figure out how to run things as a larger company than we are, and along the way, we’ve found some awesome tools/solutions to help us do just that.
We started Ad Reform about 6 months ago, have only spent around $10k. The only way you do that is through radical personal sacrifice, using tools with great free tiers, and being incredibly smart with how you allocate your money. Oh, and do your best to get to revenue as quickly as possible. Many entrepreneurs and ad ops customers we chat with on a daily basis have asked us to send them certain tools/resources we use at Ad Reform, so we figured we’d just put out a blog post. It will be two parts because there are just so many damn tools (one for the business side and one for the product dev side). We hope this helps!
GSuite — Gmail, Google Drive, Calendar, Docs, Sheets, Slides, and the list goes on. All working on the cloud, all the time. We really don’t have to mention it because you’re probably already using it.
Trello — A Trello board allows you to digitally organize almost every part of your business or life in a way that visually suits you. We love it because we can collaborate on projects/tasks internally and everything syncs in real-time.
Slack — Slack is a highly customizable group messaging app that allows users to easily communicate with different teams and individuals. It also offers integrations with a variety of other tools you may already use so you can work and communicate in the same place. We use it to communicate internally, alert us on new deals/payments/sign-ups/support requests, or just send whiskey glass emojis to each other.
Price: Free unless you want additional saved history, more integrations, or other premium features.
Zoom — Zoom is a video conferencing and web conferencing service that allows screen sharing and multiple other features that break down the barrier of working from different locations. With my sales background, I’ve used just about every product on the market. It’s by far the most reliable, plus you can use it for free for one-on-one meetings and multiple user meetings up to 40 min. You can’t beat that.
Price: Free or $15/month for unlimited minutes on multi-user meetings.
Whatdyoudo — Whatdyoudo is a web tool that integrates into Gmail and sends an email at the end of every day asking team members what they worked on that day. The next morning everyone will receive an email that includes everyone’s answers. It basically automates daily stand-ups which keeps everyone within the team on the same page and accountable for great work every day! Even better, it was built by my co-founder (Kyle) as a quick side project. If you’d like to use it let us know and we might make it available to the masses, but as of right now it’s not quite ready for the prime time (it hasn’t been worked on in forever so don’t judge).
Grammarly — Grammarly is a spelling and grammar checking Chrome extension that is much more accurate and reliable than spell check and it’s built for almost any page on the web. If you’re a terrible speller like I am, you interact with customers, and you no longer have someone on your team that will call you out (shout out to Melanie @ Fullstory), Grammarly is an excellent backup plan. Yes, I know there are still errors in my post. No tech is perfect :(
Product Management/Customer Support:
FullStory — As a company building software to improve our user’s work lives, it is incredibly important for everyone in the company to exude empathy in everything we do. I would argue that nothing is more important. No product allows you to scale this across multiple business units better than Fullstory. Fullstory captures every visitor interaction on your site and makes those interactions searchable and available for playback, so you can learn where to improve your customer experience or proactively support users in real-time. Fullstory helps us grow our customer base, and keep them. That’s the name of the game right?
Price: Free up to a 1000 sessions a month
Crisp — Crisp allows the app owners and users to message in-app in order to solve problems and answer customer questions in the most timely and effective manner. A good alternative to Intercom with the ability to send/receive messages on mobile as well. We love it.
Pricing: Free up to two users
Groove — Groove is a customer support app that allows you to collaborate on all your customers’ emails, social media posts, calls, and live chats all in one place. It also provides a knowledge base and help desk so your customers can access the answers to the questions they have before contacting you. We use the free tier that allows us to handle customer support issues via email.
Pricing: Free for our use case
ProdPad — Prodpad is a product management tool that lets you share your product strategy/roadmap to keep everyone informed and working in the same direction. You can also build a suggestions page (ideas exchange)to allow user feedback and voting on certain features.
Pricing: Free for basic features and our use case
HelpSite.io — HelpSite.io is a customer support tool that allows you to easily create and customize a searchable knowledge base so that users can find the support articles they need quickly. We needed a simple and cost effective knowledge base site, that I could build (I’m not a dev) before we started allowing users on the platform. This product does the trick.
Price: Free for basic functionality
Charlie App — Charlie app is a sales tool that searches through hundreds of different data sources and finds valuable/helpful information on the person you are going to meet with that day. Preparation is key to any meeting regardless of the purpose. Charlie app does a lot of the work for you and emails you an hour before the meeting with everything you need. Aaron is building a great product and company of there :)
Price: Free unless your looking to use their enterprise solution (integration with Salesforce)
LinkedIn — LinkedIn is a necessity in searching for good fit clients. As with any social network, the data is usually more accurate because it’s added by the user. Unfortunately, it’s a bit expensive.
Price: $60/month per user
HubSpot — Hubspot is a sales and marketing tool that includes CRM, sales efficiency tools, and marketing automation. They have a pretty solid Free tier, but it doesn’t include reporting. We use their CRM for its simplicity and price vs Salesforce. The email tracking and email efficiency tools are a nice add-on to our startup package we receive through our membership at Atlanta Tech Village and ATDC.
Price: Free CRM, but we pay $5/m per user for the Sales efficiency tools (startup package)
ProfitWell — ProfitWell is a revenue tracking and growth tool that provides you with accurate SaaS metrics so you can continue to grow revenue and make smart decisions based on reliable data/projections. They have integrations with a bunch of tools including Stripe, which allows our revenue metrics to sync automatically.
The Atlas — The Atlas is a tool that gives you access to intuitive charts and graphs that provide accurate representations of how different types of data compare to each other. It’s powered by an awesome publisher, Quartz.
Recordit — Recordit is a screen recording tool that gives you the ability to record short videos or GIFs of what you are doing on your desktop. It is especially useful when making instructional clips on new features or providing an example to customers. I’m using this for all these GIFs :)
ViewedIt or Loom — ViewedIt and Loom are video recording Chrome extensions that allows you to create, send, and track video. A video can include screenshare, audio, and/or video of you. This is a great tool for prospecting or customer success and allows you make your communication more personal.
Rapportive — Rapportive is a chrome extension that shows information about your email contacts such as job, company, LinkedIn profile, and recent social media activity. If you’re trying to figure out someone’s email address, you can test its accuracy via Rapportive. If their social data shows up when you type in an email address, chances are, you’re right.
Clearbit — Clearbit is an email verification Chrome extension that helps you connect with potential buyers and specific people in an organization. It also provides you with information about those you are trying to reach. Clearbit is similar to Rapportive, but it allows you to search a company’s email format by typing in the company domain. You can also do something similar with hunter.io if you run out of credits.
Verify-Email.org — Verify-Email.org is an email verification website that tells you whether or not a person’s email syntax is correct.
Price: Free up to 5 (I think) per hour
Twitter Lists and TweetDeck — Twitter Lists and Tweetdeck allow you to personalize your twitter feed in order to follow the activity of prospective customers, thought leaders in your space, and keywords you care about. Don’t use this as a way to annoy the people you’re selling to. Use it as a way to engage in conversation with relevant people and topics in your space. This is an awesome tool for building your brand or business relationships, but it’s got to be used the right way.
Contracts and Payments:
Hellosign — Hellosign is the world’s leading eSignature platform. Send and receive electronic signatures securely with their end-user solution or the eSignature API.
Price: Free up to 4 contracts a month
Stripe — Stripe is a suite of APIs that powers commerce for businesses of all sizes. Stripe makes it super simple to build a self-service payment/billing process in your app. If you’re a small startup, you don’t have the time or resources to become a collections agency. Stripe handles much of that for you and integrates with a bunch of tools including Slack.
Price: 2.9% per successful card charge
How I Built This — How I Built This is a podcast about how different innovators and entrepreneurs started and grew their businesses and the successes and failures they encountered in the process. I love the mix of industries they touch on from tech to restaurants.
Masters of Scale — Masters of Scale is a podcast hosted by Reed Hastings, the co-founder of LinkedIn. It focuses on how companies grow from a startup to a multi-million dollar brand. Reed has a ton of great connections, so his guests are legit. How many times have you heard Zuckerburg on a Podcast?
What Happens In AdOps — The What Happens In AdOps podcast is the companion to the Happens In AdOps blog and shares all the news and events in the Ad Ops industry as well as more in depth discussions with ad tech leaders on ways to get ahead in the industry. My favorite question he asks all of his guests: You’re at a bar with your team and your buying… What’s the drink? Picklebacks of course!
Ad Ops Specific Tools:
Ad Reform — Hey that’s us! In short, Ad Reform provides Ad Ops teams with the ability to automate the process of taking ad screenshots and compiling them into presentations to be sent out. Additionally, we’re building out tools to allow users to test/troubleshoot ads, both direct deals and programmatic. Our goal is to become the ad ecosystem’s quality auditor. That’s a noble cause, right? Okay, I’m done with my plug.
Price: Starts at $250/month
Chrome Dev Tools — Chrome Developer Tools allow you to audit and test an ad, and also make a mock-up on a desired web page and device type. The only drawback is that you can only use it ad hoc. There is no automation involved.
Tunnello VPN — Tunnello gives you the ability to virtually change your location in order to gain access to ad creatives that are activated by a specific geolocation.
Full Page Screen Capture — Full Page Screen Capture is a chrome extension that allows us to capture a screenshot of an entire web page without zooming out or scrolling down. Chrome has also added this to dev tools, so we plan to use that as well.
GeoPeeker — GeoPeeker is another VPN tool that allows us to virtually change our location in order to find ad creatives that are specific to a certain geolocation. The cool thing is that it allows you to compare a bunch of geos at once. Additionally, it compares DNS records for a site from different locations.
AdExchanger — AdExchanger is an Ad operations specific publisher that gives recent news and trends in the world of ad tech companies.
AdMonsters — AdMonsters is another ad operations site/community that provides updates on current events in the ad tech world and helpful articles on how to improve your own ad tech business.
Ad Ops Insider — Ad Ops Insider is another ad operations focused site that gives current news about what’s happening in the ad tech market, and it also provides information and tips to help ad ops teams operate more effectively and efficiently.
Thalamus — Thalamus is a database that is used to connect media buying teams with ad vendors. It also contains news and data on most ad tech companies so you can choose the correct vendor to display your campaign. We use it for its data.
Price: Free for our use
Ad Ops Reddit/Slack Group — The Ad Ops Reddit and Slack group are public forums where ad tech professionals can share tips, ask questions, and receive feedback on how they run their ad business. A lot of good venting going on here :)
What Happens In AdOps Newsletter — What Happens in Ad Ops is a newsletter that provides insider blogs on what is going on in Ad Ops and offers information about current trends and developments in the ad tech market. It’s kind of like an ad ops version of The Hustle.
Strateachery — Amazing content on digital business models and strategies.
Wow. SaaS really is eating the world… In the next couple weeks my co-founder, Kyle, will post part two on all the dev tools he’s been using. Hopefully, this is helpful and we’d love to hear about other cost effective tools and strategies you’ve been using to grow your startup or your ad ops team. Leave us a comment!