Over the last year I’ve been working on Aiko AI, an AI email assistant, between classes and in my spare time. We’ve found it more than difficult to raise money as we’re pre-revenue, but still have a lot of uses for cash.
So, we decided to bootstrap! For those of you who haven’t heard of bootstrapping, it’s essentially when you start a venture with little to no capital. Over the last year we’ve grown a toolkit that has become essential to our operations while keeping our costs at $0, and I’ll try to cover as many of these special free tools as possible!
The first part of this series is going to focus on team tools, as those tend to be a huge cash sink for many startups. I’ll go into technical costs in later parts so hit “follow” to stay tuned! Without further ado:
1. Slack — the communications king + integrations!
Most if not all of you will have heard of Slack before. It’s the king of workplace messaging and stands its own in a ring with Microsoft! Slack is definitely the most irreplaceable, valuable tool you can add to your workflow. It’s also FREE, with some limits you likely won’t hit before you can afford the paid version.
Communication, file sharing, and team management has never been easier — and the integrations add all the more spice! At Aiko AI, we use a few saucy integrations that have magically increased productivity:
- Github for Slack — if you use GitHub this is an AMAZING tool that pings a channel each time someone pushes to Git. Makes commit tracking and communication that much easier. For those of you on Bitbucket, there’s an integration for that too, which is likely to grow much better now that Slack is buying from Atlassian.
- Google Drive for Slack — we share much of our sheets and documents via Google Drive, and this was a no-brainer add to our workplace. It’ll automatically import Google Drive files and save you that extra click!
- Polly — polling tool that has grown in popularity. When making team decisions, just use a Polly poll which can be easily configured right in the channel and produces great analytics
- To-do — simple todo tracker that can parse dates and works right from chat! Also pings you to make sure you get tasks done, think Asana but without the boards. There’s also Todoist which is great but lacked the simple element we were looking for.
- appear.in — I’ll cover this one in-depth later. The slack integration is 🔥 and we find it great. We were also recently recommended Loom, another great startup which is a good different (recordings!) and although we haven’t added that to our workflow yet I can see it becoming very useful!
Scared Slack is spying on you? Try Mattermost which is its self hosted sibling.
2. Asana, 3. Haplen — task management made easy
You may have also heard of Asana, or perhaps Flow. Asana is a great task management system that allows workplaces to be split into teams, organized into projects, and tasks to be created and assigned in Kanban-like boards. Asana also lets attachments be added, allows subtasks, and progress tracking both in-task and via a status page (great to show investors!).
As if this wasn’t enough, you can also talk directly inside Asana in “conversations,” and limiting tasks to be assigned to 1 person at a time may seem limiting at first but is a lifesaver when it comes to project ownership. Having a 1:1 ratio between task:owner means the progress of the task can always be traced back and managed by 1 person, which makes things much easier when you need to ask questions, fast!
The calendar view is great, and the UI is in general an extremely beautiful material-meets-cupertino blend. To top it off, it’s FREE! (with some limits that, again, you won’t hit until you can definitely afford it!)
There’s also Flow which is nice but only has a trial as a free option. At the top you’ll see I actually mentioned another startup, Haplen. I just learned about Haplen a few hours ago and have already fallen in love with it! If you’re more of a Trello person but aren’t ready to shell out cash for it, try Haplen, which is a free alternative and looks awesome:
It has milestone tracking, grouping, and is WAY easier and more powerful than Trello. Plus it’s totally FREE and has embraced Material Design, which gives it a sleek, startup professional look.
Haplen also caters to a more directly AGILE workflow than Asana. I’m in the process of moving our development team to Haplen, while the more general and business-side tasks will stay on Asana. Asana + Haplen = 🔥!
4. Appear.in ❤️ — video conferencing done RIGHT!
You didn’t know you needed Appear.in until you saw it. But you do:
- getting into a video conference is a LONG process
- Skype always sucks, Google Hangouts always sucks
- bad quality, dropped connections, and trouble finding contacts always
- screenshare options are nonexistent or hard to use, audio does not forward
- incredible latency
Appear.in solves all of the above. Simply share your room link (you don’t even need to sign up, think of a random room name e.g. cat-is-lame and append that to the url → appear.in/cat-is-lame), type that into your browser and you’re good to go!
No more long process, just drop them an appear.in link. No more sucky interface, appear.in is right in the web and works flawlessly (I think it uses WebRTC but I’m not sure, whatever is under the hood is AMAZING!).
It’s totally free for rooms up to 4 people, which is fine for most conferences. The paid version is dirt cheap too! In the free version you can “claim” 1 room which is GREAT for branding: we have aiko-ai and I just drop a slack message (I mentioned the integration above, just /appearin <room-name>) to start a meeting. Investors dig it, and it was a lifesaver for conducting remote interviews. It’s like Zoom but free, easier, faster and without an install.
Appear.in also has screenshare built in, and gloriously — you can filter to choose to share tabs, apps, or your whole screen. There’s no latency as far as I can tell, and it forwards audio so we can all jam out together or watch a video without blasting it through the speakers.
There’s also a chat on the right side which we mostly use to drop links or take quick notes. We’re hoping they open their API again so Aiko can integrate in!
5. Cloud App, 6. Tiny Take — faster screen recordings
When working with products that are constantly evolving, it can be crucial to get GIF or video content of it working. In this situation, TinyTake and CloudApp both come to the rescue. Both allow you to highlight portions of the screen which can then be recorded and saved to GIF or MP4, and even generate links to share!
If you’re looking just to take a clip of your screen, please stop using Snipping Tool or Cmd+Shift+4. Whether you’re on Mac or Windows, your OS ships with tools that copy to clipboard, and almost every major tool (including everything on this list) supports pasting from clipboard! On Mac, use Cmd+Control+Shift+4, and on Windows it’s Win+Shift+S. It might seem like a small change, but you’ll find it makes your life way easier and you’ll never look back! As a bonus it’ll stop your Desktop or Pictures folder from being littered with “Screenshot-##############.png”.
If you’re trying to record a Terminal session, check out Asciinema!
Both TinyTake and CloudApp have free tiers that are just fine for what they accomplish.
7. Canva — Graphics for the rest of us
Alright so Canva isn’t totally free by any means. However, even the free features are totally worth it. For those of you who haven’t tried it before, it’s essentially WordPress for graphics!
Canva comes with hundreds if not thousands if not hundreds of thousands of fliers, covers, documents, templates, etc. — if you’ve got a graphics need, Canva definitely has a solution!
I use Canva to build my resumes/CVs, and we use it in-house as a design tool for making quick graphics for our affiliates. It saves us countless hours of hunting down Photoshop templates and editing them to suit our needs.
Canva also stores brand colors which is a great feature, and sports a simple UI that is speedy and beautiful!
I HIGHLY recommend it — if you haven’t got an in-house designer, Canva will be a godsend and save you hundreds of dollars in design work. (The header was made in exactly 34 seconds using Canva!)
That’s unfortunately all for Part 1! With the above you should be able to start up a team, set up task tracking and milestones, communicate effectively online and via video, share content with ease, and design graphics to make your business look 🔥!
These are just a few of my favorites. Here are some more cool tools that didn’t show up above (and may show up in later parts 😉):
- Shake, free legal agreements so you can avoid a lawyer (we also have a Stripe Atlas invite link, email me for it!)
- Lunacy, free alternative to Sketch, for Windows
- SlidesCarnival, not a tool as much as a collection of awesome Google Slides themes to make beautiful decks!
- Freebbble, free Dribbble designs!
- MockupWorld, free mockups to showcase your designwork/application!
- TellForm, a free Typeform alternative — there’s a bit of an issue with the main repo right now but we maintain an open source fork which has less bugs and is more or less functional!
- + you can find way more on Startup Stash!
Aiko will also be entering free private beta soon and will make your inbox management worries disappear!
I’ll try to get Part 2 out over the next few days — it’ll focus more on how to deploy your infrastructure for little to no cost. Hit “follow” to stay tuned, and if you found this helpful hit that clap button!