The Startup Product Manager’s Toolkit 

Top services and tools improving the lives of startup PM’s (Asana, Looker, Supermetrics), and musings on what the future holds


I’m part of a small group of startup PMs that meets up every 1-2 months to share, debate, encourage, rant, laugh, cry; and one direction our conversation often steers is the tools that startup PM’s should use to optimize their jobs and their organizations’ product development processes (in the absence of big company internal resources and pre-existing processes). While there are tons of helpful tools available on the market (Asana/Jira/Trello, Optimizely, Mixpanel, etc), there’s also a lot of Google-doc, wiki, excel, ppt, and internal tools going on.

So I thought it’d be fun to share a few helpful tools but also to dream a bit about what things could look like in 5 years’ time.

Show and Tell (tools I use and love)

  1. Looker. You’re in a roadmap meeting and need a piece of semi-complex data to resolve a dispute. Making everyone wait while you write a complex SQL query doesn’t make sense. At thredUP, we use Looker which acts as a simple GUI that generates SQL and presents your requested data in exportable format easily bookmarked and/or shared — awesome and hugely time-saving (side-benefit — it allows any non-technical team member to pull data without getting bottlenecked by a busy data analyst. DIY data science FTW!). I hear good things about chart.io too.
  2. Supermetrics. For the past year, I’ve been using a little-known tool called GA Data Grabber (now Supermetrics) to automate the export of GA event data into a macro-licious Excel model, such that any analysis (e.g., vlookups, arrays, sumifs, basic arithmetic) doesn’t need to be repeated each time more data is ready to be crunched. So updating weekly Product KPI’s takes about 60 seconds and no interaction with google.com/analytics (and the heavens rejoice).
  3. Pulse + Instapaper + Prismatic. I think it’s super helpful for PM’s to constantly read and learn from outside their bubbles, and share relevant perspectives with the team. This is my go-to trio of apps to make sure I’m catching all kinds of longtail content relevant to my product / work. The human-curated stuff is great too (1, 2). Too bad Instapaper won’t let me publicly share my PM folder.
  4. Asana. I sit through this debate in almost every startup PM meetup, and having heard all the pros and cons, I’m still an Asana fanboy. It’s just too simple, usable, mobile-accessible. I will agree, though, that this differs at different stages of company — I can see the merit of Trello for super-small teams and Jira/others for larger.

Honorable Mention: #optimizely, #kahuna, #searchman, #appannie.

The Startup PM of the Future (tools I want)

  1. Asana gone wild. Feature-request time. I need a simple, cross-functional roadmap tool that works for tasks and projects — people point me to Calendars, but it’s not a roadmap tool. I (and too many other PMs) currently keep a separate Google spreadsheet mirroring Asana stories. I need a burndown chart for our engineering retros where we look at our bug and story throughput sprint-over-sprint. Other requests»
  2. Tool for defining simple events. Every time we ship a user-facing feature, we need to spend developer time coding in new events or UTM tags that we’ll track via GA or Mixpanel. In time, the PM should have good tools to define tracking events without developer support, via a simple GUI (similar to Optimizely’s feature to place tracking goals in tests but with advanced options).
  3. Tools for native app distribution and testing. Tools to automate app store copy. Rich screenshot generator (this, which I hear is best practice, was done in .psd), end-to-end attribution + app store page analytics that works, plug-and-play smart banners for mobile web (non-iOS, in-app browsers need custom banners), device testing software (to solve this problem), native app usability testing, etc etc etc. The mobile app ecosystem just feels so ripe for improvement.
  4. Great way to document product learnings. Moving fast and breaking things only makes sense if you’re learning from the successes and failures of what you ship and test. Across our team, we love product learnings, but these things end up sitting across multiple sources — summarized in archived emails, Optimizely experiments, a hacked-together/poorly-kept “learnings” folder in Asana, various .xls files (some in dropbox, others on desktop), and most neatly in a .ppt file sitting on my desktop. I spend a fair amount of time cobbling it all together once a quarter and sharing it in a lunch-and-learn, but there must be a faster way to do this more efficiently. Would actually love feedback on how others do this (or if they use a simple tool to track).
  5. Next generation of usability testing. I currently spend 1-2 full days per month in a suburban Starbucks meeting face-to-face with users. While I love it, I find that usability testing is far too manual as it stands. Usertesting.com is also a drain on time. What I would love is a service that records anonymized video of users (blurred personal details) then smartly tags videos with interesting attributes (e.g., crash, unexpected error, bug, trigged power-user event, etc). It’d allow me to sign-in once a day and watch 10 minutes of critical video (keep an eye on Watchsend).
  6. Strong SEO audit software. The same way BuiltWith scans websites to put together a tech profile, I would love something that scans a site’s X page types and builds a simple table of the metatitles, keywords, and descriptions, SERP across web/mobile and Google/Bing/Yahoo. This might sound super simple, but when I manually scan sites’ SEO across pages it’s astounding how many errors there are. Come to think of it, how can this not already exist? Can someone point me to a solution?
  7. Siri for meeting notes. Probably on Evernote’s roadmap.

Thoughts? Anything I’m missing?