Open Source Startup: Tools, Tools Everywhere and You Probably Only Need a Few

Welcome to Chapter 8 of Open Source Startup: Tools, Tools Everywhere and You Probably Only Need a Few. For a table of contents, head over to the Introduction here

The tools required to build a startup, to test an idea, to get from 0 to 1 - are not as complex as you may think. In fact, it's quite easy to over-tool, to get carried away with the process rather than the outcome. Remember, there's a whole segment of startups just designing tools for other startups. Makes your head spin a little, doesn't it?

Here's good introductory set of tools - useful for companies up until 10 team members. After that, you may want to relook at your toolset to ensure it scales with the team. Many of these will work, though.

You're going to tempted to go for "everything free" - and I wouldn't blame you. But sometimes it's better just to pay. There is nothing more frustrating than spending time fixing your tools instead of building your business.

Here we go...

  • FreshDesk. The free version can be useful for a team logging support tickets, bugs and feature requests into a development team. 
  • GitHub. Code repository and ticket management / Kanban interface. Back this up with a bunch of sticky notes on the wall - keep it transparent and visual and you'll get further than any tool out there. Some may like to log tickets straight into GitHub, but I've always found it's nice to have some kind of buffer between a client-facing/sales/marketing team and the developers. The buffer is FreshDesk - and it's fairly easy to grab a plugin that integrates FreshDesk and GitHub. 
  • Google Analytics. GA has become something of a beast, but using the basics and setting up some clever Conversion Goals should allow you to do 80% of what you need to understand traffic and test features. Google Analytics is useful across your organisation - all team members should be comfortable with it. 
  • Azure/AWS. Hosting often depends on the product. If you're B2B and plan on selling to large corporates, using Azure as a platform can be the primary reason you get through Procurement and IT Security teams. You'll pay 10x for the pleasure - but you'll be able to pass on Azure's SLA. Cute trick. For anything else, go as cheap as you can without sacrificing performance. 
  • Other interesting tools: PreRender (used primarily for single-page-applications) and JetBrains (developer tools). 

  • FreshDesk (Paid or Free). Many may argue for ZenHub or a more integrated tool - fair enough. FreshDesk has worked nicely for us - at a reasonable price. Integrates nicely into Facebook/Twitter. The most important trick with any ticket management tool is to set and measure a First Response and Resolution SLA. How quickly you respond to and resolve customer queries sets the tone of the product/business.
  • Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/LinkedIN. Jury really is out on social media for startups - at least for me. There are three exceptions: you are a brilliant content writer OR your content/product/business is hilarious OR your content/product/business/story is very unique, preferably with an emotive or controversial hook. If you aren't the exception (most of you aren't), then my humble advice is to reduce social media to a customer service channel. Opening yourself up to feedback and customer engagement is critical - posting fluffy content every day is not. 
  • Mailchimp. You only pay from 2000 emails upwards. And even then, for the functionality and the reputation (because Mailchimp is quite serious about spam and opt-in, you'll find it has a fair reputation from mail servers around the world) it's good value. Mailchimp comes with Mandrill, a transactional email engine that your development team can use. Mandrill is... ok. But it's largely free with even a small Mailchimp account. 

  • GSuite (Google Apps). If you're a non-profit, you get this for free. Otherwise it's under 10 Euro per month per user - and it's a no-brainer. Email. Calendar. Collaborative Documents. Shared storage (disclaimer, see next point). Done. There are some arguments to use Office 365 - especially because you can get Word/PowerPoint/Excel included. Slightly more expensive - and obviously depends how dependent you are on the OG's of Computer Software. Just make a call, go with one of them, they're both good - and move on. 
  • DropBox. This may be controversial, but Google Drive has never worked for me. Primarily it's the way it encourages everyone to have their own file structure, sharing required documents rather than accessing a logical structure of existing documents. Yeah, I might sound old-school, but nothing creates a mess like multiple people trying to organise digital files. Google Drive also seems to have problems when you have a large existing set of documents. Getting those to sync properly across 8-10 computers just never worked. Oh, and it doesn't like existing Mac file structures, getting very confused with the hidden files Macs have. Dropbox just works. Full admin control. Selective sync. No mess, no fuss.
  • Evernote. A few well-structured notebooks that are shared between team members makes Evernote a useful status-tracker or info-tracker tool. Dump any interesting and relevant research into a RESEARCH notebook. Keep track of clients and sales in a CLIENTS notebook. It's simple, text-focused and if used carefully, without creating clutter, can provide a nice central repository for important information. Wiki's are a bit out of fashion - and sometimes require too much effort. Evernote doesn't. 
  • Canva. The easiest design tool out there. For everything. 
  • Pixabay. Free images. That's it. 
  • Slack. Yeah, ok, fine. It can be useful. It can also be distracting - so turn off notifications. And think carefully about the structure of channels/chat rooms. Don't be scared to tweak your channels - keep them as relevant as possible, kill unused ones. 
  • LastPass. Don't wait for a security event to happen. Just get ahead of the game. Force everyone in your company to use a password manager and create a policy requiring everyone to 12 character or more, strong, generated passwords. No exceptions. Don't share passwords. Don't have central documents with passwords on them. 

That's it. You may find your business requires a unique tool or two. But don't over-tool. Focus on getting to market, acquiring a few customers, listening to their feedback and iterating.

Disclaimer: The information in these posts work for us. I cannot guarantee that it'll work for you. Consult the right professional to make sure.


  1. Great post Andy. Great practical recommendations & to the point.


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