People in tech often compliment each other on their ‘hustle.’ As I understand it, complimenting someone’s hustle is analogous to congratulating them for their tendency to get sh*t done. Apparently ‘hustle’ is what the kids are calling a ‘work ethic’ these days.
Whatever you want to call it, success in startups boils down to a bias towards action and a machine-like calibration for efficacy: only the fast and the smart survive.
This Darwinian law has created an insatiable appetite in the market for SaaS solutions designed to facilitate startup hustle. Founders must have polymathic expertise in both their market and their industry. The latter compels you to understand what tools exist to improve your effectiveness and your speed to market. Not enough startups treat the process with the intellectual rigour it demands…it’s no surprise then that most startups fail.
With Dublin Startup Weekend less than three weeks away, Gravity Centres, asked me to compile an overview of some of my favourite bootstrapping tools to help the teams get an early leg up on their competition.
Using tools to help you work faster and smarter at Startup Weekend is a very good idea, but trying them out for the first time at Startup Weekend? Notsomuch. Most of the tools mentioned below have free tiers and free trials, allowing you to familiarize yourself with the product in advance and add significant value to your startup weekend projects.
To add a narrative element to what would otherwise be just a list of products, I’ve included a brief case study of a micro-project that I undertook a few weeks ago. Using only online tools, a lowly non-techie like myself was able to land at #5 on the HackerNews homepage within 20 mins of launch, become the most popular story of the day on the Next Web, and get hunted to Product Hunt within 2 hours.
So, use your 3 weeks wisely teams, and we look forward to complimenting you on your hustle at the finish line!
Startup Tools Case Study
Plz Don’t Hunt Me Yet
I’m intrigued by the idea of building ‘faux’ products in aid of your real commercial effort. I’ve heard this marketing technique also referred to as “Come for X, Stay for Y”. This could be a book, a tool, or a toy — anything that through a related or unrelated product, draws attention to your main gig.
With this in mind, I decided to see if I could build something in fewer than 4 hours, and with less than 20 bucks, with the ultimate goal of eventually being listed on Product Hunt. From this experimental question, the Plz Don’t Hunt Me Yet Badges were born.
Do the badges look a bit hokey? For sure.
But, did they fulfil the brief and get my primary product thousands of hits and dozens of beta signups? You betcha.
Briefly, the tools I used for PDHMY were:
- Tumblr: Free website hosting.
- Microsoft Word: To design mockups of each of the badges.
- Fiverr: I took my MS Word mockups and paid a designer $5 on Fiverr to convert each into hi-res image files.
- Typeform: I added a customized, embeddable Typeform to collect submission information from each lead.
- Canva: Used to design all my marketing and social network visuals.
- Buffer: To drip tweets over a week at strategic times of day.
- Rapportive: to quickly evaluate each new lead in terms of value and influence.
TL;DR: I spent 3.5 hours and $16.50 on the PDHMY experiment. My primary product — Tapir — is still in pre-launch, so we haven’t done any marketing yet. Since our existing site traffic was so low, the PDHMY attention made a huge impact (see below). The project was also buckets of fun.
And now for the more complete list of tools…A quick heads up, that you can’t build a list like this without making some subjective value judgments. At the end of the day, I’m a Mac, not a PC; a Stripe, not a Braintree; a Buffer, not a Hootsuite…you get the idea. Other options exist and I encourage you to tweet us your faves.
Multi-Purpose & General Bootstrapping Tools
- Product Hunt (Free) — Product Hunt is a startup kingmaker. Being listed on the PH homepage guarantees fame, fortune, and success. Well, maybe not the last two, but it does promise unprecedented attention for small startups. Read the comments when other products launch to find useful and common critiques that should be addressed in your own products. Suss out the best pre-launch marketing tactics and be inspired by the ingenuity of other makers. And if you need a specific tool for a job, PH should be your first port of call. It’s become a useful compendium of SaaS products, often with exclusive discounts applied for Product Hunters. Hiten Shah has also compiled a particularly good collection of free tools for startups.
- GrowthHackers (Free) — regardless of the startup bravado we exude, none of us are pros. By definition, startups must operate under conditions of extreme uncertainty. How well do you understand your market? How aware are you of effective growth tactics, theories, and methodologies? Learn from your peers, eliminate some uncertainty, and get your butt to GrowthHackers.
- Intercom (Free Plan & Free Trial) — Hometown heroes Intercom allow startups to send targeted email and in-app messages, triggered by time or behaviour. Once you become familiar with Intercom’s telltale question mark icon, you’ll notice their widget across the internet in the bottom righthand screen of your favourite startups. And for goodness sake, make sure that you’re following the Intercom blog.
- BetaList (Free) — How do you get beta users before you’ve even finished building your product? You join the likes of Pintrest, IFTTT, and Fab, by getting featured on BetaList before you launch. While you likely won’t have enough time during Startup Weekend to submit — expedited posting takes 72 hours — BetaList is an excellent resource for startups looking to design compelling landing pages. In fact, Marc (BetaList founder and one of the SW Dublin remote mentors) has compiled this handy document outlining How to Build a Successful Beta Landing Page.
- Typeform (Free Plan) — Boiled down, a lot of product development involves forms in one ‘form’ or another (pun verymuch intended).
From customer research, to onboarding, to payment and satisfaction surveys, forms are often the medium through which we connect with our audience.
So, why the heck did we ever settle for ugly, janky forms? Typeform is the form you need, when you need it, looking beautiful and asking awesomely.
Product Management & Communication
- Slack (Free Plan) — Slack may be the fastest growing enterprise app in history and it’s certainly one of the fastest startups to reach a billion dollar valuation. That last designation might be arbitrary as f*ck, but these superlatives arise from the product’s extreme utility as a team communication tool. I have a theory that a number of enterprises could forgo their silly corporate innovation programs, instead adopting Slack to achieve a better ROI. For oft-dispersed startup teams, operating across multiple time zones and functional areas, Slack is on a mission “to make your working life simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.”
- Trello (Free Plan) — Self-described as “the free, flexible, and visual way to organize anything with anyone,” Trello is many things to many people. Personally, I use Trello as a bookmarking tool, to track and sort online sources I want to come back to later, and ideas I want to blog about. Professionally, my co-founder and I use Trello as a project management tool to track each stage and milestone of Tapir’s development. I’ve also been toying with the idea of creating a Trello board to track and sort all of our beta user feedback.
- Peek User Testing (Free) — Peek provides free five minute user experience videos with real people from the interwebs. The current wait time for a video review is 2–3 days, though they sometimes arrive in only a few hours. Peek is a fun way to get a fresh perspective on your product. Just remember to take it with a grain of salt — it’s only the opinion of one person.
- Canva (Free — 1$) — I just recently learned that Guy Kawasaki is the Chief Evangelist at Canva. Makes sense, given how brilliant Canva is. Engagement rates skyrocket when you combine visual elements with your social networking content. Canva has the tools and templates you need to make it look like a professional was involved. Their ‘design school’ blog is also a terrific resource for those of us with questionable design aesthetics.
- Keynote (Free) — Getting an idea out of your head and communicating it to others is a vital step in the early validation stages of an MVP. If you’re familiar with the Google Ventures 5-Day Design Sprint, you know that Day 4 is devoted to creating a super-realistic prototype in just eight hours. While apps like InVision exist for solely this purpose, bootstrappers may also be drawn to the unconventional use of Keynote. Check out the GV guide to using the “world’s best prototyping tool.”
- Stock Up (Free) — Sure, you need to work fast, but as David Cancel says, “Ship It, but don’t Ship Shit.” There’s no excuse for startups to use terrible stock photos (let’s leave that to the big corporates). StockUp aggregates and makes searchable hundreds of free stock photo assets…free to use as you see fit.
- Fiverr ($5+ but get a free gig using this referral link) — Let me preface this tool with the age-old adage, “You get what you pay for.” Fiverr has a pretty simple pitch: get things done for $5 (though some tasks cost more). Suffice to say, buyer beware, but for simple rote tasks lacking in creativity, I’m down with Fiverr (and eventually you get used to all of the designers calling you ‘dear’).
Payments, Sales & Marketing
- Stripe (Fee per charge) — Stripe is web and mobile payments. So simple, so smart, so sexy. How many other APIs can you say that about? Stripe is unapologetically a tool built by developers for developers, combining functionality with intellectualism in a heady digital mix that’s difficult not to find appealing. Stripe understands that it’s god — not the devil — in the details. (And sure, their Irish origins make them even more likeable.)
- SlideBean (Free Plan) — Creating your Startup Weekend pitch deck is finicky and time-consuming. Why not give some thought to outsourcing the design elements to SlideBean. In addition to the option to start with a blank canvas, SlideBean offers pre-designed templates including the “3 Minute Startup Pitch” and a “10 Slide Investor Deck.” For inspiration, you can take a look at 10 SlideBean pitch decks from the most recent 500 Startups Demo Day.
- HARO (Free) — HARO, or Help A Reporter Out, is a mailing list that connects journalists looking for expertise with credible news sources. Email comes 3 times a day with time-sensitive requests for sources from diverse media outlets including Forbes, Fast Company, USA Today, and theNew York Times. Startups can use HARO to potentially garner international exposure by offering their domain expertise in topics like business, HR, travel, and lifestyle.
- Buffer (Free Plan) — Buffer is awesome (literally). As a startup, content is important, but devoting unnecessary hours to the administration of your social presence before your product is even built? Get a life. Buffer allows you to load up your tweets in advance and have them fired out atthe most strategic times throughout the week. I also, highly recommend the Buffer Chrome extension, allowing you to add content to your buffer queue directly from your browser.
- Rapportive (Free) — Rapportive shows you details about your contacts, right inside your Gmail inbox. I use Reportive to quickly evaluate beta list signups, to identify who is worth responding to immediately or tagging as a VIP. As an added bonus, it also helps you to discern when seemingly personal emails, might actually be part of a larger marketing campaign.