It’s pretty amazing all the tools that have come along in 2017 to make the tech startup process easier. In building both a mobile web application and a business we’ve found tools that have saved us a lot of money. We’ve organized them into four main categories that probably apply to most tech startups, where research and choices are required– analytics, business services, design, and code.
Here are the tools we’re using to build democ.io:
Success in almost any technology venture is going to depend on the completeness and trustworthiness of your analytics. Finding product / market fit depends on an ability to test messages and user acquisition channels, to be able to measure concepts like conversion, activation, and retention. A typical startup is not going to have enough traffic to meaningfully AB test, but you still want to be able to look for drop-off in your conversion funnel, check to see if product changes you push out have an impact, etc. To me the single most important analytics tool for a start-up is a user session recording tool. This basically converts every user session into a user research session. Watching session videos is an essential tactic for any Product Manager or startup founder, to find out what’s working and what’s not.
Most other analytic tools of the “event tracking” type (mixpanel, kissmetrics, etc) require editing your code and manually tagging events to fire. For your typical Single Page App of 2017, you probably even have to manually fire events for pageviews. That’s pretty labor intensive, and adds complexity that has to be managed on an ongoing basis. Heap lets you walk through your product (within their visualizer), hover over stuff you want tagged, and set up an event. So buttons your users click, text inputs they interact with, pageviews, etc. This is amazing as a Product Manager or non-tech co-founder. To make it even better, their snippet integrates via Segment. Also offer a free use tier.
This is the big kahuna of analytics tools, and you’ve got to have it. Doesn’t work all that well with our Single Page App for tracking in-app behavior, but it’s still typically where I’ll go to look at acquisition channels. Also integrates via Segment and has a free tier.
OK, this is the best secret I have for analytics tools. If you’re not using a session recording tool, you’re throwing money away. This is the one offers by far the best free tier. The functionality is probably 90%+ what you get with Inspectlet, and you get 20k sessions/month instead of 100. Smartlook limits you to 10 sessions being recorded at a time (Inspectlet doesn’t mention any limit) and I’m pretty sure we’ve missed a few sessions, typically due to having a bunch of people leave our site open in a tab, ignoring it, at the same time. For me, $400/yr is a bit steep just to spend on one analytic tool when this gets the job done for free.
There are hundreds of sites out there that will help you incorporate. There are only a couple that are designed specifically for start-ups, and not only help you incorporate but also do the post-incorporation setup that includes assigning IP, dividing up equity, etc. The one we chose is Valcu, and we’re pretty happy with it. We ended up spending about $500, to get a Delaware C-corp and all the paperwork feeling very nice and tight. We also got paperwork to use in the future with contractors, for future equity vesting plans, etc. They give you forms to file with the IRS. If you’re coming out of a top accelerator you might be able to get someone to help you with all this for free or on deferred payment, but if not I think Valcu is a solid choice.
You also need a Terms of Service document or something similar. Termsfeed generates them quickly and cheaply. Again, you go through a little wizard, it’s pretty painless, you pay something based on the complexity of what you’ve selected, and they give you the document. Again, this covers your ass legally.
Probably the best tool out there for UI design at the moment. Easy enough for an untrained Product Manager to use, which has saved us a good amount on design expenditures. Allows you to easily preview the design live on your phone to get a real sense of how readable your text is, how the colors will look, etc. Combined with Avocode via plugin, it gives your UI Engineers exactly what they need to do pixel-perfect translation from design > code. There’s also a great plugin called Magic Mirror which lets you create beautiful mockups where it looks like someone is viewing your app on their phone, tablet, or computer. Only runs on Mac, $99, well worth it.
In the old days we used to provide “dev guides” to UI Engineers. A designer would write a bunch of documentation on the design, give measurements, comments, etc. This is and was very labor intensive. I hope no one is doing that anymore. Avocode lets a developer hover over the parts of the design to see CSS, measurements, etc. They can also easily export image files for anything hard to reproduce in code. Works on PC and Mac, and well worth the low monthly cost per account.
If you want to keep costs down, it’s a good idea to pick an icon set that works for your brand identity, and stick with it. There are lots of sets out there. Although Swifticons is pretty well known as far as icon sets go, I can’t ever remember seeing an icon anywhere and knowing it was from them. One of the nicest sets out there and reasonably priced.
One aspect of our app involves users demonstrating that they can authenticate a specific email account, and sharing the contacts from that account’s address book. There are a lot of email service providers out there, and writing and managing the code to do this for each one would be a nightmare. CloudSponge works with a huge array of email providers, and can also provide best-in-class (though still not ideal) address book functionality for LinkedIn. Users don’t have to leave the app to share their contacts. They have various integration options depending how much customization you want to do.
We figured that an easy way to add a little personalization and polish to our app would be to pull in the favicons for different groups our users join based on their email address. The favicon is the little icon that appears in the browser tab for each site, it’s at least 16×16 but can be 32×32. Grabicon offers a very simple integration to pull in these icons, and is pretty cheap– even cheaper if you cache each icon so you only ever have to pull it once.
Device fingerprinting is a technology that lets you identify users probabilistically based on the attributes of their browser, plugins, operating system, device, etc. It’s not perfect, but it can be used to enhance security and/or personalization. It’s widely used in advertising, especially as iOS and Android have become more restrictive about sharing device identifiers. ClientJS is an open source tool that does a lot of the work necessary to produce device fingerprints. I am not a lawyer, but I believe the license allows for commercial use.
The options for sending emails for free are pretty huge. In fact, you can rotate through a few ESPs and send a lot of emails without ever paying anything. Personally I think Sendgrid is the best, so that’s what we’re using.
Using a great free or low cost start-up tool I should know about? Drop me a line: [email protected].