Go To Startup Operations and Marketing Stack
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As a product-obsessive, one of the most exciting times of any project for me is picking and setting up the products and services we plan to use to manage and grow the business. Over the last few years, and 5+ projects or startups I've been involved in, my go-to products have begun to narrow into a consistent go-to stack. Check it out 👇
📖 CMS (Content Management System)
Probably the most valuable skill I learned at the first startup I worked out (shoutout to Splurgy) was how to build a website on Wordpress. When I was a kid, I produced some terrible sites on Geocities, but nothing at all professional. It blew my mind how simple Wordpress made it from the content management side, as well as the out of the box themes you could buy from places like Envato. Over the ensuing six years, every time a project needed a website, I volunteered to throw something together in Wordpress in a few hours, and it did the trick.
Then, I tried Webflow, and I thought, shit this is too hard and went back to building websites on Wordpress.
Skip ahead to present day (well six weeks ago) and I had a bit more time, so I gave Webflow another shot and thought fuck this, it's too hard, but also really cool. And then six hours later I was hooked. It's fast, it's super customisable, and the CMS is a game-changer. I'm still figuring things out slowly, and continually breaking things. Still, it's too powerful, and I can never go back to Wordpress.
It's a bit pricey, but when you factor in server costs, it is pretty reasonable, especially if you are going to be building multiple websites.
🧭 Project Management
Nothing drives me crazier on a project than not having oversight on the whole thing. Who is doing what, when, and is it
done yet? Getting the team on a single project management product is my goal for day zero of any project or startup I work on.
I've used a few over the years, from Basecamp to Confluence to Trello. They all worked fine but were missing some key features I needed. The product I keep coming back to is Asana. My favourite features are the ability to create recurring tasks, assign tasks to multiple projects, and assign other people tasks. It also integrates well with Slack.
The free plan is excellent, and I've never felt the need to upgrade.
💬 Internal Comms
I don't like email - although I am finding more and more, maybe I just don't like talking to people. But that's a problem for a different day. I love Slack because it isn't email - you dispense with the formality of subjects and salutations and signatures, and just say the things you need to say and move on. I also find the apps/integrations amazing. It serves as the nerve centre for projects. I like to set up notifications for things like when people sign up, or join our newsletter, or register for a webinar, so everyone on the team has insight.
However, while Slack is infinitely better than email and some of the other chat predecessors like GChat, it is super distracting and chaotic. It also doesn't work well for asynchronicity in my humble opinion. I'd love to find something better here, but for now, I go with Slack every time. Plus the free plan is plenty powerful and you never really have to upgrade.
❓ User Support and Communications
It should be quick and easy for customers to reach out to you and get help. Which is why I love Intercom. The chat widget popups on the website and users can lob questions in there. On the backend, we can sync up all info we have on users to help answer their questions. It also has the help centre features, so we can create articles and how-tos in Intercom and try to answer customer questions instantly that way. There are also the product tour features, which I played around with a bit but still haven't fully explored.
It's a bit pricey, but startups get a discount, and you can use the free version to field questions.
I've also used the chat provided by HubSpot, which is also free and easy to use. Plus if you are using HubSpot as well, it makes a bunch of sense. However, it isn't nearly as powerful as Intercom. If you are looking for a longer-term solution, Intercom all day.
📇 CRM (Customer Relationship Management)
I have a strong dislike of HubSpot*, yet somehow I keep coming back to it. Probably because it's free for a lot of the features other products charge $39+ a user. There are a ton of additional marketing and sales automation features that I've never had the budget to explore that seem powerful.
If I have the money to spend, however, I go with Pipedrive every time. I love the visual deal pipeline, and the automation and email sequences you can send out. Plus, the UX and search are way better than HubSpot. So if you are willing to spend a bit of money, then go with Pipedrive.
📧 Email Marketing
Mailchimp* is fine, especially if you are an e-comm business. The free plan is cool when you are starting, and you don't have to pay until you get 2000 subscribers, at which point you're stoked because you have 2000 subscribers.
There are a bunch of automation you can do with Mailchimp, such as sending emails to abandoned carts or lapsed customers. You can even create landing pages. The templates are useful, and the analytics are straightforward.
I tried jumping ship recently and wasn't able to find anything better, so I go with Mailchimp.
📎 Email/Calendar/Cloud Storage
G Suite*, of course. Not even really sure what the alternative is? It's cheap and gives you all the basics such as cloud storage, Google Docs, calendar and email.
🕸 Domain Registration
I have domains spread across Go Daddy, Hover, and Namecheap for some reason. They are all fine. I always found it a bit of a pain to remember all the steps for setting up email and the website.
Then, the last domain I registered (for this website as it happens) I noticed that Google had launched a domain registration service, and decided to give it a go. Now it's my go-to. Partly because my whole life is already in Google universe, but mostly because of how easy it was to set up G Suite and then it's one less place to have to manage things.
🚀 Product Launch
Again, I am a product obsessive, so I check Product Hunt every day. I started to notice the 'Upcoming' section across the top and wondered wtf is this?
Well, it's people using their Ship product, which is a toolkit to help makers launch a product. It has lots of features like surveys, email marketing, and so on. However, it's fairly buggy, and the UI is terrible.
However, what has going for it is the ability for the community to pre-register for your product. And, if you are on a paid plan, you are featured on the Upcoming section of the homepage. Honestly, this is the only reason I pay the $59 a month. The rest of the features are easily replaced by Typeform and Mailchimp. You can do multiple projects so if you are working on a few things then it's a good value (and you get some AWS credits).
I love Typeform - it is a super powerful survey tool, and it looks great. The free plan is good enough, and if you pay, you get things like question logic and hidden fields.
Obviously, with all the tools listed here, I don't want to be doing a bunch of data entry, moving info from one to the other. That's where Zapier comes in. If you aren't familiar, Zapier allows you to integrate all your products. For example, when someone signs up for your newsletter on your form on your Webflow website, you can automatically push that data to Mailchimp and HubSpot, then send a notification on Slack.
You can also do some more complex stuff. For example, in my freelance days, I automated the onboarding and payment taking process using Zapier, HubSpot, PandaDoc, Xero and Stripe. The process used to involve 5 or 6 people. Zapier let us cut it down to one person.
The only thing worse than meetings is scheduling meetings. And the only thing worse than scheduling meetings is scheduling meetings via email. The back and forth trying to find a time, it's a nightmare.
Mixmax changed my life. You could easily share your calendar and let people book in available times, or insert suggested times in your email that recipients could schedule with the click of a button. Also, Mixmax has a ton of other powerful email automation features, such as easy mail merges, follow up reminders, and CRM syncing. However, it's relatively pricey.
If you are on a budget and want something simple, then Calendly is excellent. The free plan is plenty powerful if you just want to make it easy to let people book a time to speak with you.
📢 Social Media Scheduling/Planning
I am a shitty user of social media in a business context; I just want to set it on autopilot and not think about it. Which is probably the wrong way to do it, but nevertheless.
With that in mind, I like using a product called Social Bee. I set up an RSS, and it automatically discovers new content we post, and it will repost evergreen content. That way, all the great content we write (😉) doesn't just get posted once. It does cost a bit, so if you are looking for something free Hootsuite does the trick, or set up automation in Zapier to push new content from your blog onto social.
Another super powerful tool I love is Airtable*. Think of it as a spreadsheet on steroids.
I sort of treat Airtable as the staging tool for when I haven't figured out which product is right for the job at hand. Not sure which CRM product you want to use? Create a super simple one in Airtable. Can't decide on a project management tool? Airtable.
I also use it for ongoing things I would have done in a Google sheet in the past because of its superior UI. For instance, I use it to create UTMs and to keep track of our pre-registrations ahead of the Taskable launch.
So, to sum up, here is my stack:
📖 CMS (Content Management System): Webflow
🧭 Project Management: Asana
💬 Internal Comms: Slack (begrudgingly)
❓ User Support: Intercom
📇 CRM: HubSpot if you need free, Pipedrive if you have some budget
📧 Email Marketing: MailChimp
📎 Email/Calendar/Cloud Storage: G Suite
🕸 Domain Registration: Google Domains
🚀 Product Launch: Ship by Product Hunt
🗣 Surveys: Typeform
🤖 Automation: Zapier
📅 Scheduling: Mixmax if you can afford it, Calendly if you can't
📢 Social Media Scheduling/Planning: Social Bee or Hootsuite
🙌 Catch-All: Airtable
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* Wanted to let you know these links are referral links so we get some benefit from you using them to sign up (and sometimes you do as well).