Startup Stack: Our favorite tools for marketing and ops
The Taskable startup stack. Our favorite tools and software we use for marketing and operating our startup.
As a product-obsessive, one of the most exciting times of any project 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)
The most valuable skill I learned at the first startup I worked at (shout out to Splurgy) was building WordPress websites. When I was a kid, I produced some terrible sites on Geocities, but nothing 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* (*yes, that's a referral link), and I thought, shit, this is too hard, and went back to building websites on WordPress.
Skip ahead to the 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 customizable, 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 will 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 favorite features are creating recurring tasks, assigning tasks to multiple projects, and assigning 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
A fixture in nearly every startup stack.
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 center for projects. I like to set up notifications for things like when people sign up, 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 synchronicity, 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. This is why I love Intercom. The chat widget popups on the website, and users can lob questions in there. We can sync up all the info we have on users to answer their questions on the backend. It also has the help center features to 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. It's free for many features. Other products charge $39+ a user. There are many 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 fantastic when you start, and you don't have to pay until you get 2000 subscribers, at which point you're stoked because you have 2000 subscribers.
You can do a bunch of automation with Mailchimp, such as sending emails to abandoned carts or lapsed customers. You can even create landing pages. The templates are helpful, and the analytics are straightforward.
I tried jumping ship recently and couldn't 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. Perfect fit for your startup stack.
🕸 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 mainly 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?
It's people using their Ship product, a toolkit to help makers launch a product. It has lots of features like surveys, email marketing, and so on. However, it's pretty buggy, and the UI is terrible.
However, what has going for it is the ability for the community to pre-register for your product. 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 $59 a month. The rest of the features are quickly 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, I don't want to be doing a bunch of data entry with all the tools listed here, 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. 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 wish 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 sets 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 suitable 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 keep track of our pre-registrations ahead of the Taskable launch.
The startup stack wrap:
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
* These links are referral links, so we get some benefit from you using them to sign up (and usually you do as well).