Every year Martech release their “Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic” and this years edition shows that there are now more than 6,000 Software as a Service tools for startups and businesses to choose from, ranging from https://advancesystems.ie a HR management software to MailChimp, an automatic online newsletter.
With so many options finding the right tool or service for your startup can be a challenge! Even just finding a tool to manage your social media channels could involve reviewing dozens, if not hundreds of different options.
With that in mind I hope to cut down the challenge and highlight ALL of the tools and services I have used in my journey to launch and grow Task Pigeon.
Some of these tools have been fantastic, others have not performed as expected or simply didn’t provide enough value to maintain. I’ll outline the pro’s and con’s of each and in the process hope that I can save you some time as you look to get your own startup off the ground.
In this post I will break down the tools and services I have used across a number of different categories including:
- Email Marketing / Transaction Based Email
- Autopilot HQ
- Social Media Marketing / Social Media Curation
- Content Curation / Design / Images
- Website & Content Management Systems
- Task Management / Collaboration / Email
- Task Pigeon
- Google Hangouts
- Zoho Mail
- Hiring / Outsourcing / Freelancers
- People Per Hour
- Lead Capture Tools
- Thrive Leads
- User Support
- Analytics & Data
- Google Analytics
- Find That Lead
Email Marketing & Transaction Based Email
I am a big fan of MailChimp and have been using it for a variety of projects for years. It was the “go to” solution for me when I launched Task Pigeon and certainly met all of my needs in the early days.
I primarily used MailChimp in three ways:
- For creating emails to send to my newsletter/blog subscribers as and when new articles were written.
- To create an automated email flow that allowed me to send on-boarding emails to people who created an account on Task Pigeon.
- To send product updates and announcements to our user base.
It worked extremely well in the early day’s but as I looked to adopt a more sophisticated user on-boarding process I found that the ability to do this all within MailChimp to be a lot more challenging. This is why I recently moved this aspect of my email marketing over to AutoPilot
- A great free tier and competitive pricing
- The best “email builder” I have ever used. It’s simple, works well and looks great.
- Ton’s of integrations (both internally built, as well as those provided by other tools you may use)
- Starts to fall short when you want to create more complex user on-boarding flows.
I had heard a number of good things about AutoPilot HQ from friends and colleagues in the startup space. The fact that they are an Aussie startup was a bonus too!
It just so happened that at this time I was looking for an alternative to MailChimp and really wanted to provide a more customised user on-boarding experience. The visual, drag and drop nature of AutoPilot makes this extremely easy to do.
You can create email flows that move subscribers in and out of segments, built in time delays or create different actions based on whether or not an email was open, replied to, etc. There are however a few downsides to AutoPilot when compared to Mailchimp which are detailed below.
- Fantastic for creating complex user on-boarding flows based on user actions and behaviour.
- The ability to create segments that can be used for marketing outside of email. For example you can add people to custom Facebook audiences based on their behaviour.
- Their email building tool still requires refinement. Compared to MailChimp it is “clunky” and harder to navigate.
- The contacts list doesn’t allow for custom fields to be added to the table and you can’t quickly filter based on these fields at the table level.
- Required a lot more time/effort to get right initially.
In addition to our ad-hoc email marketing campaigns and the user on-boarding emails Task Pigeon also provides email notifications based on actions performed within the application itself. For example if you are assigned a new task you will receive an email notification with the details of that task.
For this we use SendGrid. Unfortunately, I haven’t had as much exposure to this tool directly as it primarily something that my developers worked with and set up. I did look at using it for our ad-hoc email marketing as well, in order to consolidate the number of services I use but at the time found that this part of their service was not as easy to use.
SendGrid has however increased their focus on their email marketing capabilities and as such this may be a more viable option.
- Works well for transactional based email generated by user behaviour.
- Cost effective plans available for Startups, even if you have a decent number of users on your platform.
- Generic email marketing capabilities were more limited initially, although this may have now been addressed by recent product updates.
MailShake is an email marketing tool that integrates with your G Suite account. It is primarily used for cold email outreach or for creating “drip email” campaigns based of user interactions with lead magnets / landing pages you create.
There is certainly some overlap with other tools such as MailChimp, but MailShake is typically used by email marketers looking to send out cold email. As it utilizes your G Suite account the email itself is sent using the G Suite mailservers, not MailShakes.
You obviously have to be aware of spam laws in your country and the countries of the users you are targeting but this is a more effective option if you choose to send out more mass email to fresh or previously unknown contacts.
- Ideal for sending bulk emails to a larger list of new or previously unknown contacts.
- Easy to create an email workflow/series of follow ups for things like guest post outreach or pitches to journalists.
- Requires a G Suite account as well.
- You should be aware of all relevant spam laws before using this tool in any type of mass marketing campaign.
Social Media Marketing
Social media can be a massive time suck for startup founders and employees alike. Plus, with changes in algorithms on popular platforms like Facebook and Twitter its hard to get the reach or engagement you once did.
That said, it is important to have a presence on these platforms and if you are a solo founder or only have a small team then you need to automate as much as you possibly can.
Buffer is a social media scheduling tool that allows you to add things to your “feed” and they are then posted out on a pre-set schedule. I.e. you can essentially “set and forget”.
- Easy to use platform that is great for scheduling content across multiple social media channels.
- Free tier available, and the paid plan is only $15 per month which for the amount of time it saves you is well worth it.
- The next plan up from the $15 level is $99 which is a fairly significant jump.
- On the $15 plan it doesn’t provide a great level of analytical insight which can make it more challenging to quickly judge what is working effectively for you on social.
MissingLettr is one of my favorite tools hands down! If you have a blog and write content on a regular basis then you need to use MissingLettr.
What Missinglettr does is plug in your new blog content from your RSS feed. It then automatically turns that content into a series of social media posts that will be drip fed out across your social channels for the next 365 days!
It is a massive lifesaver! And using this tool has generated more than 3,500 clicks on my content that I otherwise wouldn’t have received.
- Saves an insane amount of time and ensures that your content isn’t just shared on social once or twice.
- For most smaller startups the free tier will probably be sufficient. But even if you pay for the $15 or $40 package it is still well worth the cost.
- The interface is clear/fresh and easy to use.
- The tool is run by a smaller startup team than some of the other tools I am profiling in this post. On occasion there have been one or two bugs that creep in and take a day or two for them to fix.
Quuu is a content curation tool that allows you to put your social media posting on autopilot. Essentially you “subscribe” to feeds or areas of interest, such as business, technology, etc and Quuu automatically creates and schedules posts around those areas of interest and posts them to your social channels.
Quuu also has Quuu promote which I have previously written about. This is where content creators pay to have their content distributed across the social accounts of the common users of the Quuu application.
I was previously a fan of the concept in its original form, however, you do need to review content to ensure it is relevant for your audience and not overly promotional. If you are solo founder and really don’t have the time to do anything on social it may be an option for you. Otherwise I think there are still other cost effective ways of maintaining a social presence.
- It’s an almost entirely automated social media tool that creates and shares content on your behalf.
- You do want to review the content they are posting on your behalf to ensure it fits your brand message and isn’t too promotional.
- You could easily be sharing content from competitors or other companies in adjacent industries that you would otherwise choose not to share.
- Quuu Promote is a source of their content. As a result there is a bit of a conflict here between sourcing the best content for your social channels and accepting payment from advertisers who want to see their content distributed by a large number of social users.
Content Curation / Design / Images
Feedly is an RSS reader and works extremely well for Founders and Startups who still want a largely automated process for managing their social media activities, but don’t want any old posts being scheduled on their behalf (as is the case with Quuu).
Which Feedly I subscribe to a large number of blogs and media sites that write content on management, leadership and productivity. With the built in plugin to Buffer I can then easily schedule that content directly from Feedly as I review it every few days.
- The best RSS reader on the market in my opinion. It has a clean and easy to user interface.
- A bunch of integrations to let you share, save and schedule content regardless of what social media tools you use.
- None really. It’s a relatively simple tool but it works extremely well.
Aussies will be very familiar with Canva, it’s our own lately “Unicorn Startup” and has been growing extremely fast for a number of years now.
For those not aware of Canva it is an online graphics design tool that removes the need for a graphic designer. It’s drag and drop editor makes it extremely easy to create social media graphics, logos, presentations and a host of other design related content.
I previously had a paid account but currently am on the free tier and find that it continues to meet all of my needs.
- An extremely easy to use platform that makes design easy for everyone.
- A free provisioned free tier and allows you to do 90%+ of what you will need as an early stage startup.
- I find searching for past designs or uploads slightly challenging but other than that it is an almost perfect tool.
iStockPhoto is an online marketplace for digital images. Often it’s easy to skimp out and just use free images available from sites like PixaBay or Pexels (detailed below) but for a relatively low cost of $40 per month you can get 10 high quality images to use on your blog or website.
I originally subscribed to iStockPhotos thinking I would only have the account for a month or two, get the images I need before cancelling my account. But it has proven to be extremely valuable to me and my desire to create a high quality blog and I have been a subscriber for well over a year now.
- A wide variety of high quality images available.
- Relatively low cost is you subscribe on a monthly basis.
- If you don’t use your ten credits that month you don’t lose them. I.e. you get 10 a month so if you don’t use any for 3 months you would have 30 credits available.
- It’s easy and quicker to find images that are worth using compared to some of the free options detailed below.
- It is more expensive if you buy images on a one off basis.
Pexels is a platform that allows you to find, download and use free stock photos licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. It is a great starting point for founders or startups who have a low budget or want to compliment the images they buy with some they can source for free.
- The images are available for free so what more can you ask for.
- The selection of images available can be limited in some categories.
- After the first 10 – 15 images for each tag/category you do notice a very quick drop in the quality of images available.
PixaBay is very similar to Pexels. It is another platform that allows you to source and download royalty free photos to use on your blog or website. Like Pexels, I use PixaBay to source images on the odd occasion for blog posts or social media posts. I do this for categories such as “business” where I know there are likely to be a handful of decent photos available.
- It’s another free site for sourcing photos.
- You can see some duplication with the content available on Pixabay and Pexels.
- Like Pexels the quality of photos also drops once you more beyond the first set of search results.
Websites & Content Management Systems
I love WordPress! In fact, I think it is one of the biggest innovations on the internet. I know that is a big call, but if you think about how easy WordPress makes it to create awesome looking, and powerful websites with a large on-going monthly cost for people with no technical background it can’t be beaten.
I use WordPress for this Blog and also to get our Marketplace MVP up and running quickly. I also originally used it for home pages / landing pages of Task Pigeon itself but did switch to a HTML template a little while ago for reasons which I have detailed below.
- Extremely cost effective way to create a highly professional looking site with no on-going monthly cost.
- Literally hundreds of thousands of themes and plugins available, many of which are free or available at a low cost.
- Constantly gets better and better.
- It’s not a “drag and drop builder” but there are plugins available that provide that functionality.
- Depending on the theme you choose it can be a bit “bloated” and load slower than a site you build from scratch. This is one of the reasons why I changed my homepage to a HTML template that I customised.
ThemeForest is a marketplace owned by Envato, another great Aussie startup, that allows you to buy a wide range of templates audio and video files. I have used ThemeForest to buy all of the WordPress Templates I have ever used, as well as the HTML template I ended up basing my home page off as well.
- It is a well known and widely respected marketplace for WordPress themes.
- It has a strong rating and review system to make sure you find the theme that is right for you.
- It’s easy to use and the themes available are very cost effective.
- I have never had any issues with the platform itself. But if you are unclear on the functionality available in any of the themes you are looking at always write to the developer first to clarify what is and isn’t possible with their template.
Task Management / Collaboration / Email
Task Pigeon is a straight-forward, easy to use yet powerful task management tool that is augmented by an underlying marketplace of freelancers to help you and your teams move more tasks off of your to-do list.
Task Pigeon is of course also the company behind this blog so of course we use it to create, assign and manage all of the tasks associated with the day to day planning and long term vision of Task Pigeon.
- Free for teams of up for five staff
- Provides the ability to easily see who in your team is working on what and when (Group Tasks Dashboard), as well as filter down to tasks only you are responsible for (My Tasks Dashboard).
- Designed to require literally no training or on-boarding. Sign up and it is immediately intuitive what you need to do.
- Task Pigeon isn’t designed for large, multi-step projects that span many months in duration.
Slack needs no introduction it is the group messaging chat that has grown like a weed in companies across the globe. Personally however I am not a “huge” fan of Slack. I think it serves a purpose for general chat back and forth but falls short if you are trying to use it for all of your internal communication. Email still has its place in my opinion.
- Great for small and distributed teams as it provides a quick, free and easy way to stay in touch throughout the day.
- Most startups will never need to move off of the free plan. You basically get everything you need without having to pay a cent.
- Well support and hundreds, if not thousands, of other tools directly integrate into Slack.
- I think it falls short as a replacement to email, which was one of their original goals/intentions.
- I have not used it in a large team of 50+, however I have read that it does start to become a bit crazy in large teams and can actually reduce productivity as people feel a need to constantly respond to the ping of new messages.
Everybody has heard of Skype. It is perhaps the most popular video chat tool in the world, or at least one of the earliest to market.
I use Skype on an ad-hoc basis. Particularly for chatting to people I am interviewing on Upwork prior to assigning a job to them. For something that is free and globally available it is hard to go wrong.
- Well known/used
- Not a lot to be honest
Google Hangouts is another video chatting application. What I really like about Google Hangouts is its use in creating a regular room in which to hold weekly catch ups with a distributed team.
Unlike Skype you can create a Google Hangout and the link remains constant. People can then just click that link to join the chat at any time, making it super easy to drop in and out of calls as and when required.
- Works really well as a video chat application for small to medium teams.
- I haven’t experienced any to be honest.
No doubt the default email provider for many people is G Suite! In my case however I use Zoho Mail. There wasn’t any particular reason other than the fact that Zoho Mail allows you to create a free account for one domain and when I Googled best email clients at the time it ranked pretty well.
Over time I have come to like the interface of Zoho Mail and they also have a suite of other collaboration tools that may be of interest such as Writer (i.e. like Google Docs) and their own CRM tool.
- Free plan available and super low cost if you do end up on their paid plan. I pay ~$5 a month. Bargain!
- It works really well if you have multiple domains/email addresses. You can click a drop down to change what email you are sending from directly in the email composer.
- It’s not G Suite so it doesn’t have as many integrations available / isn’t as well known.
- If you want to use all of their other collaboration and document tools you essentially need your whole team to adopt their platform as well. It wouldn’t make sense for you to have docs in Zoho Write and another team member to be using Google Docs.
Hiring / Outsourcing / Freelancers
Upwork is a global freelancing platform that was created after a merger of Elance and Odesk. Essentially clients create a job proposal which is posted to the platform. Users from all around the world can then apply to the job depending on the requirements you have set.
I believe Upwork is one of the best freelancing platforms out there, but it is still very much hit and miss with the candidates. You have to put in a lot of work to ensure that the person you are hiring is up for the job and will provide a good service.
- A huge, global platform which allows you to outsource almost anything.
- In-built time tracking software that works well and provides clear and easy to understand reports.
- An easy to navigate site.
- You can easily get a large number of applications even if your job requirements are very specific or in a niche area.
- Like all freelancing platforms it is very much hit and miss. You need to do a lot of research and interviewing to ensure you are getting people who are capable of performing the job to a hire standard.
- There isn’t a lot of freelancers on the platform from Australia (from what I have experienced) as a result you need to be okay with working with people in other time zones.
AngelList is the Linkedin for startups and Founders. Most startups have a profile on the website and you can connect with other people you know in and around the startup community.
Angel List also has a fairly comprehensive job platform. It is free to post jobs and I have done so on a couple of occasions. In fact, I found and hired my first developer off of Angel List.
- It is free to post jobs on Angel List
- You know you are tapping into a very specific crowd who have an interest in startups.
- It’s not suitable for all positions and there are always a bunch of job ads of companies trying to find co-founders without offering any wage or salary.
- Even if you specify a specific area/country for your job application you will get a lot of random applications from across the globe. Also expect that you will start seeing software development shops hitting you up on email. They essentially find companies looking for staff, then find a publicly available email address and start hounding you.
People Per Hour
People Per Hour is another freelancing platform. It covers a lot of the same areas as Upwork, but does have a large contingent of users from the UK. I used People Per Hour many, many months ago to source content writers/blog writers.
Again it was hit and miss but I did find one or two that were “good” (not great). If you are on a tight budget and want some additional content for your blog and don’t have the time to write it all then it could be worth a shot.
- As a freelancing platform is appears to have a large number of users from the UK, who are native English speakers which can be beneficial.
- Not as refined as Upwork
- Still largely hit and miss on the quality of people you can find.
Lead Capture Tools
Sumo is one of the most well known lead capture tools out there. I original had Sumo installed on my blog at the very beginning of my startup journey only to turn it off as the free tier was too restrictive and the paid tier at the upper end of what I wanted to pay.
Recently however I have started using it again as product and pricing updates make it a worthwhile and effective tool for startups. It now also provides integrations into tools such as MailChimp on the free tier, something it previously didn’t offer.
- Super simple to set up and install.
- It has a free tier now that should suit almost any early stage startup or business. After that pricing is more affordable that I recall and kicks in at $30 per month.
- Has the ability to integrate with a number of email marketing tools in just a few clicks.
- There are a lot of features that are locked behind their paid tier so you have to be willing to make do, or cough up the money to have full flexibility.
- They have refined their product set (which could be a plus or minus). For example they used to offer a heat map tool which is now no longer mentioned on their website.
Thrive Leads is what I turned to when I first dumped Sumo. Unlike Sumo it does not have a free tier, but it does offer the ability to license the plugin with a one off payment, rather an a monthly subscription which appealed to me at the time.
The other thing I like about Thrive Leads is the ability to target different lead capture forms to different pages or blog categories.
- They offer a wider variety of pop ups, welcome mats and other email capture tools compared to what is available with Sumo.
- While it is a paid tool you can buy one license for just $67, which works out cheaper than a subscription plan to Sumo if you are going to keep it for more than a few months.
- You have a bunch of additional built in options/features such as A/B testing which could be of interest if you are getting decent traffic to your site.
- The user experience isn’t as streamlined as Sumo but that isn’t a major issue in my opinion.
Chameleon is a user on-boarding tool that allows you to create prompts and notifications within your app to advise users of new features or upgrades.
I utilized Chameleon for a short period of time on Task Pigeon when it first launched. At the time the pricing was around $80 AUD a month and for a small number of users it was not cost effective for the level of engagement I was seeing. While reviewing Chameleon for this post I have seen the price has increased significantly to $239 per month.
- Improved user on-boarding can be key to reducing churn and at the time Chameleon was one of the easier tools to set up and use that I reviewed.
- Chameleon offers a number of different on-boarding, pop up and prompt style notifications that can suit a wide variety of use cases.
- You can also segment the display of these notifications based on user attributes.
- At $239 per month the cost is not worth it in my opinion for a new startup or smaller SaaS tool. I would look at other options given the price increase.
- While Chameleon was one of the easier tools that found at the time it still did take some getting used to and was not quite as user friends/easy to set up as the marketing collateral suggests.
- ConvertFox allows you to respond to messages within their app interface or via email.
- With Task Pigeon I get messages almost daily. Without ConvertFox I would be missing out on this opportunity to interact with potential users.
- ConvertFox also includes an email marketing tool. I do however not currently use it.
- Based on its chat function alone it works well and is good value for money. There are no glaringly obvious con’s at the price point it is available at.
Analytics & Data
Segment acts as a central distribution point for all of your user data. Instead of integrating separately with different analytics tools, email marketing tools and CRM’s you integrate with Segment. Segment then passes that data through to the other tools of your choosing. As a result you manage one integrate (with segment) not a bunch of different ones.
For startups who are positioning themselves to build a long term and sustainable business it is worth the upfront effort of getting this right. It then also provides for additional flexibility if you choose to change between one tool to another as its essentially just a new connection in Segment rather than a bunch of development work.
- Makes a lot of sense to SaaS based startups who understand the value of data and how it can be used to guide their business.
- Saves a lot of development time once it has been set up and established.
- Makes it easier for you to swap out other tools/services you use without needing to insert or re-write a bunch of code.
- If you are collecting a lot of data, even if it is for a small number of customers, it is easy to exceed the free tier. The next tier starts at $100 per month which is at the upper end of the scale for a lot of SaaS applications/services utilized by startups.
Woopra is analytics tool that caters to mobile and web based applications. It goes beyond what you can gain from viewing Google Analytics and allows you to track and monitor key user behaviours such as sign ups, login in’s, events performed in the app, engagement, etc.
Data is extremely value to all companies and having access to a tool that provides a clear and easy to understand overview of what is happening inside your application is key to optimising the user experience for your customers.
- A generous free tier than allows for up to 30,000 actions per month.
- A clear and easy to understand structure with per user profiles and comprehensive reports and dashboards for tracking trends and engagement across every function in your app.
- I used Woopra before signing up for Segment, but the fact that it can also pull the data from segment is a bonus in my opinion.
- While Woopra provides a clear and easy to understand structure for your data you do need to familiarise yourself with where everything is and how it all comes together first to get the most value out of it.
I’m sure almost everyone has heard of Google Analytics. It should be one of the first things you set up when you launch your website. Even just getting a clear idea on the number of people who visit your website, the content that interests them and how quickly they bounce is extremely valuable.
I personally don’t even use the full capabilities of Google Analytics but it is a tool that I visit on an almost daily basis.
- It’s the industry standard when it comes to tracking website based data.
- It’s free, easy to use and there are thousands of tutorials available all over the internet.
- The interface was a little outdated a while back and it did feel clunky at times but it continues to improve and for a free tool it offers a hell of a lot of functionality.
I remember when I first used HotJar. I was immediately impressed with how valuable it was in providing a clear understanding of how users were engaging with Task Pigeon. Essentially Hotjar allows you to view video recordings of your users interacting with your webpage or application.
Unlikely sending our surveys or asking questions this process lets you actually see how people are using your app. You very quickly get a sense of where roadblocks are and what aspects of your app are utilised the most by your users. I originally had a 3 month license for Hotjar but discontinued it afterwards due to the pricing. I now see they have a $29 per month option which is well worth it for early stage startups.
- You get an insanely detailed understanding of how people are interacting with your website and using your tool.
- It is significantly more cost effective than running in person interviews/sessions where you view how people use your app.
- Unlike surveys or forums users can’t lie about how they user your tool or how valuable it is for them.
There are a number of other tools that I have used on a limited basis and/or don’t require a full in-depth break down. I have summarised each of these tools below.
SpyFu – Is a SEO tool which allows you to track the performance of your website from a search engine optimization perspective, find keywords to target with your website/blog posts and monitor competitors best performing pages. Pricing starts from $39 on a monthly plan.
Zapier – Zapier is similar to IFTT in that it allows you to connect multiple applications and processes together. Task Pigeon has an integration with Zapier than I use regularly.
Find That Lead – Find That Lead allows you to search and find email addresses for corporate prospects. I have used the tool on a limited occasion. The interface is slightly clunky and the results a mixed bag, but when it does work it is beneficial.
Stripe – Stripe is the service we use to process all of our online paid subscriptions. It’s easy, well known and you can’t really go wrong.
And last but not least, let us not forget shopify post purchase upsell. I hear they do some fantastic things for startups that can to get a quick, interactive eCommerce store setup.
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