Episode 243 | The Tools We Use to Run Our Startups

Show Notes

In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about the different tools they use to run their startups.

Items mentioned in this episode:

Team Communication

Customer Communication



Tech Health

Moving Money

Back Office


Rob [00:00]: In this episode of “Startups for the Rest of Us” Mike and I talk about the tools we use to run our startups. This is “Startups for the Rest of Us,” Episode 243.

[musical interlude]

Rob [00:18]: Welcome to “Startups for the Rest of Us” – the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product, or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.

Mike [00:26]: I’m Mike.

Rob [00:27]: We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. [Where are we?] this week, sir?

Mike [00:32]: I’m going on vacation next week to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania and taking with us – with me, I guess! [laughs] I bought a couple of Kindles for the kids, and I have to say, the setup process for those is not terribly intuitive, if you’ve never used a Kindle Fire before. The actual setup of the Kindle was fine – it walks you through very easily – but if you’re trying to set it up for a kid to use, it wasn’t obvious what you had to do in order to wire everything up to a household or create a kid’s profile, and things like that.

Rob [01:02]: Did you get the Kindle Fire Kids version? They have the ones with the big bumpers and they have free replacement and all that?

Mike [01:08]: I did not, actually.

Rob [01:09]: I wonder if those are all set up for that already. I bet they are.

Mike [01:11]: Maybe. Maybe. Yeah, that could be. I just was like, “I’ll just get the cheapest thing there, and if they break it, I’ll just buy a new one.” [laughs]

Rob [01:17]: Right. That may be why they don’t make it super obvious to do the kid thing. They kind of push all that over to the kid version of it.

Mike [01:25]: Yeah. I mean, it wasn’t too hard because I’d used – I’d set something up similar on the Google Nexus that I had, a while back. But, of course my kid dropped that on a concrete floor, so that didn’t last for very long. [laughs]

Rob [01:35]: Yeah.

Mike [01:36]: But I did get some decent cases for the two Kindles. We’ll see how long they last.

Rob [01:41]: Nice.

Mike [01:41]: I’ll give you an update as soon as they smash one.

Rob [01:43]: Yeah, for real. I’ve been sick, man. It took me down, about two days ago. I was so sick I couldn’t listen to podcasts.

Mike [01:52]: Are you serious?

Rob [01:52]: Yeah, it was awful! [laughs] That’s me – that’s as sick as I get! I like, put the earbud in, and I was trying to listen, and I just couldn’t. My throat hurt, and my – it was pretty crazy. Yeah, when I can’t work, and I can’t listen to podcasts, those are kind of the two low points of me.

Mike [02:10]: I can’t imagine being too sick to listen to podcasts.

Rob [02:12]: [laughs] I know. It was terrible. I was really bored then, you know. Because it’s like, at least if you’re sick and you’re lying there, you want to be able to listen to something. But I couldn’t focus on it, and it was distracting. One of my ears was all jacked, so it kind of hurt –

Mike [02:24]: Wait a second! Distraction from what? What else did you want to do?

Rob [02:26]: [laughing] I don’t – from the pain? I don’t know! I just couldn’t focus on it. I’m just getting back to it – I’m actually starting to lose my voice now. You know how like, after you get over a head cold, you don’t even feel bad any more, but then you sound really bad? That’s kind of where I am entering now, and so I get the feeling I’m going to lose part of my voice here over the next couple of days.

Mike [02:43]: Now how did you get a cold? Because isn’t it like a hundred degrees there?

Rob [02:45]: It is a hundred degrees. I have no idea! It is the worst to be – it’s bad to be sick and walk out, and have it be a hundred degrees. It just feels terrible. It feels wrong, right? It should be winter when you have a bad cold and your head’s all stuffed up and your ears jacked up. I don’t know how I got it. Probably my kids.

Mike [03:05]: [laughs] You can always blame the kids –

Rob [03:06]: Indeed, indeed.

Mike [03:06]: – [?] for just about anything.

Rob [03:08]: Hey, today we’re talking about the tools we use to run our startups. We’ve broken them down into several different categories, including things like team communication, customer communication, marketing, hosting, etc. We’ve never done an episode like this, and it struck me earlier today that it’s reasonably frequent question that we get, whether I’m at a conference, or I’m doing talks, or whatever.

Folks ask – they don’t ask, “What tools do you use in general?” But they’ll say, “I’m trying to get this done. What do you use for that?” I found that just over the years in talking to a lot of people and just being on the interwebs like we are, I tend to have some type of recommendation. It’s pretty rare that I need to Google for something.

If they say, “How do I track podcast stats?” “I have – well here’s what I use, and it works reasonably well.” Or, “How should I set up payroll?” Or, “How should I track online purchases?” or whatever. I mean, they’re typically – each of these, I at least have – I may not be the expert on it, but at least have used something, and I have a go or no-go recommendation on it. You and sat down, we put our heads together, and we put together kind of the – as complete a list that I think we can of the tools that we use to run our businesses.

Mike [04:13]: I think the interesting thing is that a lot of these tools, there’s overlap between them. For example, you’ll use certain tools, and I will use other tools in some cases, but they solve generally the same problem. The interesting part is that, if you start looking across a broad spectrum of startups, people have different preferences for the tools that accomplish the same types of jobs.

Just because we have a tool that we use and we like, doesn’t mean that it will necessarily work for you, but there are certain categories of tools that are generally applicable to most startups. I think that, just knowing what else is out there and what other people are using can be really helpful in trying to figure out how to address some of the different problems in your own startup.

Rob [04:51]: Right, and that I think that’s good you pointed that out, because just because we use those tools, doesn’t mean there necessarily are the best breed, or necessarily are the one that everybody should use. That’s why there are competitors, because they offer different feature sets at different price points, and that kind of stuff.

This is kind of a starting point, and if you’re in a similar situation to us, where you’re a very small company, let’s say one to ten employees I think would fit, then these tools would probably be reasonably good for you. I think if you’re in an enterprise, a lot of them would not be. It really depends on the situation you’re in, and your budget for that matter.

To kick us off, our first category is team communication. This is trying to stay up to date and keep informed between your internal team, not with your outside world. The first thing that we use is for chat, and it’s Slack. Most people have probably heard of it. The funny thing with this is, Derrick introduced Slack into the Drip team, and I was kind of resistant to it, because I don’t love IM. I don’t love instant message. I feel like it interrupts. We used to do ICQ back in the day when we had a web development shop, and I just felt like it was constantly kind of, people screwing around and it didn’t really push things forward.

But pretty much, within a week or two, I realized how invaluable Slack would be. Even though we do work in an office all together at least two days a week, there’s still two or three days that we’re apart, and it’s really, really helped improve our communication during those times.

Mike [06:08]: Yeah, I use a combination of Slack and a couple other things as well. But one thing that I’ve used kind of for a long time now is HipChat, which was out, probably quite a long ways before Slack was available. I’m actually considering moving everything over to Slack because I’m a member of a couple of different Slack chat forums, or Slack chat groups, so it would be convenient to have them all on that same technology, so that I don’t have to have HipChat and Slack at the same time. Because the only I have HipChat for is for internal stuff. It’s nice that with Slack, it’s all web-based, so you don’t have to have a client on the desktop in order to use it.

Rob [06:45]: Yeah, I do use the desktop client, but you’re right, you don’t. I think one of our team members purely does it on the web, and I think it’s a perfectly acceptable experience.

I have to be honest, I am completely shocked at how quickly Slack grew. When I first heard the idea, I was like, “Yeah, there’s HipChat, and there’s Campfire, and there’s like ten others that already do the exact same thing. But somehow they did it differently, and their growth has been insane. Hats off to them, for basically being a B-To-B company with a growth curve, like a B-To-C company is. Pretty impressive.

The next tool that we used internally here, building Drip, is GitHub. We use GitHub for [our?] Source Control, and then we use GitHub Issues to track our development issues. Then we use a layer that’s built on top of that, called Codetree. It’s at codetree.com. It’s actually build by one of our developers internally. His name is Derrick, and he launched it as a small [Sass app?], and it sprinkles enough cool stuff on top of GitHub Issues, that it is super valuable.

It allows for prioritization, and assigning to different people, and it can span multiple projects, so if you have a lot of GitHub projects and you want to see those all in one place, it’s got a kanban view, so like a trello view or a list view. It’s got just enough stuff that it’s kind of made it invaluable. I wouldn’t have moved over to GitHub Issues, because we were using FogBugz. But once Derrick built Codetree, that was kind of what convinced me to move over there. This is not for support. Remember this is for development, and our internal kind of development and issue and feature communications.

Mike [08:09]: I still use FogBugz, and I still like it, and it works reasonably well for everything that I use it for. But I think the interesting thing here is that we kind of put this set of tools underneath team communication, because you can use it for assigning tasks to different people, assigning features. Actually, you talked to me a little bit before the podcast about how you use the notifications in there to – when something new comes and has been added to Source Control, that you get a notification that something has been completed, and then you turn around and you notify your customers.

In some ways, I see it as, essentially work flow for the internal development team to say, “Hey, this particular thing is complete. Send something over to the marketing team,” because you’re kind of the marketing team. Then that marketing team can then let the customers know, “Hey there’s this new feature that you might be interested in.

It becomes more of a – not just an internal team communication, but it helps you formalize that process of doing that internal development, send it over to the marketing team, and then letting the customers know that something new is available for them.

Rob [09:12]: Exactly. It keeps the stuff out of email, right? Then it’s all tracked in one place, so you can just go back to the issue in GitHub, and kind of the whole flow of our whole conversation about that issue as we hammer it out is all there in GitHub Issues.

Our other app that we team communication, no surprise, it’s Skype. We will video Skype when we have a longer discussion, because sometimes typing stuff out into Slack just takes too long, as needed. Doesn’t happen too often, it’s surprising. Maybe it’s only once every couple weeks. We also work a couple days a week in the same office, and so we do take care of a lot of the face-to-face stuff on those days, and then every couple weeks we’ll have one of the off days that we’ll need to have kind of a face-to-face, and that’s what we use Skype for.

Lastly, with team communication – kind of an honorable mention here, because I didn’t know where else to put it – is Trello. We don’t actually use it for team communication. We really – each individual team member who uses it, uses it for their own to-do list and prioritizing and moving stuff around. But I do know a lot companies that have shared Trello boards. They drive entire CRM processes off of it, or they’ll drive their development off of Trello. I did want to put it here as kind of a collaboration tool that I know a lot of companies are using.

Mike [10:22]: I use Trello as well, but I’ve started looking at a product called Workboard, which you can find at workboard.com. It’s almost like Trello, except that it’s essentially like a project management layer that’s added on top of Trello. There’s no real integration between Trello. It just is a Trello-like experience. It kind of crosses between what, I guess, FogBugz used to offer in terms of assigning cases to people and issues and things to do. I used to use Fogbugz for that, but obviously it gets expensive when you have VA’s.

But with Workboard, you are just essentially paying for that one manager account, or however many managers you have in the company, to be able to see some of the different dashboards and things like that. I think that Workboard adds enough of a management layer on top of it to be able to push tasks through what they “workstreams,” that you can use those workstreams for different projects and you can see how those different projects are progressing.

It’s something I’m still exploring, but it looks like a good alternative to Trello if you’re looking for something that has a little bit more of the project management functionality built into it.

Rob [11:25]: Yeah, I hadn’t heard of it before you mentioned it, and I’m pretty impressed with the – at least the tour they have on their website. Looks like something to keep an eye on. I think that it’s like a strongly typed Trello. There’s more to it, for like software development teams or for more structured timelines, and I think there’s a real benefit to that.

Mike [11:41]: Yeah, and it is free, if you just want to go for their basic team. They do have like a per-manager plan, which is either 49 or 69 dollars a month, but then you can have unlimited team members with that. The advanced features and stuff include like, progress heat maps, and individual goals, and goal dashboards, and things like that. But I think that most people could probably get away with just like the basic team plan, which is free.

Rob [12:03]: Our second category of tools is customer communication. The first tool we use is for customer support, and we used to use FogBugz up until, maybe 60 days ago. We moved to Help Scout, and I highly recommend Help Scout. We’ve had a very good experience with it. It’s an easier UI to work with than FogBugz, and than a lot of the other support tools I’ve seen. They have keyboard shortcuts, kind of like in Gmail. If I wanted to go through 10, 20 issues at a time, it’s super easy. I never have to touch my mouse. Hit “R” for reply; hit “N” for note. I can change statuses – all with my keyboard.

The other biggest perk I found is on my mobile. I check my email, an issue comes in. It’s just a notification from Help Scout that says there’s a new issue. If I respond directly to that email, it goes directly to the customer. If I respond to that issue, but I put the “at” sign, and I put “note,” it’ll add a note to it. Then I can reply again and put “at assign” and I can assign it to another team member. The last one, I can reply and put “at close,” and it’ll close an issue. I can do my complete support work flow from my mobile without installing an app. It’s all from within the email itself – I use the Gmail app on iPhone.

It has rocked my world. I really like, because I find that I do a lot out and about. I do a lot on my iPhone when I’m in line, or when I just have few minutes to check stuff, and it helps me not have to see, “Oh, I got a notification. I’ll handle that when I’m back at my computer.” It has streamlined my work flow for sure.

Mike [13:31]: I’m still using FogBugz for all my customer support stuff, and it works fine for what it is. Then there’s the cases where something’s complicated enough that you have to get on the phone. For me customer support kind of falls into this situation where it’s a very quick reply, and I can just do it through FogBugz, or it’s very involved and I have to get on the phone. It doesn’t seem like I get a lot of stuff where there’s this middle ground.

Rob [13:52]: The other communication tool we use of course is dealing directly with whether it’s partners or maybe at the higher, medium touch stuff that we do, sales, anything like that. That’s just going to be straight up email. Of course, I’m in Gmail. Actually, all our team members are in Gmail, everything forwards into their Gmail, and they can segment it out, and they can reply as their GetDrip account. I found that works well, because I have like, whatever it is – 9 email addresses, and I certainly don’t want to login to 9 different clients. So I have everything come in, things can be labelled and filtered as needed from there.

And then, I’m a big fan of Boomerang and Reportive. Those are two plugins that I use in Gmail, and they help me – Boomerang of course helps me send stuff later, or boomerang it back into my inbox to make sure that someone acts on something. If I don’t hear from them, I get reminded of that. Reportive just gives me a nice little head shot, and a little bit of information about the person who I’m emailing with.

Mike [14:45]: The other one that I’ll throw into this category besides Boomerang and Reportive is Sidekick. Sidekick is from HubSpot. It’s another plugin that you can essentially use alongside your Gmail account. What it does is it allows you to send somebody an email, and then it will trigger a notification for you every time that email gets opened. If you send somebody an email, and they look at it three times or five times, you’ll get a little notification pop-up that shows you that that person looked at the email or saw it.

This is really good for high touch sales, because you can send somebody an email, and if they take a look at that email, you can see that. Then you can either call them or you can send them a follow-up email if you haven’t heard from them in a couple of weeks, and then suddenly they start looking at this particular email that you sent to them. It kind of triggers, on your end, this notification that says, “Hey, this person’s looking at your email that you sent them two weeks ago. You might want to follow up with them now. It’s probably a good time.”

Rob [15:40]: Our next category of tool is for marketing. Mike, I’ll give you three guesses as to what I use for email marketing, but your first two guesses don’t count.

Mike [15:48]: Oh, they don’t count?

Rob [15:49]: They don’t count.

Mike [15:50]: I’ll have to go with AWeber and MailChimp.

Rob [15:52]: [laughs] That is perfect!

Mike [15:54]: [laughs]

Rob [15:54]: Perfect. Surprise, I use Drip for all our email marketing, and I’ve moved – again, I have like 8 Drip accounts. I had like 3 or 4 MailChimp accounts. But now that I have the ability to kind of expand at will, I have a bazillion Drip accounts, because we have the podcast, and we have MicroConf, and there’s ZenFounder now, and my Software by Rob lists, and then we have the Drip and the HitTail – you know, it just goes on and on. Drip is what I use – I think we do still have one MailChimp account for kind of MicroConf, Micropreneur Academy stuff that we haven’t moved over, but I’ve been deleting users out of that to get it pretty inexpensive. At some point I think we’ll migrate all of that over to Drip.

The other tool I use, surprise, is HitTail. I use that for long tail SEO. That’s obviously another tool that I own. Helps find keywords in your traffic that you should be ranking for, but aren’t, and helps you rank for those. The next one is for search engine rankings, I use –

Mike [16:48]: Oh, go back and don’t skimp on the other thing that HitTail does. You can order some new articles for your website based on what some of those keywords are that you should be ranking for.

Rob [16:58]: Yes, and I do that quite frequently. I use our article ordering service often, and my bookkeeper says, “What are all these $19 charges on your account?” I was like, “Well, those are technically going to us.”


Rob [17:10]: I use that feature a lot. Then, next is Serpfox, and I use this to track search engine rankings. I’ve used a number of different tools. A lot of them go out of business because technically tracking search engine rankings is against Google’s terms of service, because they don’t have an API for it. You basically have to scrape their search results. Most of the companies that used to do it are gone.

But two that I like are Serpfox and AuthorityLabs. I’ve gone back and forth between using both of them. I happen to be using Serpfox right now, but I really do recommend both those tools. They do it solid and I feel like they’re in it for the long haul. How about you? What do you use for SEO stuff.

Mike [17:46]: Mostly, I use Moss. It doesn’t necessarily give you great search engine tracking, but it does give you some level of search engine tracking. But I do like to use it to kind of measure against what the competitors look like in my spaces. Obviously it’s significantly more expensive tool than some of the other things out there, but at the same time they have access to huge amounts of data. It’s nice to be able to kind of rely on some of their data sets to take a look at how your marketing results are coming in, and get some idea of what their impressions are of what the landscape looks like.

Rob [18:18]: I agree. That’s Moss’s competitive advantage, is no one else has their open site explorer stuff, and all the data they have. They really are on top of the game. They have by far the best competitive analysis tool for SEO that I’ve seen.

Mike [18:32]: They also have Followerwonk, which, if you have a Moss subscription, then you get additional insights into Followerwonk that you wouldn’t get without it.

Rob [18:40]: Right. There are a few other tools that I use intermittently, kind of when I’m starting a new business. I mean, something like Market Samurai, or Micro Niche Finder, which I heard is not for sale anymore. But those types of things, when I’m looking for a new niche, or looking at [?] or research or that kind of stuff, I do use them. I didn’t really include them in this list, because they’re not what I use on an ongoing basis. Most of the things we’ve listed here are things that I’m subscribed to. I kind of went to my credit card statement, and looked back at “What do I pay for on a recurring basis?”

As well as some free tools of course, that don’t charge anything, such as Hootsuite, which is on the freemium model. I’ve been using them for years, and just never hit the point where I needed to pay for them. I have to be honest, I don’t love Hootsuite as a Twitter client, but all the other Twitter clients I’ve used have eventually been bought or shut down. Twitter bought one of them, and removed a bunch of functionalities, so I couldn’t do stuff.

I’ve stuck with Hootsuite because it’s been consistent. It’s not the best thing I’ve seen. It does allow for like, multi-column views and some pretty sophisticated scheduling and other stuff. I just can’t seem to find another client like that, that will sync up with an iPhone, that kind of does all that I need, so, Hootsuite is it.

Mike [19:47]: Yeah, I’ve used Hootsuite in the past, and right now my primary mechanism for doing some of that stuff is Buffer. You can find that at bufferapp.com. They’ve got a really good series of blog articles on their website that they publish on a very regular basis. Some of them relate specifically to their company, but some of them are kind of more, general purpose in the startup world or in social marketing, that sort of stuff. But it’s a useful tool. It doesn’t have all of the features that Hootsuite does, but Hootsuite doesn’t have all the features that Buffer does either.

Rob [20:16]: Our next category is hosting, and for the most part we use Amazon. We use EC2, we use Amazon S3, and frankly we pay Amazon a house payment for a nice California home every month, in the amount of servers and bandwidth and storage space and all the other stuff that we use.

Mike [20:39]: Yeah, I use a combination of Rackspace and Microsoft Azure. Microsoft Azure, their platform I use a bunch of the different things that you probably use over on the Amazon side. Not just the hosting of VM’s, but also the disc storage as well. Then, with Rackspace, that kind of where I have the static servers that I want to just be able to maintain myself.

Rob [20:59]: Yeah, the other hosting provider that I still have an account with is DreamHost, and I still think that DreamHost is a good shared host to get started with. When I have smaller sites, like lower traffic, I still put them up on DreamHost first. I actually host a lot of podcast files, because they have a little CDN built in, that allows it to be reasonably downloaded around the world, and doesn’t need to be super, super fast for the podcast download files. Try to get Libsyn or something for the volume – the terabytes of download that we get every month would be really expensive. It’s nice to be able to do that. Then they actually do a lot of email hosting as well.

Mike [21:36]: Yeah, I use DreamHost for exactly the same reasons. Because they give you basically unlimited ability to download stuff, and then all the different email. The other one that came to mind is WP Engine, which you can use that for all your WordPress hosting. We use it for the podcast site, for MicroConf sites, bunch of other stuff as well. But, WP Engine is just awesome for hosting anything WordPress related.

Rob [21:58]: Yeah, that was the last kind of hosting, or the third hosting thing that I use. I think we have two WP Engine accounts, because there’s one kind of for my site, the Numa Group stuff, which is my blog and ZenFounder and then all the Drip and HitTail WordPress blogs and that stuff – our KB, our knowledge base is there – and then we have the whole MicroConf, Micropreneur Academy side of it.

I should divulge that I was an early angel investor in WP Engine, but I’ve been using them years, and I’m a big fan of them. It’s still a very fast site with a lot of uptime and I like the fact that I can back up with one click and restore. It’s really been a good service for me.

Mike [22:35]: Moving on with the list of hosting, I use Wistia for hosting all the videos on my sites. They had a bunch of different plan. They used to have, I think, more plans, but the space in between them was much larger. I used to pay like $100 a month for it, and I was able to drop down to like the $25-a-month plan, just because my bandwidth requirements weren’t nearly as much as what they were offering. They moved the ability to have unlimited videos down into their $25-a-month plan. That’s really why I needed the higher level plan, so since they moved that down, I was like, “Yeah, I’ll drop down to this other plan, because I don’t need the bandwidth,” and it’s worked out really well. I think you use Vimeo, right?

Rob [23:13]: I use SproutVideo, which is more of a direct competitor to Wistia – they’re B-To-B services. Vimeo is more for creators. Like, if you’re a director, a filmmaker, they seem to have gone that route. But Wista and SproutVideo are where it’s at. If I were start over today, I would probably go with Wistia, but at the time when I signed up, their minimum plan was really expensive, and I only needed to host one video for like six months.

I went with Sprout, because they had like a $9 plan or something. They both have good analytics, and they both have bunch of good stuff, but I think all things being equal, Wistia’s probably a better a service, and it’s what I would go with. But the switching cost at this point, I’d have to update so much code and lose so much legacy, that I don’t think I’ll be switching any time soon.

Rounding us out for hosting is really just podcast stats. Folks ask us how we know – how many unique downloads or whatever our podcast has. There’s a service called Bluebrry, and it’s B-L-U-B-R-R-Y. They don’t host the podcast, but they do kind of host a go-between your audio file and – it’s like a proxy I guess, between your audio file and the listener. It gives you stats, so I use this on all the podcasts that we have. This one at ZenFounder and then the Startup Stories podcast that I released last year.

Our next category is tech health, and our first entrant in that category is Pingdom, and this just hits your website how every often you specify. It can tell you if the site is up or not. We also use it to hit some kind of private endpoints that we’ve set up, that don’t just say, “Is the site up,” but they’ll actually have an account of say, how many records are in a queue, and if it gets over a certain record, we’ll change a certain message, and it’ll say, “Uh oh,” and Pingdom will pick up – that if it says, “Uh oh,” it texts all of us, and it says, “We have a problem somewhere.” It’s not just SiteUpime, it’s actually for us maintaining queued throughput. If anything were to die or slow down in terms of sending emails or processing search keywords or anything like that, we’d all be notified. We really use Pingdom to kind of help manage all that. It’s both email and text notification when things go awry.

Mike [25:11]: I switched over. I used to use Pingdom for this, but I started using a combination of Clickie and – I had New Relic running at one point as well. Then the other one I had, that I used for a while was Verelo, and – trying to think of the last one. The last one was Rackspace alerts, because Rackspace has it built into their platform where you can just set up alerts based on the ability to see your server from different data centers. Depending on where the traffic is – and that’s the one that I kind of rely on the most right now, is just the Rackspace built in alerts, because they do have those set up in the different data centers and they do send alerts directly to you to let you know whether or not you can see a server from different data centers. Then in addition to that they’ll let you know when things are fixed.

Rob [25:57]: Nice. Yeah, we also use New Relic as well. I had forgotten to mention them, but it helps. [Check it out?]. I had kept hearing about it, and we never installed it, but I learned that it shows you all your consumption of RAM and CPU and disc space, and it’s pretty helpful.

Last couple for tech health: one is Honey Badger, which is from Benjamin Curtis. He’s like a 3, 4-time MicroConf attendee, and it’s a service that basically catches Ruby exceptions and then gives you all the detailed information. There are some more generalized services that do this. They’re really, really helpful. We often learn about exceptions right as our customers encounter them, and sometimes even before. It’s pretty cool to be able to get that, see exactly what the problem is, go in and fix it, and without a customer reporting it to you, email them and say, “Hey, we’re sorry you ran into that page load error 20 minutes ago. It was a bug. Here’s what it was. We fixed it.” It’s a really nice tool to be able to deal with. Even if you’re not using Ruby, you can look for a more general – I don’t remember the name of the one, but it’s kind of like Exception Handling, or Exception Management.

Then, last one in tech health: I want to give a hat tip to my DBA. He’s at rubytreesoftware.com. His name’s Creston, and he’s really taken good care of us on the Postgres and my SQL side – that’s what he specializes in. He also is a Rails developer. If you have a need for someone to help out with DBA and scaling and performance and that stuff, he helps us with all our backups and S3 management, and just all kinds of stuff that as developers, we don’t want to get involved in, right? It’s much more DevOps and DBA stuff. But it would be a lot of our time and a lot of headache if we didn’t have Creston involved.

Mike [27:30]: I think now we’ll move on to everyone’s favorite topic, which is money.


Rob [27:34]: Moving money. Yeah.

Mike [27:35]: It would be money.

Rob [27:36]: Yeah, so the first couple on the list are pretty obvious, right? Stripe and PayPal? You use both of these as well?

Mike [27:42]: Yes.

Rob [27:43]: Yeah, so use Stripe to collect all the incoming money. I only have a PayPal account anymore really to kind of move money through other PayPal accounts. I guess aside from Micropreneur and MicroConf, I don’t really collect PayPal payments anymore. Oh, that’s not true. I guess selling my books. They are still a few places where I collect PayPal payments. But, Stripe and PayPal – kind of no-brainers.

How about paying employees? Or paying yourself, since you’re an employee of your corp? What do you use?

Mike [28:10]: I’ve used ADP and Paychex in the past, and I kind of flip-flopped back and forth between them until I decided that their fees were getting outrageous. Then this past year, I switched over to using ZenPayroll, and I love ZenPayroll. It’s so much easier to use, and it’s a lot more intuitive, and it’s a lot cheaper. It’s about half the price of either ADP or Paychex. That’s a nice bonus as well.

Rob [28:34]: That’s good to hear. I use Paychex. I’ve used them for four or five years, since I set up the LLC, and they were great when I was one person, one employee. As soon as we got to two or three, they started making mistakes. I would change something and they’d mess it up. It was some pretty simple stuff. I’ve become disenchanted with Paychex and I’m actually planning in about a week and a half to move to ZenPayroll. I’ve only heard good things about it, and I’m excited to get everything moved over there.

Mike [29:02]: Yeah, it’s a bit of a pain to set up at first, but once you’ve got it set up, it’s pretty smooth. I think the only thing that I’m not real fond of is the fact that if you own your own business, it’s a little bit difficult to set up things in such a way that you can have it automatically pay yourself kind of like an owner’s dividend, and not count that as a reimbursement. It’s kind of a pain to do that. You have to kind of do it outside of the system. But otherwise, everything else is pretty smooth.

Rob [29:29]: Oh, that’s okay. I’ve always done that outside of payroll systems, so that won’t be a problem.

Mike [29:33]: Got it.

Rob [29:34] Next one is UpWork, which used to be oDesk. UpWork is both a way to manage, right – there’s like a project management aspect of it. But I’ve also found it really handy for moving money around the world. Because I used to pay people in the Philippines, and they don’t have PayPal, or they didn’t have PayPal there, and it was really hard to get money there. ertain parts of India, and certain parts of the world – these things that we take for granted aren’t there. oDesk/ UpWork really doesn’t have a problem doing that.

I’ve actually moved contractors into UpWork, and you pay like a 10% up charge basically, but in order to get the nice project management and the easy move of money and automatic payments, where I don’t have to manually cut someone out a PayPal invoice or whatever, it’s been worth it for me.

Mike [30:16]: Yeah, I use them as well. Funny enough, when they were changing their name from oDesk to UpWork, I was just in the final stages of releasing my book. [laughs] I had to go through and change it, or just add in a little note that says, “Formerly called oDesk,” and call it UpWork instead.

Rob [30:32]: Oh man.

Mike [30:33]: But it was right at the tail end of it. It was kind of a pain. The only other thing I’d add under this is Gumroad. I use Gumroad for selling my book, “The Single Founder Handbook,” and it makes things very easy. You don’t have to mess around with a shopping cart or anything like that. If you have any updates that you want to issue – so if there’s spelling mistakes or anything like that – if it’s a product where you have to provide any sort of updates, you can just do those directly inside of Gumroad. It will automatically issue those updates to everybody and let them know that there’s an updated set of files that they can download, which is really nice, so that you don’t have to worry about, “Okay, who has what version, and did they pay for it,” or what have you. It’ll just do it automatically for you.

Rob [31:10]: Yeah, I’ve used Gumroad as well. My son wrote a book called “A Parent’s Guide to Minecraft,” and we sold it through Gumroad, just because it was no-brainer. You know, it’s the simplest way to get something up there and start collecting some money.

That rounds out our moving money category. Let’s move on to the next one. It’s back office. I kind of threw everything else in here that I noticed I was being charged for that didn’t really fit into the other categories. We have accounting, and I use Xero, which is pronounced X-E-R-O. I’ve also used Outright in the past, and they were fine. Then GoDaddy bought them and they’re so-so, and they’re kind of the same. I’m more of a fan of Xero. Xero’s also three times the price, so it kind of depends on what budget you’re in. Outright works perfectly fine for smaller, less complex businesses. With all that I have going on, I found that Xero is a better fit. But it’s like 30 bucks a month. You have to make up your mind on that.

Mike [32:00]: Yeah, I use Xero as well, and I’ve used a bunch of different things in the past. I used to use QuickBooks for a long time, and then I switched over to – I’ve used Outright in the past, and what was it? There was a couple other things –

Rob [32:11]: Indinero?

Mike [32:12]: Indinero. Yeah, we used that before. You know, I had a couple of accounts there as well. I like Xero just because I know my way around accounting software, and it works well. It does exactly what it is that I need it to do. I’ve basically handed everything off to a bookkeeper, and she doesn’t seem to have a problem with the software, so, works out nice.

Rob [32:30]: Yup, I use the same bookkeeper. She does a bang up job. Next, for affiliate management. I use Ambassador at getambassador.com. I imagine quite a few folks have heard of that. Stamps.com – I finally signed up for an account, maybe 18 months ago, and I have never looked back. Man, I have not made a trip to the post office in 18 months, and it’s the best thing ever. Just to have this scale that you plug in, and you can weigh stuff, and you print the postage out, right there. It’s like we’re living 2015 or something. Honestly.

I sell stuff on Amazon or Ebay. Like I resell old – whatever it is – old computers or old books, or just stuff that I have. I don’t like to keep a lot of stuff around my house. If I’m done using it, I’m not going to use it, I post that thing for sale or I give it away to Goodwill. When I post it for sale, it comes with the burden of having to ship it. That was one of the reason I got it.

The other thing is, with Drip, we give a lot of Drip t-shirts away when people get their first conversion goal hit, or if they tweet something cool or whatever. I like to ship people a shirt, or maybe a nice Moleskine notebook with Drip stamped on it, and so there’s a decent volume of those going through. I’ve just found that there’s quite a few things that I wind up shipping out, and to not have to run to the post office all the time is totally worth the – whatever it is. I think it’s maybe $15 a month? Then you just pay the exact same price you’d pay in the post office for postage.

Mike [33:44]: Got it. I don’t ship things out very often, and I’ve tried to move to completely online for most things or just not bother dealing with anything. For example, bills and stuff – any business bills, I try to push that off to my bookkeeper. Then, the personal bills and stuff, I just pay them all online. I try as little as possible to deal with paper mail if possible, but there are those few exceptions.

Rob [34:06]: Lastly, in our back office, is GoDaddy, the domain registrar. I think if I was starting over today, I would probably use someone like Hover, which I think is spelled is spelled H-O-V-E-R. I think they’re probably a better bet for it. They have less kind of up sells and all that kind of junk. But, I have 60, 70, maybe even 80 domains with GoDaddy, and all the DNS settings and stuff, it’s just too much of a hassle to change. That’s what I use. How about you?

Mike [34:31]: I’ve used Active-Domain for a long time. That’s “Active dash Domain.” I have a bunch of domains registered there, and then I have a bunch that are over on DreamHost. At one point I tried to kind of do some kind of consolidation, and then I got distracted and never completely finished it. I’ve got a bunch of domains that are at Active-Domain and then the other half of them are probably over at GoDaddy. They both work reasonably well. No real complaints either way.

Rob [34:56]: I think that about wraps us up. If you have a question for us, you can dial it into our voice number at 1-888-801-9690, or email it to us at questions@startupsfortherestofus.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for “startups,” and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

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5 Responses to “Episode 243 | The Tools We Use to Run Our Startups”

  1. Niraj says:

    Managing a startup is always difficult, the right tools can certainly help getting things done in a faster, and more systematic manner. Codetree looks great, will try, thanks!
    Niraj(Founder, grexit.com)

  2. Hey guys!

    Really enjoyed the list – getting the right tools can make all the difference in your productivity.

    Noticed that you both liked Trello – Rob’s team especially interested me in how they are using it. I’ve started my own little SaaS app called “Updater for Trello” that lets you send off weekly reports to whatever email(s) you chose. Would be a great way for Rob’s team to keep him in the loop about their own lists & how things are progressing. Have a look at http://trellup.com and let me know what you think!

  3. wallace says:

    Where are the transcripts from your shows?

    • Rob says:

      Click through to any episode and you’ll see the transcript. They typically go live a day or two after the episode.

  4. Matthew says:

    We switched from Skype to Appear.in which seamlessly integrates into Slack. Can start new video chat by typing /appear [roomname]. Also makes sharing screens easier and can have multiple people on the same call. Great episode.