When you're just starting out, knowing what tools work the best for all the different current or future needs will save you time. Here's our list of tools that can help you Do More Faster. Warning, the article is long but detailed with reviews of each SaaS product and why we use it.
When DroneSeed was accepted to Techstars, we knew our next three months as a small team would hold more opportunities than we could physically manage.
In order to “Do More Faster,” we identified what we call internally our Core SaaS tools to optimize and reduce time on setting up meetings, calendars, mail, expenses, and task management. Primarily for the purposes of a startup on fundraising, sales, and product development. (This is called an ERP, Enterprise Resource Planning, by large businesses).
This is as an update to an open letter I wrote a year ago to companies that just got into Techstars, another program, or any others that have just a few months of runway to crush it or fail. It took us time to figure these out the hard way. We’ve taken feedback from Techstars Seattle 2017 and our own learning to update this list. Below are the services we found essential based on those experiences.
But first…two principles you’ll see throughout the article:
Reduce Clicks to Get Better Results
Our philosophy to using SaaS products mirrors Amazon’s analysis of purchasing. The more clicks required the less you or your investor will do it. Amazon famously pioneered this by relentlessly reducing the clicks required to purchase an item. Sales went up. Here’s how that works in our startup: If every time I send a link to our promo video I have to look it up in my Gmail from Lauren, the more I’ll get distracted by new emails and not get that extra email sent or I’ll send it way after its relevant. Opportunity lost. See below how we use Streak’s clips feature to solve for this.
Don't Suck at Email
Communication is lifeblood. Interest is fickle, especially with investors. It’s not acceptable to suck at email. See Principle 1: Reduce Friction. Reply fast, hit inbox zero (if you can tell me how), hyper-communicate. See first steps here from Do More Faster on how NOT to suck at email. We work on this daily like you do. See below for the SaaS we use to be better.
The Core SaaS DroneSeed Uses
best email followup tool
4.99 per user -CEO/sales
CRM via email, clips
MixMax / Calendly
9.00 per user -CEO/Sales
Intros better than LinkedIn
Wikipedia of Investors/Co’s
29.00 per user -CEO only
Robots log expenses
10.00 per user -CEO only
Task and team managing
Code and task managing
8.00 per user
Docs in 1 place
9.00 per user up to 9
Send decks for review
Total We Pay
~$300 / month all company
Seems like a lot of SaaS, eh? Well, in total, we pay about $300 per month. We think this is reasonable and has better features compared to the alternative of SAP, Oracle, Salesforce or even Microsoft products.
Our Reviews & Why We Use These Products
Disclaimer: Some of these are Techstars companies. We don’t know the teams (but would like to!). These reviews are our own and we’ve received no compensation for them.
Second Contact reminders via email
You will make connections to awesome people. They will be busy. 25–50 percent of the time they may require a second or third email to remind them to send something, make an introduction, etc. We haven’t found a better way than Boomerang to track these opportunities.
If no one responds to your email, you set boomerang to put the email back at the top of your gmail as an unread email in two to four days (you define the time period). Task management by inbox — done right. We don’t know of comparable products. Oh yeah, it’s got a lot of other features to.
Pick a CRM and use it. We use Streak. We suggest tracking three pipelines: Investors, Customers, and Potential Hires.
Example with investors: You need to record what their investment check size is and if they prefer convertible notes or SAFE’s. You should be meeting a LOT of investors and you cannot forget their check size and terms preference. If on the second meeting, you pitch a 100K investment and they only make 500K investments or more, you’ve just lost the opportunity or severely damaged credibility.
We like Excel because we can customize it to do anything. We also like management by inbox. Thus, we like Streak because it does both these things.
Another reason we like Streak is it has Snippets. Over and over you will need to send a forwardable describing your business. Same with the links to your promo video and relevant press articles or white papers. Reduce the friction by using clips. Set snippets to paste your list of links. It hangs out in your gmail next to the formatting icon. Click it, click the snippet you’ve saved such as “101 — investor links” and snippets then pastes your list of links into your email. Go pro and use hot typed phrases to trigger the same.
Lastly, we use ‘send later’ in Streak. We use this to time emails so they reach recipients when they’ll be read. Techstars companies send weekly updates to mentors and potential investors. All nine companies in our class did this, mostly on Monday at 8am. We sent on Tuesday or Wednesday at 7am so ours would get the most time and consideration. Also, not everyone is impressed by your work ethic and 3am emails. For some, it’s a red flag. See the book ReWork here on this topic. Use ‘send later’ instead.
Competitor CRM’s that are also loved:
HubSpot. From Victor at CuePath: I switched from Zoho CRM to HubSpot. Really loved their deal feature, which is like Trello column pipeline. Pro-tip: Pin the note with key info about the investor/customer, so it always pops up first when you want quick access to info before your call.
Make appointment times a one-step process, not “go-fish.”
Ever traded three to four emails just to find a time to meet? We couldn’t afford that. We also didn’t want to pay for an executive assistant. Each additional email that says “are you available between 2–4pm Wednesday?” increases the chance of losing the connection.
Instead, send an email with MixMax or Calendly. We haven’t used MixMax but hear great things. In both, everyone can see when you are available including VIP’s executive assistants who will love you. You can fill up your schedule quickly. In MixMax, there’s a slight advantage as your calendar is sent in the email and this removes one click and sends time slots in email (but this can go out of date). With Calendly, you follow a link to the online availability and the calendar is up to date.
Pro tip: When pointing people to your schedule link in emails, include language that says: “my schedule is accessible at the link below to find a time that works for us both.” Don’t act like a programmer primadonna. You’re asking people that are likely higher in the social strata than you to do executive assistant work. They’ll do it to maximize their time and avoid trading three emails, but keep it humble.
Pro tip 2: Block-off work periods each day. It’s not sexy to have a calendar that looks WAY too available.
Use it to ask for intros. It’s better than LinkedIn. It’s my #1 recommendation to startups fundraising. It’s a superpower.
Here’s why: You’re looking for warm intros to investors and customers. You don’t know who in your network can make the intro or is the best warm intro. Use Conspire.
Conspire requests access to your emails and then analyzes who you email and how often. Yep, that’s invasive. But so is Gmail (which we love).
Using Conspire tells you everyone in your network who emails the contact you’re trying to reach and how frequently. For example, based on the signal bar on Conspire, I can see that I email Jenny Fielding at NYC Techstars a lot, and she’s in touch with Duncan. In addition, it looks like my fellow Techstars CEO Claus talked to Rob for fundraising or was invested in, and I might ask them how that process went for advice on Bullpen’s thesis.
Once you’ve found who you’re most comfortable asking, send a forwardable. If you’ve never written a forwardable, here’s how from Alex Iskold. This method is now standard etiquette in fundraising and reduces the clicks and increases the odds you’ll get a response.
DocSend is amazing. It’s my #2 recommendation to founders fundraising.
Every investor asks for your deck and videos of your product prior to talking. Your deck will have valuable competitive intel. Investors DO send these to their competitive investments. For these reasons, we don’t like our deck or videos floating around. However, what we REALLY don’t like is NOT having investor conversations. We tried a one-pager to get meetings and it hurt us. We got fewer meetings.
Therefore, we now use DocSend with an expiring link and doesn't allow downloading as a default. We send a “teaser deck” in a forwardable email prior to talking. We send a follow-up deck that’s longer after the meeting if advisable. DocSend tells you if a sent deck was opened, and gives you feedback on how much time investors spent on each slide. That’s amazing feedback to improve a deck. Don’t be surprised that investors spend less than three minutes per deck.
Above: whatever is on slide 23 got more time and attention than slide 7 and Jason was either interested or confused (and on slide 24 someone on his fantasy team probably scored and distracted him).
Pro tip: Load a presentation, then for every new investor create a new link with the investor name so you’ll know who is viewing. This helps you follow-up shortly after they’ve read it.
Crunchbase is the defacto way for startups to lookup investors, as well as track investments made in other companies. It’s like the Wikipedia of investments and info is crowdsourced so expectations of accuracy should be adjusted. Pro makes this easier and was beloved by Techstars Seattle 2017 across the board.
Use it to build a list of investors to contact. Lookup companies adjacent to your space and see who their investors are. Build a list of 50 or so investors by tracking if they’ve made multiple investments in companies adjacent (but not direct competitors).
Also use it to find investor references, see a pattern in their check size, or determine if they’re a fit at all (have they ever done a B2B investment? Do they say in their description “software only”).
DroneSeed used the free public version. The Pro version is loved because you can add more complex searches and there’s additional scripting to parse the outputs offline.
Why I’m not including a section on Trello/Asana/Github. Everyone has an opinion on Trello/Asana/Github. Your opinion may be correct. It may be ridiculous. Either way, you already know about it and if you don’t see this.
Let the robots log expenses.
Nothing screws up team dynamics more than payroll and expenses. Seriously. People are regularly fired over expenses, or employees walk away with serious misgivings. Companies regularly misstate their accounts because someone had 15–100k in expenses they hadn’t submitted yet. People are reluctant to put things on credit cards and slowing down product development because they feel they always forget to log the receipt.
Our favorite expense software is no longer (they were too good). Your options for photographing the receipt and turning the data entry into ‘not my problem’ are: Expensify and a few others detailed in a Quora post here. Make sure it maps to Quickbooks expense categories or your chosen accounting software. There’s far fewer friction points.
You need Quickbooks.
If you raise from venture capital you will at some point get asked for 3 months of financials in the due diligence process. We use Quickbooks. So does nearly everyone else on the planet it seems (although there are alternatives). Keep your accounting costs low by using Quickbooks and use it to track a budget versus actual.
Consider an accountant. If you struggle with your personal taxes then you need a business accountant. They will keep your books “clean” and at least semi-standard so you check the box in diligence. Also, if you have budget you can create an firstname.lastname@example.org like we did and have contractors send all invoices to the accountant to be paid by wire on the 1st and 15th.
Pay people on time. Trust is just like a bank account, earn a balance by doing simple things on time. Like us, you’re a startup, you’ll need that trust in the bank at some point. You’re already going to be very different than most businesses.
Documents Signature Service. We use DocuSign.
Remember what I mentioned earlier about friction points? Printing, signing, scanning, and attaching are four physical steps. DocuSign is usually about three digital ones. We make it dead simple for investors, employees, and customers to sign things. We believe this increases success.
Bonus — all your signed documents are in one place for when diligence starts. We suggest picking one service and sticking with it. You will be tempted to churn the 30 day trials from DocuSign, HelloSign, and SendDoc. Don’t. If you do that, you’ll then have to piece all the docs together from each platform later. This isn’t doing more faster. This is rework.
Competitors that are also loved: Zoho Docs. For due diligence docs. Like DocuSign but it keeps track of who accesses your shared folder and when. The con is that the recipients need to register as well.
Put stuff in one place.
We TRY to put stuff in one place and keep it organized. If you succeed in doing this, tell us how. Google drive is awesome for internal docs and sheets, large files, etc.
Pro tip: use numbering first in a file name to order folders and keep the order constant. i.e. 100Finance, 200Sales, 300HR etc. You’ll be amazed at how much faster your file access will be due to location memory.
We hope you don’t have to struggle through what we did setting this up. We hope you can now Do More Faster.