You can't run a functioning, efficient, and profitable business without software. The apps, tools, and cloud-based services we invest in serve as the foundation upon which your employees communicate, how they brainstorm ideas and collaborate on projects, and how you manage every aspect of operations, from product development and sales to customer service and keeping track of the books.
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Nowhere is the difference good software can make more apparent than in startups. If an agile startup business with only a handful of employees takes a chance on the next killer app and it pays dividends, that business "power tool" could completely transform how they do business. We've already got you covered with our monthly PCMag Startup Toolkit of the best new hardware, software, and apps for startups. But when it comes to the business power tools making the biggest difference to a startup's productivity and bottom line, we thought it best to ask the startup founders themselves.
AdMobilize, Branch Metrics, and Illumio are all startups we've featured in the PCMag Startup Spotlight, breaking down their platforms, business plans, and what makes their technology and market approach unique. We asked AdMobilize CEO Rodolfo Saccoman, Mike Molinet, co-founder and COO of Branch Metrics, and PJ Kirner, founder and CTO of Illumio, to name five software tools making the biggest difference to their businesses. A few of the apps overlapped, so we ended up with 13 business power tools across collaboration, development, and productivity.
1. SlackUnsurprisingly, one of the tools that got multiple recommendations was game-changing collaboration app Slack. AdMobilize's Saccoman said he's seen significant enhancements to organizational efficiency as internal emails have been reduced by 95 percent.
"It allows us to keep a pulse of the company, foster culture, and has proven to be a real-time braintrust," he said."
Branch's Molinet got straight to the point: "Let's be honest, there is no better internal communication tool than Slack," he said. "From the technology, to their team, to the wide variety of slackbots it supports, Slack has changed the way thousands of companies work, including ours."
2. SkypeAdMobilize still has a relatively small number of employees, but the tight-knit team is dispersed globally with offices in Miami, Washington, D.C., London, and Bogota, Colombia. Saccoman said that when it comes to bringing all those employees together for virtual meetings, there's still no better tool for his startup than Skype.
"Skype is still the most reliable and cost-efficient video communication tool for our team of 35," he said. -Rodolfo Saccoman, CEO of AdMobilize
3. HipChatRather than jumping on the Slack bandwagon too, Illumio's developer-heavy team prefers Atlassian HipChat. As Kirner explained, the startup is using the collaboration platform for a lot more than just messaging.
"Not only is HipChat a great tool for collaboration, our Ops team has turned it into a self-service automation robot for developers to control their cloud infrastructure," said Kirner. "HipChat is the new shell."
"Freshdesk is a neat tool to engage with those customers that require quick feedback, and provides our business development team a platform to make sure we provide unmatched customer service," said Saccoman.
"We tried every customer service and ticketing system on the market, and Freshdesk is the best that fits our needs," added Molinet. "You can easily customize the design of the emails to provide personalized service and avoid that 'ticketing' feeling you get when writing in to most support teams. We're fortunate to have found them after failing to have a good experience with so many other tools."
5. GreenhouseGreenhouse is an applicant tracking (AT) and recruiting platform used by customers including Airbnb, Evernote, Pinterest, SurveyMonkey, Vimeo, Zenefits, and others to find, engage, and hire qualified candidates. Molinet said Greenhouse is a solid applicant tracking tool that's made a significant impact on recruiting efficiency and the candidate experience.
"We've cut our average candidate cycle time in half after implementing GH and also given our candidates a much more consistent and positive experience. The tech is a little buggy occasionally and the reporting and UX leaves a lot to be desired, but I'm sure they'll improve that over time. Overall, it's an effective solution for what it's for," said Molinet.
6. HubSpotMarketing automation tool HubSpot provides customer relationship management (CRM), email marketing, social media management, web advertising, and landing page hosting all in one. Saccoman said AdMobilize uses it to manage its client base and lead pipeline.
"HubSpot is an amazing platform to manage our existing clients and pipeline," said Saccoman. "We have tried many tools, but Hubspot's user interface and user experience are fantastically productive."
7. OutreachOutreach is an account-based sales communication platform with integrated workflows and analytics and built-in Gmail and Salesforce integrations. Branch uses Outreach as the main conduit for all sales team communication.
"Outreach has transformed how our sales team works. It allows you to create and send custom messages and integrates well with Gmail so everything looks native," said Molinet. "The analytics system is helpful for us to ensure the communication flow hits the right people at the right time. It's a favorite on our sales team, and we've seen amazing results in increased customer conversion with their tools."
8. TransferwiseTransferwise is a peer-to-peer (P2P) money transfer service that allows users and businesses to send money internationally according to real-time exchange rates or the mid-market rate. The platform makes payments, invocies, and all manner of financial transactions run smoothly for AdMobilize's distributed global workforce.
Saccoman put it simply: "Transferwise allowed us to streamline payments globally."
9. AnsibleAnsible (now owned by Red Hat) has long been one of the most popular open-source projects on GitHub. Put simply, it's an IT automation platform that makes it radically easier to spin up and configure applications and cloud-based infrastructure. If your DevOps team isn't using Ansible, Illumio's Kirner said it's more than worth a try.
"Our DevOps team appreciates the simplicity of Ansible. It's a robust, extensible orchestration/configuration tool with great community support," said Kirner.
10. ConsulDeveloped by software startup HashiCorp, Consul is another open-source tool, this one for discovering and configuring cloud infrastructure services. Developers and IT can use software can scale to multiple data centers and provides features like key/value stores, health checks, and failure detection for computing clusters.
For Illumio, it's serves as the next step after Ansible, particularly when creating and managing its ecosystem of modular components, known as microservices. "Consul's Service Registry and Discovery features are helping us build out our microservices applications," said Kirner.
11. GatlingGatling is all about load testing. This open-source framework is an HTTP stress tool for simulating high-performance loads on any number of applications, particularly cloud and browser-based apps.
Illumio uses Gatling to make sure its applications can handle increased scale and load, without the need for exhaustive manual testing. "With Gatling, we can simulate scale and load easily without needing to start up thousands of systems," said Kirner.
12. InsightSquaredBusiness intelligence (BI) tools come in many shapes and sizes for different use cases. InsightSquared is a BI platform geared for sales performance analytics, and Branch uses the tool to analyze and streamline how its sales team operates.
"When I asked a few friends at startups the number one tool they couldn't live without, they said InsightSquared, so we went ahead and tried it. It's amazing," said Molinet. "We haven't fully implemented it and are already impressed. You can slice and dice all sorts of sales (and some marketing) data in a way that is impossible in Salesforce, which allows us to get important insights into our sales activities. If you have a sales team and you use Salesforce, then InsightSquared is definitely a worthy investment."
13. RedisRedis is one of the world's fastest databases. The open-source in-memory database and data structure store is used most readily as a database cache and message broker, but Illumio takes the technology even further.
"Everyone knows Redis as a blazing-fast in-memory data structure store," said Kirner. "We not only put it to use for caching, but we also can run programs on the Redis servers to offload work from the web servers."