Early-stage companies are often restricted when it comes to budget and manpower. This is especially true for those building their MVP product. Fueled by a small pre-seed investment, founders multitask across different departments, and are often losing focus on what matters most.
Startups don't die when they run out of cash, they die when the founders run out of energy.— Naval (@naval) February 6, 2013
This is why automation and free software tools are so important. Knowing which tools to work with enables founders to focus on what matters most while automating everything else in a cost-efficient way.
The following list compiles years of cumulative experience and experimentation. While it may not be complete, this article introduces some of the best tools for startups, which help founders build reliable systems.
More specifically, the list goes into different categories aimed to help you with every process of your company, which in turn enables you to only use what you need most. The best part? Most of the tools and platforms are free to use and easy to learn. So, without further ado, let’s delve in!
Outsourcing tools for startups
We have previously looked into the tools you can use to manage remote employees and freelancers. What we haven’t talked about is the tools, or better yet platforms, that you can use to find the right talent. Outsourcing spans across different departments, each of which requires a different approach. If your needs are more technical, or on the product development side, you can always contact us and find out more about coara. If, on the other hand, you have tasks that require short-term contractors, agencies, or freelancers, you can explore the platforms below.
Best for: Startups with low budget, simple tasks that are more “laborious” than creative.
Pricing: $149 per year (first year for free)
Fiverr is a popular platform that connects freelancers with businesses. The tasks on the platform are generally cheaper (hence “fiverr”) and can gradually increase in pricing depending on the complexity. Fiverr is known for its non-specialized freelancers - this can be good enough for startups in their earliest stage that are not necessarily looking to produce top-quality results for a particular department of their business.
An example of this is design. Fiverr freelancers usually create images and logos based on free templates while using software that they know up to a certain point. These images can be used for social media posts and blog posts but are not ideal when you are trying to create a visually attractive investment pitch. Of course, this is a generalization, and you will always find experts among the crowd. Yet, it is good to remember that Fiverr is best when thinking in terms of “quantity over quality”, something which may be most valuable for early-stage marketing efforts.
Best for: High-quality freelancers at higher pricepoints.
Pricing: Freemium model ($0 up to $49.99/month)
Upwork is a platform that aims to focus on the quality of their freelancers and thus better results for those looking to hire the right person. The profiles of freelancers are hard to forge, and members can further indicate their level of knowledge by taking specific tests on different subjects. The reason we believe Upwork is one of the best tools for startups is due to the following reasons:
- Business accounts are linked with a talent manager who can find the best candidates.
- Reporting and accounting are fully automated, which further saves time.
- No need to pay if the results do not meet your expectations.
- More information to help you clarify the selection process.
- Upgrade as you go - ideal for early-stage startups.
Best for: Blog posts, press releases, articles, social media posts.
Pricing: $39 - $99 per month
Being a rather unknown platform, WriterAccess is one of the best tools for startups looking to create more written content for their website or marketing purposes. The website offers access to native-English speaking expert content creators that have experience in multiple niches and different types of content. The pricing levels are reflected in the form of stars, which the authors can qualify for based on the result of their work, but quality writers usually start from $0,1 per word.
The reason we like WriterAccess is their optional addition of an account manager which comes when upgrading to the “managed service” plan. Startups can benefit from the basic managed service, which comes at a cost of $349 per month (on top of the subscription cost) but offers a virtual content manager that takes care of the topic ideation process, order flow, and quality assurance. Note that an in-house content marketer will likely do a better job than the account manager, but the latest is a great option when starting your content efforts and are limited by a tight budget.
Best tools for startup presentations
This section delves into the two best tools that help founders build good-looking presentations, whether that is for reporting purposes, team meetings, or investment proposals. Note that the tools shown below are becoming increasingly important in the time of virtual meetings, hence it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basics.
Best for: Blog posts, press releases, articles, social media posts.
Most of the tools that Google creates are simple to use and free forever. This makes them ideal for startups. Google Slides is no different. The tool offers a plethora of templates that founders can choose from while allowing many variables to be adjusted to maximize the effectiveness of your presentation. No more expensive licenses to use Microsoft Powerpoint for your (virtual) presentations.
Best for: Visually appealing diagrams, funnel flow, team planning, shared goal setting.
Pricing: Freemium ($0 up to $16 per member, but the free version offers more than enough)
MIRO is a cloud-based whiteboard tool that is often used to create roadmaps, progress diagrams, and effective team planning. Hence, it is an important tool for presentations. The tool is very simple in its use and much easier compared to similar tools, which in this case would either be a Google Docs Add-on or a paid alternative.
Best marketing tools for startups
Marketing is divided into several categories, each of which requires specific tools to be executed effectively.
Email marketing tools
Email marketing is one of the best ways to generate leads and sales for your product, especially when it comes to B2C. Email still has the highest ROI and open rates compared to any other promotional method, while also enabling a direct link of communication between the team and the (potential customer). Hence, we choose the two best tools for startups that are looking to introduce email marketing as part of their strategy.
Mailchimp (free for up to 2000 emails and 10.000 sends pm)
Best for: Early-stage email list development, limited budget for marketing.
Pricing: Freemium ($0 up to $299/month)
Mailchimp does not only offer a platform that enables startups to store their email list and send out newsletters but also all the additional components needed to build up your audience. This includes a Mailchimp domain that can be turned into a landing page as well as pop-up forms which can both be used to capture email addresses. The free model is great for those just starting out, as it can store up to 2000 email addresses and send 10.000 emails per month. The only reason you would want to invest in premium pricing packages is when, eventually, you are ready to segment your list.
Best for: Startups that want to regularly get feedback from their email list and team.
Pricing: Freemium ($0 up to $90/month per user)
SurveyMonkey is one of the best tools for startups. The “drag-n-drop” form builder can be used both for feedback sessions, as well as employee questionnaires. While the former use case is more important during the early stages of product development (and improvement), the second is ideal for scaling startups. Of course, if you are looking for an alternative to their somewhat limited free version, you might want to consider Google Forms.
Buffer - Best social media automation tool
Best for: Multitasking marketers at (early stage) startups.
Pricing: Freemium ($0 up to $99/month)
Of course, apart from email marketing, social media also plays an important role to the success of your awareness strategy. This is why Buffer is a great tool to consider. The free version of the tool allows you to schedule several posts ahead of time across three different channels simultaneously, for them to be published automatically. The free version is great if you want to update your social media posts weekly. This is a practice we recommend, as it allows you to write posts that are relevant to the latest news in your industry.
The premium versions of the tool are a good idea if you are looking to build an omnichannel approach to your social media marketing and are looking to streamline the publishing process. By doing so, multiple users can access the tool and schedule posts across many different platforms.
Startup tools for reporting and tracking progress
Reporting tools are essential when it comes to the execution process of your strategies. While there are many tools you can use for this process, many of which are unnecessarily complex and expensive, we choose the two best options that are free.
Google Search Console
Best for: Startups looking to track the effectiveness of their content strategy (organic traffic).
Google Search Console or GSC for short, is a tool that tracks the performance of your website. While many components help you improve the digital presence of your page, we will emphasize the marketing aspect. GSC uncovers potential problems on your tactics and discovers opportunities that can lead to an increase in traffic and impressions. This is especially useful when tracking the effectiveness of your content strategy, whether that is in the form of a blog, landing page, or others. Note that GSC is an ideal tool for startups looking to improve their organic presence while finding opportunities to do so for free.
Best for: Important tool for all startups.
While GSC is focused on organic traffic, Google Analytics takes a step back and looks at all of your website’s traffic, its sources, tendencies, and behavior. This helps you get a better idea of the customer experience, how and where your audience discovers your page, and while of your lurkers turn into qualified leads.
Best startup tools for market research
Market research and one of the most important stages in the development of your product. While there are many tools you can consider for this purpose, we focus more on the tools that will help you understand the public sentiment related to your startup idea. This, in turn, will help you understand whether a particular strategy or even product, is in high or low demand.
Best for: Understanding the demand for a product or service in specific locations (or globally).
Google Trends is an interesting tool. It is certainly not the most popular tool for those looking to get detailed answers, but it can give a good indication when it comes to the direction of particular trends. We like this tool mostly for product development purposes, as well as comparisons in different geographic locations.
Best for: Understanding what works for your competitors in terms of digital marketing.
Pricing: $99 to $999/month with discounts on annual packages
Probably one of the most important and multifaceted tools for market research, Ahrefs is a tool that belongs in your toolkit. It may be somewhat pricey in comparison with the other tools on this list, but for good reason. The tool helps you analyze your competitors across different segments, helping you get a better idea of their backlink profile, content strategy, and domain authority. In other words, it shows you what the competition does and how they do it, in order for you to do it better.
Aside from being a great tool for competitor analysis, Ahrefs also helps you discover high-demand and easy-to-rank keywords across many search engines and Youtube. This means that it can single-handedly build up your content strategy.
Design & Social Media illustrations
After introducing Buffer in the previous chapters, it may also be useful to delve into certain tools that can help you create visually appealing social media posts, as well as images for your written content.
Best for: Startup teams without extensive graphic design experience and limited budget.
Pricing: Free with separate payment for premium vectors & custom pricing for enterprise clients
Who doesn’t know Canva The free tools keep improving in terms of quality and offer many different types of templates that you can adjust to your liking. The tool is great for images you plan to use in:
- Landing pages
- Social media posts
- Email newsletters
- Custom pop-up subscription boxes
- and more...
Best for: Startup teams with knowledge of Adobe Illustrator.
Pricing: Freemium ($0 up to $12/month)
Freepik offers the largest database of free vectors. While there are many websites with similar offers, this platform offers by far the largest selector of animated vectors in both .ai and .eps formats, both of which are very common when using software like Adobe Illustrator. The premium version is a low-cost bargain, as it offers access to all premium vectors, which you can use to further enhance your written content. As such, if you want to have a little more flexibility than Canva and are willing to pay a small fee for it, consider upgrading your account.
Best for: Startups with a tight budget looking for Photoshop alternatives.
Are you looking for a free Photoshop alternative to create visuals for social media posts, ads, and landing pages? Then Photopea is a tool you should keep in mind. The website offers an online solution for companies that want to use an image retouching tool without having to pay expensive subscriptions. Since the dashboard is pretty much identical to Photoshop, anyone with a bit of graphic design experience can visit the website and start working.
Launching your product - Feedback & promotion platforms
Once your MVP is created and you are ready to hit the market, several platforms can offer assistance in terms of distribution, early users, feedback, and marketing. Let’s go through some of the platforms you should keep in mind for this exact reason.
Best for: Startups that just launched their product, looking for more visibility.
BetaPage brings founders, early adopters, beta testers, and startup enthusiasts together in one of the most popular startup directories. Users can discover, join and upvote innovative projects, while also getting useful information with regards to their stage. The platform is ideal for startups looking to built their initial userbase, all while getting feedback from other founders on the page.
Note: If you want to benefit from the visibility of startup directories, consider join similar platforms as well. A Google search is a great start, and we recommend also getting on Launching Next and Product Hunt.
Best for: Founders looking for feedback and advice for their new startup (idea).
Labeling Reddit as one of the best tools for startups is somewhat unusual. That is, until you realize the positive effect of a vibrant community when it comes to feedback for your newly developed product. r/Startups is not necessarily a platform to help you get beta users, but a great place to ask for advice and feedback from like-minded individuals.
Apart from feedback and promotion, launching often comes with a need for crowdfunding as well. This is especially true if your product has high development costs. In this case, you might want to also explore platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, both of which are a great way to avoid venture capital funding.
And that’s it! While we certainly aim to update this list to add more tools across additional departments, these are some of the best tools for startups that we recommend. Of course, it is important to note that each tool has its place and may not be required at particular stages of your startup’s growth. That said, we recommend bookmarking this page, as we will be expanding this list with additional HR, sales, and CRM tools.