Having tested hundreds of tools to support the growth of young companies, I have decided to list and share with you what has worked best in the scale up where I work.
This list is not exhaustive; it’s the ones I preferred after having tested them personally or receiving a bunch of positive testimonies. To bring you the most valuable insights, you will also find an explanation of how we use each tool.
Full disclosure: I have hidden our own tool in here somewhere.
Communication and productivity
Slack is the backbone of our tool suite. It’s always on and used by everyone. It’s used to communicate on a daily basis between team members, and across different teams. Like most companies that use it, Slack more or less ends emailing between teams internally: everything goes through Slack or Elium.
We connected a number of business tools to showcase the most important information and relevant notifications for our own teams:
- Intercom: for announcement of new account creations and communications with prospects or customers that take place on our site and in our app
- Chargebee: announcement of new payments
- HubSpot: announcement of reasons for a won or lost deal
- Zendesk: bug tracking
- ProductBoard: product feedbacks
- Gitlab: announcement of new deployments to test and production environments
- Elium: announcement of new content/knowledge created in Elium (under development)
Each team/department has at least one public channel that is unique to it. This allows you to make ephemeral announcements and to solicit another team. Some teams also have private channels to manage their daily interactions. Private 1-to-1 conversations are not used very often (or at least, not in a formal way), since all of these apps make talking to the whole team easier and less disruptive than normal.
If Slack is the backbone of our tool suite, Elium is the heart of it. Elium is our knowledge base, it is where we find all the content that should be capitalised: OKR reports, meeting notes, function descriptions, application release notes, internal procedures, internal product information notes, integration of other business applications, competition battle cards, information on our pricing strategy and service offers, access to marketing and sales material, and a bunch of other really important details.
We have four groups of spaces in Elium:
- Transverse spaces Here you will find announcements and cross-functional documents that are intended to be accessible to all. This includes, for example, our leave procedures, our monitoring of OKRs and KPIs, information on company cars, everyone’s job description, reports of executive committee meetings, etc.
- Market watch Each team manages its own business intelligence and makes it available to everyone. Everyone is also free to contribute.
- Team-specific spaces Each team has one or more spaces dedicated to it. It can store its best practices, internal procedures, meeting notes, etc. We have a strong policy of transparency at Elium, so these spaces are public but contribution is limited to maintain quality.
- Project spaces Project spaces are ephemeral spaces created to meet a temporary need for information collection and processing. It is in this type of space that we managed our latest headquarters move but also the organisation of major company events such as the Knowledge Tour.
During our #GrowthStories interviews, we realised that our observations and convictions were shared. Capitalising on information, structuring / formalising processes and sharing knowledge are essential ingredients for serene growth. It is for this reason that we started developing a whole series of templates (OKR, meeting notes, job description creation, operation maintenance canvas, etc.) and that we will make available to all customers.
Customer/prospect calls and remote work have never been slicker than with Zoom. This tool has succeeded in establishing itself as the reference in video conferencing in less time than it takes to say. We’ve stopped counting the number of people who stopped using Skype and other solutions after experiencing Zoom with us. It is simple, efficient and stable. All we can expect. However, hang in there because the pro version is pretty expensive. Can’t afford a pro account on Zoom right now and Skype gives you stress-pimples? Appear.in is a great tool that also works without installation (works completely in your browser) and the free basic version should satisfy you. However, be careful, this tool is quite CPU-intensive when you share your screen.
Zapier can be described as the glue of the web. This tool allows you to interconnect and transmit information from one tool to another when they do not provide a native integration. Generally, thanks to Zapier, you go from 🤬, to 🤯, and finally to 😊.
From our experience, it’s a tool that must be used with great care at the risk of messing with your data. Zapier is a bit like a heavy weapon: it’s very (very) powerful, but not really precise. We’re gonna let you judge this one for yourself.
On our side, we use this tool to pass customer account information between Chargebee and other tools, such as Intercom and HubSpot. We also use Zapier from Intercom to Intercom… to pass properties from a user to a company since these two concepts are separated in the tool. If an Intercom PM reads this article: please do something! 😱
Do we really need to introduce you to Google Suite?… Affordable and easy to use, Google offers you all the tools you need to start and grow a business. This ranges from managing your domains to access rights and a myriad of other tools. At Elium we use various tools from their suite:
- SSO: authentication to Elium and other tools
- Gmail: external communications (customers, partners, etc.)
- Google Docs: we keep on Google Drive documents that must be updated regularly and shared externally (contracts, offers, etc.).
- Google Sheets: we mainly create sheets for KPIs tracking tables One of our golden rules is that all content created on Google must be created in the “Team Drive”, no content can be stored in a personal space and all key content must be referenced and surfaced in Elium. Thanks to this rule, it is super easy for everyone to find the company’s key information.
Management and finance
Stripe is our trusted third party for the collection of our paid subscriptions. After a lot of previous research and experience, we decided to use Stripe’s services via Chargebee. At the time of our choice, Stripe managed the European tax system rather badly and did not manage multilingualism at all; two essential elements for us. After analysis, it was decided to use Chargebee. That being said, we still loved Stripe’s other functions. This intermediary allows us to complete Stripe’s offer with the following services: tax management, multilingual support for invoices and communication, direct invoicing management (for our key account subscriptions that do not use online payment).
🎁 Startup deal
You can access two different and very useful startup deals easily. **Stripe Atlas: **this Stripe service allows you to create a company and start doing business in a few minutes. To access it, simply follow these steps:
- create an account on ProductHunt
- follow Elium, Timoté, Gregory and Alexandre (ok that’s not necessary 😅)
- Go to the Ship section of ProductHunt
- Click on Stripe Discounts **Stripe: **Thanks to this coupon, Stripe will not charge you any management fees on your first $20k. To be eligible, you just need to have a HubSpot account (free) and follow this link.
Chargebee offers us tons of usage statistics, but we were not 100% satisfied. That’s why we went with Chartmogul. Connected in one click, you can immediately see your key figures on beautiful graphs. We invite you to test the tool and discover the excitement of your MRR cumulative chart. We couldn’t talk about Chartmogul without also talking about Baremetrics. This tool is just as good as or better than Chartmogul, but unfortunately does not offer a Freemium version. Chartmogul, on the other hand, offers a free version up to your 10k€ of MRR. Do you want to dream? To boost your motivation? We invite you to take a look at Baremetrics’ Open Startup program. You will be able to see the financial table of companies such as Buffer or ConvertKit.
After Slack and Elium, it was probably Spendesk that had the most positive impact on Eliumers’ daily lives. No more having to request the company’s credit card to make an online purchase. No more running after receipts and managing the deletion of subscriptions. No more hours of managing individual purchase claims. Spendesk has solved all these problems! At Elium, everyone has a Spendesk account. Everyone, according to their profile, has the right to make an online purchase (unique or recurring). Depending on the person’s profile, a limit is defined below which purchases are automatically authorised to reduce friction. Spendesk also automates the collection of receipts and invoices. Each department manager also has a physical rechargeable credit card to handle purchases on the go. All your bases get covered. 👌
We could rewrite HubSpot’s slogan: “HubSpot: marketers know why.” More seriously, HubSpot is the key player in the premium marketing tools market. Their offer is complete and, when well-configured, it has a crucial impact in supporting and managing your growth. However, it requires a lot of effort to use it correctly and really take advantage of its power. To get an idea of HubSpot’s power, we recommend that you play with their free CRM and the few other free tools at your disposal.
Your startup is so good that you want to shout it out to the entire world? Not very effective is it? Well… Have you tried cold emailing? While it is true that the success rate isn’t always great, new experts tend to say that it is still a non-negligible channel to acquire customers as long as it is well done. Apollo has put in place the ideal tool for this!
Thanks to this solution, you are able to search and filter their database of millions of contacts, to find your prospects. Once you have made your selection, you can configure a succession of emails that will be sent automatically on your behalf. All you have to do is wait for the leads to fall! ☔️
The business model of Apollo’s core offering is very simple. The acquisition of an email address will cost you a credit. Sending emails is free of charge. However, be careful not to exaggerate in the massive sending of prospecting emails. Google and other spam-detection services are incredibly intolerant on this matter. We recommend you send no more than 100–200 emails per day, follow Apollo’s recommendations, and monitor your email performance closely.
Hubsell can be a B2B alternative to Apollo. It offers a similar service, but they can carry out additional research for targeted contacts which you then manually validate before reaching out to them by email or Linkedin. Their offer is a little more complete but also much more expensive. It’s up to you to see what’s best for you!
Your website visitor conversion rate drives you crazy even though it is aligned with market “standards”. Same here. That’s why we decided to apply the technique presented by Tom Benattar, Maxime Berthelot and their team. Rather than simply letting visitors leave your website, Wisepops ask visitors to offer their email address in exchange for a small gift. As this is not our idea, we prefer to refer you to their site. They explain in detail how they did it and what they learned. The results are impressive!
Pixelme is a bit like the holy grail of all marketers. With this tool you can track the performance of all your campaigns and all the links you share. You can also put pixel trackers and cookies on the link to be able to identify the performance of your actions and later re-target your audience.
Okay, if that sounds like gibberish and you don’t fully understand, you absolutely have to go read their blog. And if you see what we’re talking about, you’re probably already on their website by now. 😜
Elium’s website was made with Gatsby, a React framework. The choice of this technology was made in order to facilitate its management and integration with our app. In addition to all the benefits that Gatsby offers, it allows us to manage the user experience in a much more unified way (and to share some components between the site and the app). The consequence is that our site is an integral part of the product in the SCRUM sense of the term and enters in our development cycles.
It is not however always acceptable for us to wait two weeks before launching a new initiative. That’s why we decided to complete our tool stack with Squarespace. This allows us to quickly bootstrap a landing page or a micro website in a few minutes and in complete autonomy. Once a model has been proven and if it makes sense, we then integrate it into our core stack. Thanks to this technique we were able to launch #GrowthStories in one week from the emergence of the idea to the publication of our first two interviews.
Ah Lempod… It’s my personal favorite! Straight from Station F and created by three brilliant French entrepreneurs (Guillaume Moubeche, and Vianney and François Lecroat), this tool will put your LinkedIn publications on steroids. The principle is super simple and scandalously effective.
Lempod users create PODs and make them private or public. Each user can create their own POD or join an existing POD. A user can then put the link of a Linkedin post in their POD once a day. They can also define the standard messages they would like other users to post on their content. Once the campaign is launched, the publication will be liked and commented by all members of the POD.
We can already hear you say: “Useless, it’s fake!” Well… these likes and comments are automated, sure, but the important thing is hidden beneath the surface. Lempod’s most powerful use is allowing you to influence the LinkedIn algorithm into making it display your publication to as many people as possible. The likes and comments you acquired automatically boost your publication exposure and makes you reach hundreds or even thousands of real people. That’s what startups like. Not convinced? Here is the result!
Quuu aims to put your curation and content delivery in autopilot mode, and they keep their promise. They started from a very simple observation: on the one hand, there are people who create great content and seek to distribute it; on the other hand, there are people who want to feed their audience with targeted and qualitative content that exists. Quuu simply decided to facilitate this transaction.
Quuu allows people to automatically or semi-automatically post to their social networks quality content they manually validated upfront. Their free offer should get you started.
For content publishers, Quuu offers you a very modestly-priced package that allows you the ability to suggest your content to people looking for articles. That’s how the magic happens.
Any growing startup will tell you, recruitment is one of the biggest challenges. Overnight, you find yourself having to recruit 5–10–15–20 — … people. Obviously you want the best and obviously you want them, like, yesterday… Unfortunately, recruiting good profiles takes time and requires anticipation. This is why it is preferable to develop your employer brand very early and to equip yourself immediately with a good tool for sorting through the best options.
There are nearly 800 recruitment solutions on the market. There is something for every taste and every budget. It should be noted that half of our development team at Elium had previously worked on the development of one of the 800 solutions. As a result, we have a strong opinion on what makes a good recruiting software. As we wouldn’t want you to think that this article is biased, we won’t talk about Talentsquare, but we will talk about two other solutions that are just as good on the market: Workable and Smartrecruiters.
Workable is a Greek startup whose growth exploded in recent years thanks to a super team, an easy-to-use solution, and a democratic price. This solution is widely used in startups in Europe. Nevertheless, their prices have drastically increased over the last year and a half, and their solution is stagnating. We believe their interface and functionality to be currently insufficient if you plan to recruit more than five profiles in parallel. Workable also chose to take advantage of GDPR to increase its revenue and will charge you a disproportionate price for having an automated GDPR management in their tool…
Smartrecruiters was launched by the very talented Jerome Ternynck. Of French origin, he quickly relocated to San Francisco to develop his entrepreneurial adventures. Smartrecruiters is an iconic player in contemporary recruitment solutions. He was one of the first to offer a robust tool that integrates the management of recruitment processes and automated posting on multiple job boards for small and medium-sized companies around the world. His solution has never stopped developing and he always manages to surprise us with the quality and ingenuity of the new features he’s developing.
At Elium, we started with Workable because at the time we made our decision, Smartrecruiters had not yet relaunched its free offer and their entry ticket was too high for our needs. If we had to choose a recruiting software today, we would not hesitate a single second in choosing Smartrecruiters.
While Smartrecruiters tends to focus its growth on large accounts, it does not forget smaller teams and offers a free full version for companies that are recruiting less than 10 profiles in parallel. To access it, simply follow the following steps:
- Click on this link
- Create your account
- Start hiring NOW
If recruitment is an important and inevitable pillar for any startup, when your company reaches 100 people, you will probably look for an HR suite that will complete the offer of your recruitment software (often called ATS for Applicant Tracking Software).
Below 100 people, you should do very well with knowledge sharing software such as Elium. Beyond this size, you may choose a specific tool to manage each individual’s HR information in a more formal way to comply, among other things, with legal requirements. Bamboo is a good idea for those looking to take the next step.
Sales and customer support
Ah! CRM… A topic which has probably worn out a lot of keyboards! If there are more than 800 recruitment solutions, there are certainly twice as many CRMs out there. A few years ago, we decided to give the new free CRM that HubSpot had just launched a chance.
To be very honest, HubSpot CRM has advantages and disadvantages that would be far too long to describe here. At this stage we are satisfied with it overall as it broadly meets our needs in conjunction with its Marketing module. Amongst our startup friends, we’ve also heard and seen a lot of good about PipeDrive, which you can definitely check out. At the end of the day, the choice of a CRM must be made according to your business model and the way you want to use it.
We spoke about Intercom before, but it bears repeating here. Intercom is probably one of the most used tools in tech companies at the moment. This ultra powerful tool allows you with a minimum of integration to:
- engage in conversation with your prospects on your site
- engage in conversation with your users in your app
- introduce your apps with their new “Tour” feature
- send personalised messages via different channels to your users and prospects
- … and many other bells and whistles!
Of course, this kind of tool is not free and you will very quickly find yourself paying hundreds of euros to use their services. However, this is what we call “well-spent money”. At Elium we use it to:
- engage in conversation with visitors to our website and send them a different message depending on the page they are visiting and their language
- support our users in discovering the tool via their “Tour” feature
- collect feedback about key needs of our users and potential difficulties they encounter
- support users throughout their use of the tool
🎁 Startup deal
Very aware that their prices could discourage startups with limited financial resources, Intercom offers a special startup offer. Intercom offers startups created less than two years ago, having raised less than €1m and having less than 5 employees to benefit for one year from their pro pack for $49/month. A no brainer in our opinion! To benefit from this offer, here is the procedure to follow:
- Go to this page
- Fill in the form
- Enjoy! 🙌
For any startup that targets medium-sized or large companies, there always comes a time when it is no longer possible to know them all and to track them manually in Google Spreadsheets or custom databases. This is where tools such as Planhat come into play.
Planhat is the dream tool for all customer success teams. This tool allows you to track all your accounts, assign them to a specific person, track all interactions and have clear health metrics to monitor for each account.
Product management & design
Productboard is the tool that unanimously convinced the entire Elium product and engineering team. Ultra clear, intuitive interface with minimal bugs. A large part of product management takes place in this tool:
- collection of external (customers & partners) and internal (eliumers) feedback
- development of functionalities and related user stories
- management of development sprints and user stories statuses (ready, dev, staging, production, etc.)
- management of the public roadmap
All eliumers have read access to everything on the Productboard and all can create feedbacks — in their name or in the name of a customer. Only the product manager can write in ProductBoard. The development team, through an in-house integration, can change the status of a user story. Customers, prospects, and partners have access to our public roadmap. They can leave comments, vote for features, and send us feedback. All feedback and requests are handled by the product manager and head of product. They leave a comment and, depending on the case, create a new user story that will enrich the backlog or link it to an existing story. Each feedback that is linked to an existing user story adds weight to it. At each sprint, we review stories with the most weight and assess whether it is appropriate to address them now with regard to our quarterly priorities (OKR methodology).
The product team also spends a lot of time documenting the actions undertaken and the most impactful initiatives so that each Eliumer can be aware of the evolution of the application and the impact on their work (sales, support, marketing, etc.). It is therefore on Elium that we will find the quarterly priorities (OKR), the product guidelines for the app’s evolution and the macro changes that will occur.
Developing a web app without usage data would be like sailing into the open sea with a blindfold and earplugs. Mixpanel is the tool that allows us to closely monitor the use of our platform with different levels of granularity (global, account, or user-level). This allows us to see which features are most used and how they are used. All the collected data allows us to identify possible problems, decreasing use of a feature, or to discover unsuspected use cases. Here are two concrete examples:
- Simplifying our app: after analysing the use of Elium via Mixpanel and a series of interviews with key customers, we realised that it was no longer relevant to offer a chat feature in the platform. In fact, its use was very low and most of our customers are or are tending to equip themselves with Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Facebook Workplace. Rather than maintaining a chat unnecessarily, we decided to focus on developing integrations with these related and complementary tools.
- Problem detection: When setting up our mobile app, we provided two ways of connecting to your platform. We quickly realised that the connection success rate was pretty low. This alert allowed us to spot the problem and to act very quickly on an improvement.
🎁 Startup deal
Mixpanel offers a special startup deal to get you kick-started. Mixpanel offers startups created less than three years ago and with fewer than 10 employees a one-year discount of 90% on their product. GO GO GO! To benefit from this offer, here is the procedure to follow:
- Go to this page
- Fill in the form
- Ready, get set, go ! 🙌
Once the solution to a user’s problem becomes more tangible, and creates cleaner user stories and acceptance criteria, it’s time to design initial mockups and test the validity of your functional solution. This is where Marvel comes into play.
This tool allows you to create interactive mockups very quickly. We first test our ideas in this way before moving to real designs. The interactive sketches and final designs are attached to the user stories in ProductBoard as reference documents for the development team.
For managing our app’s design, we chose to use Sketch. Sketch is a vector graphics editor that won the Apple Design Award in 2012. At the time, this choice seemed obvious as their vision of design and the organization of their application made the life of designers extremely pleasant.
Unfortunately, the major flaw of this tool is that it does not allow collaboration and has no version management functionality. This makes design management very complicated as teams grow.
Currently, a new challenger that we appreciate very much is starting to take the spotlight from Sketch: Figma. Figma has decided to tackle the problem of collaborative work and access rights management. These two tools have advantages and disadvantages, so we’ll let you pass your own judgement.
I hope this list of tools we use and the special deals we gathered will help you make better decisions for your startup. Of course, these choices were based on our own experience and needs. These tools may therefore not fit you all, but I hope it will at least open the debate and guide you to better choices.
I also recommend you to start small; test and learn. Most of these tools have free trials that also allow you to reach out to their customer support and get a sense of their responsiveness and value. Read relevant use cases and feedback on app directories . Even better, meet other startups to discover how they live with them on a daily basis. That last part is not only key to see through the marketing fluff you encountered on your journey, but also to evaluate the effort required in getting them adopted by your own team and ingrained in your company’s rituals.
The right people and the right process can definitely compensate a subpar tool, but having the right tools used by the right people in the right way will definitely boost your performance over the top.
Have your own favorites? Want to explore the realm of toolkits with your fellow indie hackers? Leave a comment below!