Best Startup Tools - according to 139 founders

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As Startups, we are required to move fast. We are more likely to pick tools recommended to us by other Founders, or that that top Review lists. But are they the right software (SaaS) tool for the job?

We surveyed 139 entrepreneurs in various stages of their business. Summarised the data so you get the best Startup Tool for email marketing, project management, CRM, Company Wiki, plus in 5 more categories.

Read on to make your SaaS tool selection easier and give you a few more vetted options to consider.

Stuff to know

  • 139 people surveyed. Which gives an error margin of approximately +/-10% on an assumed population of 10 million entrepreneurs.
  • Respondents hailed globally. Though mostly from US, AU, and NZ.
  • I’m a bit of an Optimisation Freak who pride on using the best tool for the job (don’t get me started on the PC vs. Mac debate). For each section, you’ll find: People’s Choice (survey result) and JZ’s Choice (what we use at Inviited, our Meeting Scheduling Startup)
  • Where possible, I also included Sentiment analysis on Why a particular SaaS Tool was picked.  Something like easily becomes: “how long is a piece of string". So forgive me if I only included Sentiments for the top SaaS choices.
  • There were no marked difference between the groups in the  survey demographics (e.g. Founders vs everyone else - see demographics below). So for benefit of analysis. I've called everyone a Founder.
  • We hope you like Pie Charts, because you’re gonna see a lot of it! 🥧👍



Survey Demographics

Now, onto the results!

Best Email Provider


Choice of Email Hosting SaaS

People’s Choice: Gmail

JZ’s Choice: Gmail

No surprise here. Gmail user at a whopping 71.2% of Founders. It takes next to no time to set up. GSuite comes with 30GB of file storage, bundled with Google Docs, Sheets, Forms etc, along with advanced user admin. 

GSuite has a market place which turns Gmail and GSuite into:

  • Project Management Tool (Wrike)
  • A CRM systems for Gmail (Streak)

Along with more traditional plugins like Dropbox for Gmail, or Zapier.

And it's all here for under US$8 / month / user.


We’ve used it for every single one of our businesses.

With Google (76%) and Microsoft (14%) dominating the Startups Email space, it’s difficult to imagine smaller players Zoho and Yandex making any dents in the market...


Best Email Marketing SaaS


Choice of Email Marketing / Email List Tool


People’s Choice: MailChimp

JZ’s Choice: MailerLite

We literally had 41 different Email Marketing software suggested 🤯(what a tough market!).

Anything from Intercom (3.6%), SendGrid (2.2%), Hubspot (2.2%), to Active Campaign (1.5%).

MailChimp seems to be the de-facto choice here, with most people citing their familiarity with it from previous experiences (33%). Plus it’s Free (as in 🍺), has lots of Integrations and has a solid reputation.

A number of respondents cited they used a mix of MailChimp and other tools. And as their needs got more advanced, they shifted to the likes of Intercom (for Live Chat and Inbox integration), or HubSpot (for the CRM and bunch of other features).

While no one mentioned email functionality, we use ours for customer segmentation, list management, and light weight CRM.

We seem to be on the same journey. As email marketing newbies, we came across MailChimp since it often topped Review sites. We used it with a couple of product launches. Eventually graduating to Drip (awesome Automation, straight-forward UX), till it got too expensive for us. 

We currently use MailerLite for Inviited as it's the right balance between cost and functionality. It does just that much more than MailChimp to make us happy.  

🤞it evolves with our needs.



Selected Founder Quotes

“Use it[SendGrid] for SMTP out going transactional emails so we pay for custom IP and use rest for free”


“[Mailchimp was] Cheap, pretty, did everything I needed out of the box, easily integrates with my other systems”


Mailchimp initially as cost and ease. Moving across most to hubspot for more tracking data to segment nurture lists and helps sales “


“Recommended and just starting [to use Convert Kit], so didn't know better. Soon switching to Platformly or Moosend.

Best Team Communication Tools

Choice of Team Communication SaaS

People’s Choice: Slack

JZ’s Choice: Slack


Oh, Slack. How you’ve won our hearts by becoming our Communication backbone. Allowing (most of) us to ditch email,

Your easy on-boarding, emojis, gifs, and many Integration has made us 102% more productive and have at least 78% more fun at work.

While you are great, it’s tough staying focused with irrelevant channel messages (or the sheer volume of them after a holiday - Threaded model anyone?)

But we love your Free plan, and nothing seems to come close

   - JZ (a Fan)


Looks like we’re not the only team living in Slack. This is why 48% of our Founders use it. And here’s why?


Why Slack?

This proves conclusively:

“Network effect is key in workplace messaging apps”
   - JZ

Despite being “more Free” than Slack, Microsoft Teams (4%) and Discord (2.2%) still have a lot of catching up to do...

Other Observations:

  • Some teams still using Email (10%). Most common reasons cited were: for small teams, it’s simple, free, has zero-learning curve, and just there.
  • Non-work messaging tools still have a place here: Skype (5%), Whatsapp (5.8%). Which reminds me of the state of Messaging from 2015 (Wired article). Still Fragmented… 😓



Remember HipChat from 2015?




Selected Founder Quotes

“[Skype] It's a hub for everything (3rd party integrations make is super useful and sticky)”

“[RingCentral is] Like Slack but has integrated voip and video conferencing all in one, it rocks”


“New startup growing rapidly. Personal communication with founders is possible. And [Chanty] it's simple, lightweight and highly focused on what we need.”


“[WeChat] works great in China”


“All the integrations.  Jira, bitbucket and a bunch of webhooks provide a lot of updates along with the human messages.  So one app [Slack] to see what's going on across the business.”

Best Task Management / Project Management Tool

Choice of Task / Project Management SaaS

Personal

People’s choice: Trello

JZ’s Choice: Asana / GTask


Team

People’s choice: Trello

JZ’s Choice: Trello


It seems like a new task management tool comes out every other week.

But Trello (29.5%), the One Board to rule them all, takes it out. 

Trello - One board to rule them all


Just look at the fragmentation of the market here.

We had 50. 🤯 

Yes, 50 different Task or Project Management product choices nominated by our Founders. 


From the more traditional: Asana, JIRA, good ol’ trusty pen & paper 💪.

To the not so traditional: Plutio, ClickUp, Basecamp, Bitrix 24, TFS, and Notion, Notes on iPhone


Some of those tools clearly have uses beyond task management, which illustrates the blurring lines of project management space and opportunities for vertical integration. Some examples:

  • Notion - Note and Company Wiki (see Company Wiki Tool below), but has a good Task tool as well
  • Basecamp - the grandfather of SaaS. All in one project management tool, with Chat and Task bundled in.
  • All in one products like: Plutio (Email, live chat, document collaboration, Kanban boards, etc), Bitrix 24 (CRM, Website Builder, etc)


Why was Trello the top choice?

Most common reason cited, for personal use:

  • Simplicity (50%),
  • Used previously (25%)
  • Integration, Free, or Specific use case - e.g. tracking product roadmap, Business Development steps, etc


For team use:

  • Simplicity (75%)
  • Used previously (5%)


For Asana, the runner up for both personal and team task management tool. Most commonly cited reason was previous exposure and one task tool for the whole team. 

The fact that Trello and Asana were built from the ground up for "multi-player" meant Startup teams got to use them early and stuck with them thanks to their simplicity. 

While Todoist has Team features. Their Business plan is less than 3 years old. And it’s hard to convince the whole team across to a new tool.


For us, we loved Asana’s keyboard controls, they were also a big influence in us making Inviited a dream for Keyboard Ninjas

However, we found Asana’s long task lists difficult when used in a team. We also couldn't easily switch between their List & Board (very sub-par compared to Trello) views.

Trello's awesome keyboard shortcuts, overall simplicity and zero learning curve won us over, and we've been using it for years.


Selected Founder Quotes

“There are so many [tools]. I had to pick one. I chose Todoist years ago and I haven't looked elsewhere because it does what I want.”

[JIRA has] Quality, agile features, solid integration with other apps, management of users in one place, integration with bitbucket, automation triggers/workflows


“We really like it [Clubhouse]. Perfect for software dev teams. Was recommended to us.”


“We use it [Asana] for the wider team and it makes sense to keep todos in one place.”


Basecamp's been the go to for a few remote teams I've joined”

“Easy to use, thought about github, but having a Trello app for adding on the fly is important”

“Very powerful at this stage and [Infinity] it is in fast developement. We bought LTD [Life Time Deal], so probably we will not have to pay in the future.”

“[Notion is] Best. Most flexible. Free to me! Even in Team Plan.”


Best CRM Tool

Choice of Email Hosting SaaS



People’s Choice: Hubspot, or Email List Tool doubles as CRM

JZ’s Choice: Our Email marketing tool (MailerLite)


25% of respondents didn’t have a CRM tool, and used their email list management tool instead - just like us.

The reason is simple:

"Early stage Startups are not ready for a dedicated CRM"
    - JZ

We are small, agile and moves fast. Unless dedicated tooling solved a pain-point, it adds unnecessary complexity & administrative overhead.  So most of us stuck with our Mailing List tool which has enough for us to do simple segmentation.


If your Startup is ready for a CRM. Hubspot (23%) was the top choice for our list of Founders. Largely because it was free (according to 69% of Founders using Hubspot)

SalesForce (7.2%) was the next choice. Most because the team had used it before, or already came with the tech stack (40%)


Selected Founder Quotes

“[Contactually is] Super easy to use, hard bulk mail function, reminds me to contact people I haven’t spoken to in a while “


“It's working. I know I need a real CRM, but I only have a few clients.” - no CRM


Hubspot because it was free in the beginning.  Likely moving to Platformly.”


“[Hubspot, because] functionality, price, startup program”

[ZohoCRM is] Easy to use, has a good list of features in their free plan




Best Landing Page Builder

Choice of Landing Page Builder


People’s choice: Wordpress, or custom coded site

JZ’s choice: WebFlow


While no-code tools have matured leaps & bounds in the last 5 years. Nothing beats custom code’s ability to: do-it-exactly-as-I-envisioned-it.  

It helps that 43% of the Founders who custom built their website self identify as Developers. And 30% did it for reasons of customisation.


Wordpress leads the pack for no-code tools (it’s doesn’t strictly meet the definition of a no-code tool since heavy customisation can be done with PHP). No surprise as WordPress powers 29% of the world’s internet traffic, and likely the most popular blogging platform under the ☀️.

For Founders used WordPress it to build their website (22.1%), most of them did it because of familiarity with the platform (50%).


We built the Inviited landing page & the blog you’re reading now on Webflow (11.6% of founders) because it was heavily customizable (think: frontend for CSS), can fine-tune mobile responsiveness, and we didn’t mind the learning curve.  

There was a more pivotal reason:

“Using a no-code tool for the Inviited landing page meant we could preserve our core engineering effort for the actual product.”


For everyone else, the landing page tool is really a personal choice. Depending on your needs and previous experiences. SquareSpace, Wix, Carrd, WebFlow, LeadPages, Brizy (for Wordpress), Hubspot are all viable choices, along with 100s of others.


Selected Founder Quotes


“Significantly expanded functionality, SEO capability and site speed recently. Ease of use is [Wix’s] key differentiator.”


"[Wordpress, because] familiarity at the time as a non-tech, Now I'd probably start with Carrd if I was needing a landing page."


“Quick, simple, does exactly what we want it to and no more, source code in git” - Custom Code option


“My partners hated every other landing page platform out there.” - Custom code option


[Unbounce is] easy quick and cheap to start on , move to hubspot because it gives us more data for segmenting and targeting lists

Best Customer Support Tool

Choice of Customer Support SaaS


People’s choice: Email, or Intercom

JZ’s choice: Email


Email, a relic from the infancy of the Web is used by 30% of our respondents for customer support. We use it too.

Email is ubiquitous as it's attached to our web domains. Everyone’s familiar with it.  And let’s be honest. Real-time customer support like live chat requires dedicated time & resources that Startups may not have.


But if you’re in the market for a dedicated Customer Support tool. Intercom (14%) is the winner here. Followed by ZenDesk (7%).

40% of Intercom users cited Integration as being the number #1 reason they used Intercom.

It was also interesting to see 16% of respondents don’t do customer support. Are these companies too early to do support - at least I can’t think of an industry where where customer support isn’t needed.

Super interesting, we may dig into this in the future.


If you’d like to look around, products like FreshDesk, HelpScout, Gist, even WhatsApp were also mentioned.


Selected Founder Quotes

“Email is best option at this stage - use it with hubspot and live chat”


“[Crisp.Chat has] cool features, and an aggressive Startup rate that you can apply for. I liked the idea of Intercom, but saw too many complaints about pricing after year 1.


“Haven't sought out software for support yet”


“Pricing is a concern here with Intercom & ZenDeskFreshdesk, Tawk.to & Crisp are current considerations.” - not using Custome Support software atm


"[Intercom] It's pretty from an end user perspective, and great software when you use it for everything."


"[Intercom] It connects with everything else (support, sales, email marketing, help center)."


"[HelpScout] Has a KB and good support for email comms." 

Best Internal Documentation / Company Wiki Tool

Choice of SaaS for Company Wiki

People’s Choice: GSuite

JZ’s Choice: GSuite (previously Quip)


GMail, the most popular email for the same reason that GSuite dominates here: You can’t beat the price.

52% of Founders collaborate using GSuite cited cost as the reason (the word “Free” 🍻 was thrown around a lot!)

It’s great to see Notion (a company less than 3 years old) being used by 12.2% of our respondents. For those who use it, 62% absolutely raved about its flexibility and ability to do so much.

“Because I have tried many, nothing comes close, and Notion is the bomb!”
   - a Founder

“We also use gsuite. Notion forces a clearer structure.”
    - another Notion loving Founder


I found it interesting no one used Quip: A collaboration product made by ex-GSuite Googlers. Acquired by SalesForce in 2016 for $750m.

For 3 years it was the backbone of our internal company wiki: document chat, product & finance documentation, marketing schedule, and even agile ceremonies (we documented product planning, retros out of it too).

We recently switched to GSuite. While It doesn’t have the everything-is-in-one-place feel of Quip. Like you, we loved that it came with our Business Gmail - and it’s hard to beat Free 🍻!


Selected Founder Quotes

“Google Drive is nicely integrated with the rest of the [GSuite] tools”


“We were all using it [GSuite] individually before we started so we just continued to use it.”

"Because of [Confluence’s] integrations with Jira & Bitbucket + it's Aussie"


“We also use gsuite. Notion forces a clearer structure.”


“[Notion because] User experience and speed you can produce content”

Best Video Conference Tool

Choice of Email Hosting SaaS

People’s Choice: Zoom

JZ’s Choice: Zoom


Zoom (41%) topped our choice for video conferencing software. Its growth has been absolutely phenomenal:


Source 

Don't forget installing Zoom required us to ignore the default options that came with Slack (#1 for team communications) or Google Hangout (GSuite is #1 for Company Wiki). Which is a testament to its product superiority.

The major issue with group virtual meetings is connectivity. Our team has personally experienced dropouts, voice & video lag with Skype and Google Hangouts as soon as we had 4 or more people on the call. Conversely, I've been in Zoom meetings with 20 people and no connectivity issues.

This is supported by the survey data: 67% of Founders cited Connectivity as the #1 reason they use Zoom. 21% cited the product’s simplicity.

“[Zoom’s]  lightweight Web client could figure out almost instantly what kind of device you were using, meaning Zoom didn’t need different versions for Mac or PC. It also provided a software layer that shielded any bugs that might be introduced when a browser like Chrome, Firefox or Safari pushed an update. Zoom could operate even at 40% data loss, so it would still work on a spotty or slow internet connection. And at $9.99 per host per month ($14.99 today), it undercut its rivals. Zoom customer service chief Jim Mercer was then working at competitor GoToMeeting when a colleague opened a Zoom account to see what the hype was about. “One click, we were in, and there were 25 feeds of participants at the same time,” he says. “We were like, ‘What is this voodoo? How are they doing it?’ ”
   - Forbes article


Selected Founder Quotes

“We're already paying for Slack so…”


“Love zoom for recording etc.. Skype for quick calls.”


“[Skype is] Good for all round use with internal/external individuals”


“Don't love it [Skype], just use it. Zoom is more commonly used with clients though.”


“[Google Hangout] Invitation is done on Google so it make sense to have everything in 1 place”


“Because it [Appear.in] works. Unlike most others I have tried”


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Johnathan Zhuang
Johnathan (JZ) is fascinated by optimal human performance and product design of all sorts. He co-founded Inviited to bring meeting scheduling into the 21st century. You can find him on Twitter as @iamjz