Launching a startup is tough.
Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, says starting a company is akin to “jumping off a cliff and assembling an airplane on the way down”.
Startups need to move quickly to survive. And, do it with very limited resources (especially money and time), while wearing many different hats, without much training or experience.
As a result, it’s critical for founders to arm themselves with a toolset to navigate the turbulent flight path, and remain as lean and efficient as possible.
In this post, I’m going to share 53 of the best tools for startups (broken down by category):
- Market Research/ Validation
- Project Management
- Social Media
- Content Marketing
- Presentations/ Demos
- HR & Recruiting
- Customer Success
Each of the tools listed in this post serve a specific purpose along the startup journey. We’ll provide a brief description about what the tool does and describe how startups can use it to succeed.
Market Research / Validation Tools for Startups
SurveyMonkey is an online survey tool that allows you to easily create and distribute any kind of form for your startup: NPS surveys, user tests, new hire documents -- it’s all here, made simple.
SurveyMonkey is integrated natively with over 100 apps, so you can push form data back to your CRM, email marketing tool, or cloud spreadsheet.
The tool offers four different plans -- starting at $36 -- which make it possible for startups to create surveys and polls to collect feedback and validate product ideas without overspending.
You know those surveys that block a page’s content? This tool is probably responsible!
Survata is a brand intelligence app you can use to distribute these SurveyWalls across Survata’s network of partner sites, effectively deploying market research surveys at scale in a few clicks.
Your Survata survey could be anything from a usability test to an opinion poll, but the data you get back comes at a price: “basic” lead responses cost around $1, whereas B2B data is $17 a pop.
Facebook Audience Insights
Put simply, this is a targeting tool. Facebook Insights enables users to draw on a variety of different demographic data points to build a laser targeted audience for advertising.
Startups can build a marketing audience by targeting region, gender, age, like, interests and much more. The best part about Audience Insights for startups, however, is that it’s completely free!
This tool gathers data from around the globe from two major sources: the core Consumer Barometer questionnaire and the Connected Consumer Study. The data supplied from these two studies allows you to get insight from a vast bank of knowledge enriched by Google’s own sources.
For example, you could build a report that tells you no one in Norway is going to care about your coupons if you open up a fitness business over there... Or find out a demographic’s willingness to pay for international shipping… Or discover which markets will adopt your mobile app the fastest by checking a segment’s ‘mobile-centricity’!
The Consumer Barometer is a solid starting point to understand browsing and purchasing habits that could influence the way you market.
Project Management Tools for Startups
If you are trying to organize multiple projects with tasks inside each one, then Trello is going to be one of the more user-friendly options available for your startup.
This fast Kanban tool makes it easy for project managers to capture, organize, and prioritize issues, plan sprints, attach files, and provide real-time insights around project status. The free plan provides all the functionality a small startup would need, including a calendar view, repeating tasks, and integrations.
Asana is a lot like Trello in that it’s extremely user-friendly. It allows you to set up projects, add tasks, create checklists, and assign multiple team members. Tasks can be given due dates which will trigger reminder emails, and attachments to store important documents.
Toggl connects with over 100 apps you use everyday to provide accurate and automated time-tracking for teams, agencies, and freelancers. By logging your activity, Toggl can generate reports on what you did with your time at work. This is great for analyzing your own productivity as well as showing clients proof for billable hours.
With a browser extension, mobile apps, native integrations, and connections to over 1,000 other apps via Zapier, you can make sure that none of your time is wasted, no matter where you are.
JIRA is a project management and issue tracking tool aimed at software developers and technical teams. It’s like Trello, but with all of the missing features developers need like sprint management and code deployment. It also offers reports essential to monitoring the progress and efficiency of a software team, like burndown charts and roadmaps.
Since JIRA is an Atlassian product, it has deep native integrations with the rest of the Atlassian suite, including Confluence for managing your internal knowledge base, Bitbucket for managing code commits, and Bamboo for continuous integration.
Online Collaboration Tools for Startups
Slack is an incredible tool for both group and one on one communication. Slack allows you to break up your conversations in “channels” making relevant information easy to find. To add to the convenience, Slack comes with an easy to use mobile-app and integrates with many other tools such as Trello, JIRA, and Twitter.
Skype for Business
Skype for Business is available as part of Microsoft’s Office 365 package, which comes with the full Office suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc.). Skype for Business features all of the stuff you’d expect from a product with Skype in the name: instant messaging, audio calls, and video chat. But it also has features businesses need to keep safe and compliant, like local hosting and permission control.
As part of the Office suite, it also deeply integrates with your calendar and contacts from Outlook, as well as documents from Word and Excel. Are you an existing Microsoft customer? You probably already have this! If not, it’ll set you back $8.25/user/month.
Lifesize allows startups to have video, web, and audio conferences along with the option to record and share meetings. It also makes it easy to integrate video from almost any platform available, giving your startup the look and feel of a top-tier business without the top-tier cost.
Join.me is one of the best options when it comes to connecting and collaborating with your team. This tool gives startups the ability to share audio, video, whiteboard, live chat and enable users to share control over their screen. The rich range of annotation and remote access features also makes this tool great for sales demos.
Join.me can be used for free, but to lift the participant cap to 5 and host unlimited meetings, you’ll have to buy a plan starting at $9/user/month.
Zoom -- ranked the #1 meeting tool by Gartner in 2018 -- is a fast and reliable video conferencing software that works great for internal and client meetings alike.
It features screen-sharing, annotation, and cloud-hosted meeting recordings that you can automatically upload and share. A great use case to keep your team in the loop is to use a fixed room for recurring team meetings and integrate it with Slack to automatically share the recording with participants afterwards.
Zoom’s pricing starts at $14.99/host/month -- and just one host can have up to 100 participants.
Scheduling Tools for Startups
The worst part about trying to schedule a meeting with someone is the four emails that it takes to nail down a time.
Calendly takes care of that process by simply allowing you to share your calendar link with whomever you choose and letting them select a time you are both available. You can include a Calendly link in emails, or place a widget on your website to help schedule demos or meetings, making it perfect for time-pressed startups.
Doodle allows you to compare availability times for a large group of people and decide on the best time to meet.
With Doodle, you connect your current calendar with your guest’s via the platform so there is no unnecessary bouncing back and forth. It also has a mobile app that works with all major devices, making it perfect for the startup owner on the go who needs to coordinate with multiple schedules.
Social Media Tools for Startups
Scheduling, publishing, and analyzing all of your social media posts can take up a lot of your valuable time.
Buffer allows you to “set it and forget it” when it comes to promoting content through various social channels. Add multiple posts to the end of your publishing queue and drip them out on a schedule. For added convenience, you can add the Buffer Chrome extension and quickly queue up any article you find while browsing online and quickly share it with your social followers.
Quuu integrates with Buffer to offer startups an easy way to manage their social feeds (without wasting time on curation). The way it works is simple: first, you select your niche. Then, you get hand-curated content as suggestions for your Buffer account. After that, just pick the content you think will resonate with your audience, and share share share!
It also works for content promotion. For $40, you can add your own content to the Buffer suggestions list other users see, and get hundreds of clicks, shares, and impressions for cheap.
Echosec is a tool that helps businesses combine social media posts with geographic data.
It helps you identify hyper-local trends and build targeted social media audiences for your next campaign. The tool helps startups truly understand how (and where) people are talking about their brands. These are valuable insights to increase engagement, conversions, and grow your business.
eClincher, like Buffer, allows you to curate, queue, and share online content with its Chrome extension. It also suggests pieces of content that may fit your niche, saving valuable curation time.
eClincher gives you the ability to recycle past social media posts -- a powerful strategy, whether you are running a specific campaign, or if there is a gap in your content production.
Content Marketing Tools for Startups
CoSchedule is like a dashboard and control panel for your content marketing. Aka - editorial calendar management software for content marketers, bloggers, and social media managers.
Its calendar view and content database gives teams visibility over content and social media campaigns, allowing better planning and promotion. It also integrates with your website, allowing control of which posts go out, and when, directly from the CoSchedule app.
BuzzSumo is a content research tool built on top of a huge database of backlinks, shares, and popular posts. Find the hottest articles in your niche, identify who linked and shared, then use the insights to build successful content strategies.
BuzzSumo is great for identifying and managing relationships with industry influencers.
Medium is one of the biggest self-publishing platforms on the internet, with over 60 million monthly readers. “Sure,” you say, “but why do I need another publishing platform?”.
Companies can republish existing blog posts on Medium and reach an entirely new audience.
When you post on Medium, you have the chance to get the post featured in one of many popular publications, some with millions of readers. Winning a placement like this can get you tens of thousands of views overnight.
Medium is perfect for startup content -- some of its biggest publications focus on dev, design, startups, and productivity.
Vennli is a content intelligence platform that assists in making your startup more relevant to customers.
Vennli helps startups gather real-time data and insights about why customers choose you over the competition. The platform delivers content strategies that better align your startup with specific customer needs.
Vennli lets you collect data from your customers, generate complex reports, and present the findings in a way that is digestible for your team.
emfluence Marketing Platform
Emfluence is a Swiss army knife: it does email marketing, social automation, customer surveys, landing pages, and more -- all while keeping your metrics under one unified roof.
With a drag-and-drop calendar, emfluence will help you plan, automate, and integrate the elements of your digital content strategy to build and track marketing workflows.
Presentation Tools for Startups
Imagine if Powerpoint became younger, hipper, and more dynamic.
Keynote uses a clean, intuitive interface that makes it easy for anyone on your team to create charts, incorporate cinematic effects, or edit photos.
Keynote doesn't tether you to a PC - rehearse mode lets you practice on the go from a mobile device. Perfect for an on-the-go founder practicing for a big investor pitch.
Powtoon is a platform that allows nearly anyone, no matter their technical abilities, to create professional-looking, videos or presentations quickly. Just drag and drop inside one of the easily customizable templates and you will have yourself a powerful presentation in just minutes.
Prezi isn’t your everyday presentation software.
The tool features beautiful templates, modern charts, and even audience analytics. It’s proven by Harvard researchers to be more engaging than Microsoft Powerpoint (shouldn’t need a PhD to figure that out), and the product is evolving all the time.
The latest iteration of presentation software from Prezi -- Prezi Next -- features a flexible, dynamic format that gives the presenter freedom to move from topic to topic, keeping their audience interested with what Prezi calls “conversational presenting” -- meaningful dialogs and better outcomes for everyone involved.
Sales Tools for Startups
LinkedIn Sales Navigator
LinkedIn owns one of the world’s largest sets of enriched data on companies and their employees. With that data, you could pull up a list of eligible leads in seconds, based on company size, growth, connections, industry, location, or basically any relevant factor.
But it’s not going to let you do that with a standard LinkedIn account.
For data-powered prospecting, you’ll need LinkedIn Sales Navigator. Sales Navigator lets you build targeted prospect lists and reach out to them in-app, saving you time sifting through unqualified leads or hunting for email addresses.
Mailshake is the simplest tool for running cold outreach. Whether you’re running sales campaigns or promoting your latest piece of content, Mailshake makes it easy to build automated, personalized email sequences.
It comes packaged with pre-written email templates and AI that analyzes your messages for wordiness and spammy phrases, all with the aim of making it fast to reach out with messages that convert. Plus, it’s just $29/month -- affordable for small startups, especially considering the ROI.
NerdyData is a search engine for source code. At first, that might not seem like it applies to your startup, but think about this: If you’re an Intercom competitor and want to find (and poach) all of intercom’s customers, all you need to do is search NerdyData for everywhere the Intercom widget appears on the web, and you’ve got a list of leads.
The same goes for any web technology. NerdyData helps you enrich customer data by revealing a lead’s tech stack and letting you integrate that data with your existing sets. A must for any SaaS startup.
ClickFunnels allow you to quickly create attractive custom landing pages for your products and accept payments over Stripe and PayPal. It’s ideal for membership sites, online courses, and limited-time offers, but also gives startups a way to make their first landing pages, even without a development.
Proposify rolls proposals, document signing, and payment processing all into one platform, to give you a conversion-focused way to close more deals.
Potential customers can view proposals on desktop or mobile, check embedded content, sign in one click, and even pay in-app. This takes the friction out of earning new customers and leaves you to focus on the next big win instead of paperwork and follow up.
Spotio is a field sales management tool. The tool is optimized for use on mobile and shows exactly where leads are geographically located inside defined territory maps. This helps door-to-door sales teams save time and get better visibility over reps, leads, and territories.
Spotio has a whole suite of features dedicated to route planner, territory management, rep tracking, prospecting, and lead management so you can keep your lead list fresh by tapping into the tool’s rich database of prospect information.
Sell One Thing
Need a checkout page for the one thing you are selling, and don’t want to create a full-blown site? Sell One Thing is what you have been looking for. Quickly create a checkout page that integrates with credit card payments.
Invoicing is just one of the many things this fantastic tool does. Among the other features are sales and inventory management, which allow you to easily keep track of your stock, and monitor sales analytics.
If your startup provides any kind of ‘white glove’ service, you’ll want to be invoicing for that in a compliant way and managing your accounting with the help of software. For those purposes, Online Invoices is ideal.
HR & Recruiting Tools for Startups
As agile as startups need to be, it’s a mistake to ignore ‘corporate’ functions like HR. It’ll just cause compliance growing pains as you scale. Luckily, there are tools you can use that won’t break the bank.
BambooHR makes hiring, transitioning, and recruiting smoother than ever with easy onboarding tools and applicant tracking features. Add in the ability to track time-off, performance management, e-signing, and BambooHR is one of the more convenient tools for HR and recruiting for any startup.
Freshteam takes the entire hiring process and condenses it into a single dashboard, making it easy for a single manager to gain control and visibility over multiple candidates in the funnel.
Recruiting fast and making informed hiring decisions is essential for scaling startup, so a tool like this is necessary to avoid losing opportunities due to lost email chains and scheduling errors.
Freshteam doesn’t just manage active candidates, either -- it also allows you to source and filter top talent so you can find your newest growth marketer or front-end designer with ease.
Living up to its name, Gusto delivers automated essential HR and payroll services to clients. Gusto also assists with end of year taxes, ACA compliance, and summarizes critical information into a single console.
With Gusto, your startup can hand off the complex calculations so managers can focus on more important work.
GoCo helps startups manage employee benefits and payroll by leveraging both an intuitive SaaS platform and its connections with 250 certified industry professionals. GoCo lets you entrust HR functions like benefits and payroll to its partners, and use its online tools to manage onboarding, offboarding, compliance forms, org charts, and more.
For $6/employee/month, you can have burdensome HR tasks largely handled for you.
Training Tools for Startups
Skillshare makes learning on their platform fun and easy. Remember Trello? Skillshare has classes you can take to learn that software and become a wizard in less than an hour.
If you’re looking for something a little more advanced, Skillshare has that covered too. It has courses for every professional discipline, from finance to marketing to software development. Train your team on critical job functions for as little as $99/user/year!
UX/Design Tools for Startups
UXPin provides prototyping, documentation, and design systems for creative teams looking to unify their resources and work smarter. With UXPin, designers can build UI toolkits and asset libraries before combining them into prototypes that can be used internally and for user testing. Documentation can be generated automatically, which alleviates every designer’s least favorite task.
With prices starting at $19 per month, UXPin is perfect for startups, small agencies, and freelance designers alike.
There is a reason Invision is one of the most-widely used design collaboration tools in the world -- they have made the process as simple as possible without sacrificing functionality.
With Invision, both clients and team members can leave comments on the prototype, making collaboration much easier. It also integrates with Sketch, PhotoShop, and Illustrator, so you can use your favorite tool for design before pushing the prototype to Invision for testing.
Chameleon gives you the power to quickly build user experience experiments for your product. Create product tours that help to easily onboard new users, or highlight new features with native-looking tooltips and modals that can be A/B tested.
The difference between using something like Chameleon and hardcoding these UX features into your product is that Chameleon makes it possible even for non-technical teams to run tests and deploy in-app content, when announcing new features or welcoming users.
Testing Tools for Startups
Loop11 is an online usability testing tool that helps startups gather user feedback about a product’s functionality and experience.
For example, if you wanted to test how a new feature would be adopted by your main user base, you might first run a test that gives insight into how easy the feature is to discover and use within the app.
Using a web form and a no-code environment, you can get self-serve usability tests complete with exportable data that you can use to tweak your product.
Founded in 2009, Unbounce is one of the pioneering landing page building and testing tools still on the market. It allows marketers to rapidly build high-converting landing pages and get the metrics they need to make optimizations.
In addition to being the go-to landing page tool for marketers, Unbounce provides pop-ups and sticky bars that can be used on existing pages to promote a launch, capture leads, or get social followers.
Lucky Orange provides a comprehensive dashboard that ties demographic information with heatmap data to give you a 360-view of exactly how visitors interact with your site (and why they didn’t convert to customers).
With heatmaps, you can monitor the usability of any page on your site and see where users clicked and scrolled to. This user pathways and friction points, so you can make powerful optimizations and increase conversion rates.
Intercom isn’t just one product -- it’s a helpdesk, a knowledge base, a chat bot, an NPS survey tool, a CRM, a product analytics data warehouse, and even an email marketing platform. Phew.
If you want to run your customer-centric operations all under one roof, Intercom is the tool a startup needs to invest in. It has native integrations with many products you already use, like Salesforce and MailChimp, but can be enriched with data from over 1,000 others apps via Zapier.
Process Street lets you turn boring process documents into interactive checklists that can be assigned to team members.
It’s perfect for building a usable and up-to-date library of workflows so your team always knows how to tackle a specific task like upselling or new employee onboarding.
It integrates with over 1,000 other apps, so you can do a lot of tasks automatically -- send contracts, process payments, and update database records in the apps you already use.
The business plan starts at only $12.50 per user/per month.
Olark is a live chat tool that makes it easier to convert visitors into customers. Olark has a feature that allows you to see the last pages a visitor viewed, giving you the context you need to deliver laser-focused messaging and follow up.
Drift is a live chat widget for marketing sites that combines speed, automation, and personalization. It allows you to integrate with Intercom, Hubspot, MailChimp, and Slack to ensure customer conversations are surfaced wherever you are.
Drift prides itself on being the world’s only conversational sales platform and uses bots to automate the sales process. LeadBot qualifies your website visitors, determines which reps fit certain prospects best, and books the meetings -- even if all your staff are asleep.
Totango is a complete customer success platform for SaaS companies that provides product and revenue analytics that allow you to make better decisions about how to treat existing customers. Is churn your biggest problem? Did that new feature really help with adoption? Totango has the answers.
Desk.com is helpdesk software that allows you to provide customer support from anywhere -- web, desktop or mobile.
Integrated natively with Salesforce data, it provides features that allow you to make data-driven decisions about customer needs in real-time. This will allow you to care for the customers you already served, increasing customer loyalty, and field the requests of new leads with additional context.
The power of referrals is at an all-time high. If you don’t have a plan for gaining quality peer reviews and distributing affiliate offers, you’re closing off one of the best channels for growth.
Referral SaaSquatch is a referral program management tool that helps automate the process of enrolling, rewarding, managing, and tracking your referring customers.
Ready. Set. Scale
There you have it - 53 of the best startup tools (by category).
Does that mean you should go out and purchase a subscription for all these tools? Of course not. All businesses are different. What’s right for one, may not be right for another.
The key here is to consider the needs of your startup. Struggling to find qualified leads? Check out the sales tools section. Team growing rapidly? Maybe check out the HR and Communication sections.
Hopefully, you’ve made some new discoveries!
We're always on the lookout for new tools. Sign up for the MassChallenge newsletter to get updates.
This post has been updated from the originally published on 12/4/2018.