How could two founders run a large business without a large team?
We are coming up (around Feb 28) on 3 years since we started building KickoffLabs. In the daily ebb and flow of business, progress appears to move at a snail’s pace. I look at the big things we are working on, and I dream of having a small team of developers so we could ship it all in 2 months instead of 6 months.
However, looking at this gigantic list of services we use (or have used), I am floored by the enormity of it all. Two people really could not run a company of this size without so many amazing services. Thank you SaaS (software as a service)!
Here is a run down on some of the services and platforms we use for KickoffLabs:
NOTE: A future blog post will go into the developer stack much deeper.
Heroku – The first thing I hear when I tell people we use Heroku is “Isn’t it expensive?”. My standard response is: I value my time much more. There are cheaper ways to host an app, but they all would require much more time. My only qualm about Heroku is support. The support staff is excellent and at times has gone out of their way to help us. Unfortunately, speed is an issue here. If I were running Heroku, I would double/triple down on support.
Quick tip – Before you buy an add-on, check the price of purchasing it outside of Heroku. 9 times out of 10 it is cheaper (and usually easier to manage) if you do it directly.
WPEngine – Before WPEngine, I was what you could call anti-wordpress. I tolerated it at times, but would rather use just about anything else. However, the support and reliability of WPEngine have been so good, I now run my own personal blog on it and we will be moving the KickoffLabs marketing site there ASAP.
RedisToGo – We used to leverage Redis a lot more in KickoffLabs but got burned by having a dependency on multiple data stores. We now use Redis for essentially throw away data. (The developer specific post will provide more details on this.)
BugSnag – Exceptions are caught and logged by BugSnag. We tried lots of providers here and fell in love with BugSnag.
NewRelic – We generally use the free plan that comes with Heroku. NewRelic provides us notifications of when the proverbial shit hits the fan. What I also like is that we can easily upgrade to the more detailed tier which has been helpful in diagnosing other problems (one of the few cases where it is smarter to go through Heroku than on your own).
Pingdom – Old school simple uptime notifications. Use it for both downtime notices and to let us know when we have a big back up in our worker queues.
PaperTrail – I tried a bunch of logging services before. This is the hands down best option.
Vimeo – It’s simple, ad-free video hosting with basic metrics. We use it to host our support and explainer videos.
Trello – Some day we will need something with more features/control, but for the two of us, this works very well. Would likely work even better if I was used it as much as Josh is.
Skype – With just two of us, we have not had the need to venture into the land of hip chat or campfire. We generally do a daily video chat and then go our separate ways. If I could figure out the UI, I would probably use Google hangouts…but well, I have’t been able to figure it out.
Google Docs – Even though there is just two of us, having a central place to collaborate on documents and spreadsheets has been very important.
DropBox – Easiest way to share anything not Google doc related.
Trunks App – Cheap and easy shared Git repositories. Someday we will move to GitHub, but for now this works really well.
Wow, as I write this I realize we pay a lot of companies to help us send all kinds of emails.
Postmark – I love Postmark. They have fairly strict rules about the types of emails you can send through them and they certainly are not the cheapest way to send email…but damn it, they have great deliverability. I really wish I could send all of our email through them, but well, that would likely ruin the uniqueness of the offering.
Sendgrid – We use this to send all KickoffLabs customer related emails and anything internally which does not fit within the PostMark guidelines.
MailChimp – We use MailChimp to send our weekly newsletters and, prior to Drip, used it for our auto responder sequences. Overall it is a solid product and you really can’t beat their free tier for getting started.
GetDrip – Our auto responder class on landing pages has been a really good source of new users for us. Drip makes this easy and is something we will start using more in the coming months.
KissMetrics – We run everything through KissMetrics. Setup is manual and tedious, but once it is up and running, you are good to go and it is well worth the effort.
Google Analytics – Like most, we default to Google Analytics. As I write this, I realize this is the cheap (and likely wrong) choice. Hopefully we can explore some additional options here in the future.
Billing & Banking
Braintree – We have flirted in the past with the idea of moving to Stripe, but Braintree has been very solid and is already working. There is a steep learning curve, but once you get things set up, you can do just about anything with them. Having said that, the PayPal acquisition scares the hell out of me.
PayPal – We still use PayPal occasionally when a customer cannot use our regular credit card form and needs a pre-paid plan. We also leverage the invoice feature when we perform custom work for a client. I wish there was an alternative here, but they really do own the current non-credit card market. I occasionally flirt with the idea of automating and falling back to PayPal, but then I take a peek at their docs and I come to my senses.
Xero – I would sum it up as, “accounting software that just works.”
Google Adwords – By far, the most money we have spent on customer acquisition has been with Google Adwords. This has been profitable for us, and as we increase the lifetime value of our customers, we will likely do much more with Adwords.
Perfect Audience – It takes a lot of effort to get someone to your website the first time. Don’t let that go to waste after they leave. Perfect Audience is simple “retargeting” that follows these visitors around the internet until they come back and make a purchase or at least give us their email address.
Namecheap – repeat after me: friends don’t let friends buy anything from GoDaddy. I have been using Namecheap for years, and I am extremely happy with the entire experience.
DNSimple – Set it and forget it. Really the simplest way you can manage your DNS and top notch support. When possible, I love helping fellow bootstrappers.
UserVoice – A while ago we wrote about UserVoice being the best support service we could find. Are they still the best? Maybe, but there are a lot of upstarts I would love to try. Unfortunately, I don’t know if/when we would try because it is simply too risky at this point.
oDesk – Finding good help is hard. oDesk doesn’t necessarily make it easy, but it is as good as it gets today.
BufferApp – Does one thing and does it really well. Spend an hour each week and fill up a queue of tweets and Facebook posts. The best feature… we can post to Google+ without ever having to go there.
KickoffLabs – As I have mentioned before, use your own product whenever possible. We have used KickoffLabs for everything from LandingPages 107, our new contest, BootStrapped Weekly, and for hiring interns. Highly recommend as well. :)