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How We Used 11 Free Tools to Launch Our Startup

How do you turn an idea into a great product, with no budget? If you’re strapped for cash, there are many great tools out there you can use for free. You can use the same tools we did to launch our startup, without spending a penny.

Mockup with Google Draw

We mocked up our early prototypes in Google Draw. With 15Gb free cloud storage to boot, nothing makes more sense for the budget conscious.

Build with Ruby on Rails

If it’s good enough for Github, Basecamp and Twitter, it’s good enough for us. Ruby on Rails is an open source web framework that thrives thanks to its Gems system. No, not in-app purchases; pre-written code snippets that you can plugin to make sure you never reinvent the wheel. We had a working prototype in days. There’s plenty of free Text Editors out there; we used TextMate, and can recommend Atom & Rubymine too.

Host Amazon Web Services

You can’t have a SaaS product without hosting. Amazon’s Free Tier is no charge for 12 months. Take some time to read up about the elastic beanstalk and why you need it.

Track with Swimlanes

As soon as we were able, we started using our product to plan, allocate and track our tasks. Call it ‘dogfooding’ if you like. We’d add items to the Product Backlog, create a 2-week sprint, have a retrospective on what went well and what didn’t, and do it again. This eventually became the inspiration for our Free ‘Startup’ plan; 1 project, 2 users, forever. We wanted to help other entrepreneurs get their dreams off the ground just as we did.

Manage code with GitHub

GibHub is a distributed version control system. Say wha? For non-developers, it is a way of tracking the history of all your code changes. Unlike centralized systems, coders can add changes locally to be pushed up later. Meaning when the free WiFi at your cafe goes down, your productivity doesn’t have to. The free plan means your project will be open source (and anyone can view it). That can be a good thing; for Swimlanes we quickly moved to the Micro plan ($7 a month). Another alternative is BitBucket, which includes a private repository in their free plan.

Deploy with Codeship

Continuous Deployment is a great approach for SaaS products; particularly startups. You often won’t have the luxury of long release timeframes; you need to get it out there, get feedback, improve it, and keep hustling. Continuous Deployment drove us to automate as much as we could from the start, keeping our technical debt minimal from the get-go. Read more about how we setup Codeship to deploy updates with 0 downtime.

Communicate with Slack

We didn’t really understand how or why Slack was good until we started using it. At first we integrated Codeship, so we could get notifications when new builds went up. Then we added Ghost Inspector, which pasted the results of our automation suites. Then Intercom joined the party, delivering insights into Customer behaviour. It wasn’t long before Slack became our view of the world, one that had moved beyond email.

Accelerate with Skylight

Given we’d chosen to write Swimlanes in Ruby on Rails, hooking up Skylight was the obvious choice to start tweaking it’s performance. Skylight is a smart profiler that shows you where your app is spending it’s time, common performance mistakes, and accurate reports on response times. The first 100,000 requests are free; perfect to get your app purring.

Create content with WordPress

Content is King amongst Growth Hackers, and WordPress needs no introduction. We hooked up our website to use WordPress in two ways: the regular blog, to share useful tips and our journey, and to build our Help Site around it. This means it’s easy for our team to jump in and update, edit, restructure and publish our Help pages on demand.

Automate tests with Ghost Inspector

We love Ghost Inspector. Finally a tool that makes test automation easy. Just install the Chrome extension and you’ll have a test in minutes. On the free plan you can run 100 tests per month. To start with, we setup daily tests on both Beta & Production sites. Results would be sent to our #automation channel in Slack; so we always knew when something needed attention.

Learn and support with Intercom

As soon as we started playing with Intercom, we knew it was a keeper. It takes Customer Support to the next level. Instead of waiting for someone to raise a support ticket, it empowers you to be proactive. We started gaining valuable insights into how people used Swimlanes and at what points in their journey it made sense to reach out to them. At this point we were stoked to have people using our app; we definitely wanted to hear how they were going.

Engage with HootSuite

When you’re starting up, social is hard. You have a million things to do and you have to do them all yourself. On top of that, you need to get your social act together in a big way or no-one will ever know about you! Hootsuite’s here to save you time. We hooked up three networks (Twitter, LinkedIn & Facebook) so we could author, schedule and publish to all networks at the same time #winning

Anyone can get it up

The era of freemium means anyone can get a business up and running on the cheap. Close that Netflix playlist and start hustling.

Written By

Business Development Manager, Scrum Master, Co-Founder.

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