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Pieter Nel


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10 Great Tools for Scaling Start-ups

Use these tools to greatly increase efficiency

As a startup grows, inevitably the amount of time that founders need to spend on non-core, operational issues increases. Your aim should be to automate and smooth out as many of these as possible, allowing you and your team to continue to focus on the stuff that really matters — growth, revenue, product etc. Mark Suster wrote a great post on this a while back where he explains the need for startups to scale up from their scrappy seed-stage garage mentally. At YouNow we grew from 10 to 80 employees in a year and the couple of very simple enterprise tools listed here made life much much easier and productive.


  • you’re already on Google Apps for email and calendars
  • you’re 10+ employees
  • I’m leaving out things like Mixpanel, Trello, and other product-engineering and analytics tools — you should already be using some or all of those. The focus here is on tools that take away the schlep of non-core operational tasks.

(I have used all of the products here extensively but have no commercial relationship with any of them).

Docusign1. Docusign

Do you still print legal agreements, sign them in ink, then scan them (possibly to a USB drive), then plug the drive back into your laptop, and then send that to the counterparty? E-signatures have been globally adopted as a legal standard for years now. Signing legal agreements with Docusign saves hours every month and makes for much faster and headache free transactions, hiring etc. It integrates with Box so everything is stored in the cloud as well.

2. eShares

Manage your cap table and option grants on eShares right from the beginning. It makes it much easier for investors — many of whom now insist on it. Your option grants to employees, advisors and contractors is clean and organized digitally. It produces digital share certificates, doing away with cumbersome paperwork. And when the time comes to exercise options it’s a smooth process, given that bank accounts are linked to the system.

3. Box

Everyone is familiar with Dropbox and I don’t have to sell the merits of storing and sharing documents and work product in the cloud, but just to be sure: keeping documents on individual computers or in email or Google Docs means that when that employee or contractor leaves, the information is gone. So why should you move to Box which is notionally the same as the Dropbox you’ve gotten used to? Box was built from the ground up as an enterprise tool, and allows for much better, fine-grained sharing and access controls than Dropbox. Furthermore, most enterprise tools integrate with Box — not Dropbox. You’re going to go through fundraising, due diligence and one day an acquisition, and all of those are going to require that your records, agreements, NDAs etc are all kept centrally. With Box it’s easy to share selected directories and areas with lawyers, corp dev people and outside contractors. So just do this — right from the start.

Slack4. Slack

It’s hard to imagine there are startups these days that are NOT on Slack. The point is to get the entire organization on there — not just the engineers, everyone from the CEO down. Even General Stanley McChrystal who led the Joint Special Operations Command had a military version of a chat program like this whereby up to 6000 people kept in contact. If the military is using tools like this to make sense of a fast-paced environment, you should too. (See McChrystal’s excellent book “Team of Teams”).

envoy-in-a-box5. Envoy

First impressions last. Envoy replaces the need for a receptionist, saving you from adding another team member. But it’ more than that. It allows anyone in the team to send professional invites to outside parties, including directions to the office, wifi passwords etc. It allows NDAs to be signed by visitors at front desk, stored to Box, and then will notify you of the arrival of your visitor on Slack, or your Apple Watch. Now with passport, you don’t even have to enter your details — it sends it automatically to the iPad on your arrival to the front desk using iBeacon technology. (Most leading tech companies now run Envoy so this works anywhere from Facebook to YouNow).

robinpowered6. Robin

Fighting over who gets to use the meeting room? With Robin, the perpetual task and conflict of making sure meeting rooms are available is done away with. All you need is an iPad mounted next to the room, running Robin. It integrates with Google Calendar and clearly shows availability of rooms, cubicles etc. Comes with the mounting bracked in a color of your choice, so pick one that matches your logo.

7. Hangouts

We live in a distributed world where you may have developers in Eastern Europe, a contractor in Boston, and a potential investor in Palo Alto. In dealing with all of them you want hangoutsto be able to see people, seamlessly share presentations as you’re talking about it, and involve multiple parties. Huddling over a team member’s laptop for a Skype call just doesn’t cut it. Get the Google Chromebox setup and use Hangouts. It integrates seamlessly into your existing Google Apps Calendars and will automatically include the link to the call in calendar invites. Your callers can of course still call in from a device of their choosing — from iPad to laptop.

8. Abacus

abacusYou want to empower the entire team to be able to move fast and make small purchases without going through 3 levels of approvals, whether it’s ink for the printer or a coffee with a prospective new employee. And those expenses shouldn’t come out of individual team members’ own pockets. With Abacus linked directly to both the company’s bank account everyone can submit expense claims easily, backed up by all receipts, and are reimbursed directly into their personal bank accounts once approved. Setting up your own policy on spending limits goes without saying.

9. Betterworks

Management by objectives is not a new idea, but John Doerr made it famous at Google. Here’s the video on OKRs (objectives and key results). Betterworks is a great tool for visualizing and communicating OKRs across an organization. It’s an excellent way to organize company goals and to tie each individual’s quarterly goals back to the overhead company goals. That way everyone knows how they’re contributing, and everyone knows what everyone else is doing and how they’re progressing towards their goals.


10. OfficeVibe

I like the idea of constantly taking the temperature of your OfficeVibe
company and its culture, but I still believe this is best done in person and by walking the floor. It may still be worthwhile to try this tool for more regular (anonymous) feedback. Also, when you have people in your organization specifically charged with keeping the office happy (like an office manager), and if you’re using OKRs (see point 9), then you need a quantified way to measure “happiness”. And here a tool like OfficeVibe works because it allows everyone to respond to various questions and rate their experiences — “Did you enjoy the office party?” — “How do you rate the office coffee?”—”Is the office temperature too hot or too cold?” Referring back to Mark Suster’s post — this is a quantified way to see whether you’re keeping people happy.

These tools are bound to become out of date, but always be on the lookout for things that take away schlep and buy you more time to focus on actually growing your company.

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