As a single founder, my time is valuable. I have to split my time between working for consulting clients, doing paperwork and acquisition, and working on my product Stage. I wouldn’t get anything done, without several tools I heavily rely on.
In the following, I want to share the most important products, that help me bootstrap my own product. Hopefully, you’ll get some insights into my toolset and discover one or two products you didn’t know about, yet.
Sales and Marketing
Let’s get started with the tools I use for marketing. At the moment, Stage is not launched publicly. Nonetheless, a few bands use it already, and I’m slowly adding more customers to it. As I’m slowly getting closer to the public launch, I expect this list to grow quite a bit over time.
To manage the sales funnel, I’m using a Trello board. Each Lead gets a card that is tagged with a plan I’m trying to sign them up to. The card then moves from New, to Doing , to Won or Lost. It’s very simple but helps to keep things organized.
From time to time, I come across interesting content about music business and band websites in particular. In order to share them with people following Stage on Twitter and Facebook, I’m using Buffer to queue up posts. Buffer will then publish them, based on a predefined schedule.
For now, the only thing you can do when visiting Stage’s website, is to sign up to a mailing list. This list is currently hosted on Drip. I used to use Mailchimp for this. However, in order to get e-mail marketing automation in every customer lifetime phase (lead, trial, paying), switched to drip just a few days ago.
Development and Operations
Of course, to run a SaaS product, there’s also infrastructure involved. At the moment, I rely on these providers:
Stage is hosted on Shelly Cloud, a Platform as a Service provider focused on Ruby applications. The main reason I chose them is because they allow storing files on disk and provide decent front-end caching out of the box. On top of that, they’re are a bit cheaper compared to similar other services and provide incredible customer support.
To manage DNS records I rely heavily on DNSimple. Their service is targeted to developers and makes it very easy to get things done without getting lost in strange user interfaces. Additionally they also sell SSL certificates at a reasonable price.
For credit card processing and subscription management, I rely on Stripe. Their service makes it easy to get set up quickly and start earning money. During the last couple of years, the eco-system around it has also evolved quite a bit. There are a ton of tools for analytics, invoicing, or churn prevention, all of them set up with a few clicks.
I’m hosting all of Stage’s code on GitHub. In my opinion it’s the best tool out there to work and collaborate on software. Their pull-requests feature makes it easy to keep things organized and discuss changes to the codebase. I’m also using GitHub’s issue tracker to manage the bug fixing process, as well as improvements to existing features.
I’m a huge fan of continuos integration and continuos deployment. I set up Codeship to automatically run Stage’s test suite every time I push to its GitHub repository. As soon as the tests pass, the master branch is also deployed to Shelly Cloud. This workflow has several benefits for me:
- Because everything is automated, I don’t accidentally forget a step during deployment.
- It forces me to write proper tests. Everything is deployed automatically, so I really want to make sure that I’ve got everything tested and things don’t break in production.
- I’ll make sure I don’t hack stuff together in the repositories master branch. Every feature get’s developed in a separate branch and only merged when it is finished. This way, the master branch is always clean and ready to deploy.
Monitoring and Analytics
To keep track of what’s happening, I rely on several monitoring and analytics tools.
To monitor errors and performance of the application, I rely on AppSignal. Their service is easy to set up and gives great insights into performance issues. The exception notification feature sends all the data required to fix a problem without spamming my inbox. In contrast to other solutions out there, they charge based on the requests the application handles instead of the number of hosts it runs on.
Sometimes a problem is not directly related to the application itself, but to the infrastructure that runs it. In order to get notified about downtimes before my customers notice them, I’m using Pingdom. Every minute, their service checks several websites running on Stage. As soon as one of them is not reachable, it sends an email and also tries to figure out the root cause of the problem automatically.
Hookfeed automatically sends notifications for all Stripe related events. Everytime a credit card is charged, a customer subscribes to a plan, or a charge failed, I instantly get notified about it. As a plus, it also provides simple metrics such as Customer Life Time Value or Monthly Recurring Revenue.
Google Analytics is probably the go-to solution for statistics about website visitors. I use it mostly to keep track of traffic sources and to monitor email signup conversions on the current landing page of Stage.
Almost all of the tools I use send notifications to a Flowdock chat. In a way, it’s the aggregating inbox for everything that happens with Stage. From time to time, I also use it to discuss Stage-related features and problems with friends.
To build Stage itself, I heavily rely on open source software. There would be no way for me to create a product like Stage without the basis hundreds of developers created and shared with the world. The application uses so many open source tools, that it’s impossible to count them all. Therefore I singled out just two of them.
The backend of Stage is written in Ruby using the Ruby on Rails framework. This simply was the natural choice for me. It’s the toolset I’m most familiar with and it’s therefore the most efficient to work with.
I chose Ember.js as a framework to create the user interface of the content management part of Stage. The framework is targeted to ambitious web applications, and that’s exactly what the user interface of Stage is. Also, the core ideas and values behind Ember.js resonate with me as a developer.
Great tools come at a price, however not all of the products listed above are paid. Some of them offer free plans that are a good fit when you’re just starting out. Just check their pricing pages carefully, it might have a small link to a free plan somewhere.
|Stripe||2.9% + $0.30|
Of course, I work with several more tools every day, especially several desktop applications. However, the list above covers the most important SaaS tools involved in running my product.
This article is part of a series where fellow bootstrappers share the tools they use to build their products.