Where Einstein Meets Edison

Seven Essential Tools for Your Start-Up

Seven Essential Tools for Your Start-Up

Jun 24, 2012

Ever since I launched my first start-up in middle school, I have always believed that entrepreneurs are those who find ingenious ways of making the impossible a reality.

As you are brainstorming ways in order to share your game-changing vision with the rest of the world, I hope I can save you and your new enterprise from the frustration of researching and experimenting with some of the equipment that you will need in order to get the job done.

1. Social Media – HootSuite

According to HubSpot’s Co-Founder, Bob Halligan, the future of marketing is “in-bound marketing.”  Businesses use in-bound marketing to direct potential consumers to their products and services by offering free valuable content.

If your start-up participates in any form of social media (e.g. a blog, website, Twitter, Facebook page, Tumblr, etc.), then you are already participating in some form of in-bound marketing.

Managing social media can be overwhelming and the endless list of apps that offer to help can be overwhelming as well.  If you are using only one form of social media, then I would recommend using the application created by that social media distributor.  For example, if you are using Twitter, then use the official Twitter application.  However, often, the official application is the worse application for the content provider since it is usually designed with the visitor in mind.  Such is the case with WordPress.

If you are trying to manage multiple social media accounts, I have found HootSuite to be the best. It allows you to manage, create, share, and monitor your accounts on multiple social media platforms in one convenient location instead of having to juggle several applications at once.

Hootsuite also allows you to share or distribute content across multiple platforms from the same application. Since I have to work with multiple interest groups who use different forms of social media in order to share information (e.g. the hipster student entrepreneurs who use LinkedIn, the socialites who use Twitter, and the conservative students who use Facebook), this is a godsend.

Instead of posting a picture on your Twitter feed through the Twitter application, exiting, and uploading the same picture on my WordPress, Tumblr, and (or) Facebook, I can simply select and distribute content through the Hootsuite application without balancing multiple social media applications.

If I wish to observe my “influence” on my followers, I can check my stats on all of my linked social media profiles through the HootSuite application as well.

Although HootSuite is freemium software, the free version is not a complete rip-off. You can create up to 5 social profiles (e.g. an account on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Tumblr, and Youtube) under the free version of the HootSuite application, plenty for any emerging start-up.

2. Wallet Management – Lemon

Sounds like the name for a new beverage company, right?

Nope. Lemon is a mobile app that allows users to digitize their paper receipts, credit and debit cards, loyalty and rewards cards, tickets, coupons, and more using simply their smartphone camera.  Users can organize their wallets and keep track of their daily spending in order to gain more control over their finances.

Why does this service stand out to me in a field mostly dominated by finance mobile apps from Intuit and Wave Accounting?

Lemon is a mobile app setup for the user with very little accounting experience.

For tech start-up founders, Lemon offers an easy user interface to navigate in order to record and organize expenses while allowing for quick access to information.

If you are an entrepreneur who manages expenses while travelling, then the Lemon application is a must. Especially if you are prone to losing your cards, the Lemon Wallet feature is a blessing as you can retrieve the important information and an image of your Driver’s License, an Insurance Card, or a Business Debit Card when you can’t find your wallet.

My business requires me to travel throughout Latin America for weeks at a time and manage folders of paper receipts as well as my online expenses paid using debit cards. Using Lemon, I can manage all of my expenses and give accurate expense reports to my investors without dedicating hours to organizing paper receipts into a Google Doc worksheet.

The only drawback (well, only to poor start-up founders) to the application is that it also works on a Freemium model. The free version of the application allows for the user to store unlimited cards, receipts, anti-theft protection, and off-line access to your Lemon Wallet.

3. Cash Flow Management – Mint.com

While Lemon handles a few daily receipts well, Mint.com manages your life.

When you have hundreds of transactions taking place everyday or every week, it becomes a little tiresome to scroll through all of those transactions in order to get an idea of your spending patterns.

Lemon will deliver summaries of daily transactions. However, if you are required to deliver detailed reports to your investors or sponsors (like me on a monthly basis), then you are going to spend a lot of time organizing that information into an expense report.

I would recommend that you complement the Lemon application with Mint.com’s application.

Now, I cannot say why both money management apps that I am recommending have something to do with food. However, don’t turn away from this application because it happens to be called Mint. Think of it as helping you manage your finances in such a way that you can keep minting new money (pun intended).

Mint.com allows for you to manage a wide variety of financial transactions including credit cards, savings account, loans, investment portfolios, etc. instead of strictly what is in your wallet.

The application also allows for me to monitor my cash flows in greater detail by automatically syncing with my business checking account and credit card and monitoring my transactions in order to report on my spending patterns.  This allows me to spend more time monitoring my cash flows instead of creating a spreadsheet and manually inputting my expenses. Mint shows my current spending patterns and helps me predict any future expenses.

Therefore, use Lemon to monitor that early morning Starbucks run or a shipment of fresh business cards for that Tech Conference next week. Use Mint monitor long-term spending habits.

4. Notetaking – Notability

If there is any application on my iPad that I cannot live without, it would be this application: Notability.

This application has allowed me to at least double my productivity in the classroom and the boardroom. Now, I am not being paid to be a spokesperson for Notability (although I would love to), but it is a wonderful application.

Notability replaces your backpack of several notebooks by allowing you to create digital notebooks that you can write you notes during brainstorming sessions using a stylus pen, type up notes from important business meetings, and record meetings or conference sessions for playback later.

One of the features that separates Notability from other applications is the ability to download PDFs or Powerpoint Presentations from e-mails, online, or from your computer (through Dropbox, iDisk, or even iTunes) into the application and edit with your handwritten (or typed) notes or even highlight important sections.

Simply using this application, I have been able to reduce my daily backpack load from 5 notebooks and 2 folders of printed information from my clients and supervisors to just my iPad.

I must admit, I am slightly hesitant in recommending Notability as the Notetaking Application because of the elephant in the room, Evernote.

I am a heavy Evernote user as well and enjoy the application on my iPad. However, I primarily use the Evernote application on my Chrome Browser on my MacBook in order to take notes on interesting articles that I may discover while web surfing or doing research.

Evernote is my digital replacement to the Post-It note or scrap paper.  Notability is a digital version of my academic notebook.

Notability is available only on the iPad while Evernote is available on other formats.

5. Financial Transactions – Square

If your start-up is looking for a low cost and efficient way to conduct financial transactions using your clients’ credit and debit cards, then Square is the way to go.

Square is a mobile payment application and device which allows small business owners to use their smartphone device as a portable cash register and conduct financial transactions with customers using their debit and credit cards. If you have ever visited a food truck in the New England area, you have probably encountered a vendor that uses Square.  Square allows you to financially transact with your clients anywhere.

Now, I am not your typical Square customer.

I use Square on my iPad to process payments from clients and donations from sponsors while on the road.  Square saves me from handling enormous amounts of cash in various currencies or online payment systems (considering the majority of my clients do not have internet access at home).

Recently, Paypal and Intuit have introduced their competitive products to Square, which in some cases offer lower transaction fees than Square (e.g. Paypal’s and Intuit’s 2.7% swipe fee in comparison to Square’s 2.75% fee).

Therefore, I would still recommend Square over Paypal Here and Intuit GoPayment for the time being if you are dealing with an international clientele.

The advantage offered by Paypal is the ability for consumers and merchants to make financial transactions with confidence because of Paypal’s reputation for handling online transactions for eBay.

For those of us who have had very negative experiences with trying to use Paypal’s services within and across borders, Paypal’s reputation in online transactions nor its 0.05% lower transaction fee is enough for us to take the plunge into their mobile payment system.

However, I have used Intuit’s mobile applications in the past in order to keep track of my finances and would be more willing to take up their mobile payment application if they establish a track record in handling international mobile transactions like Square.

Currently, it seems that Intuit is on the right track as far as field-testing their current mobile payment device and application in order to achieve the simplicity and reliability of Square’s mobile application.

Therefore, I will stick with Square while keeping a watchful eye on Intuit’s mobile payment application.

6 . Collaborative Brainstorming – Pinterest

I was introduced to Pinterest when a few friends were planning their summer weddings and wanted my input.  In my mother’s time, a young girl would create a “Wedding Book” with cutouts from various fashion, food, and wedding magazines of the type of venue, dress, centerpieces, and flowers that she wanted for her fairytale wedding.  I was expecting much of the same; instead I heard a ping from my iPad and saw an invitation to ‘”pin” images to this friend’s Pinterest board. Pinterest was a digital version of this ‘Wedding Book’ that I had heard so much about when I was growing up from other girls. Just like how girls would share cutouts of a certain flower or centerpiece arrangement, users can do the same thing by sharing their “board” with other users.

Pinterest is a huge pinboard where you would pin your favorite images, clips, quotes, links, etc. and share it through a digital format fostering collaboration despite physical barriers.
When I need to brainstorm workshop sessions for my students, I usually spend hours on the web (using Evernote) to copy dozens of interesting links to articles or videos that I would like to incorporate into the curriculum.

I decided to use the visual nature of the Pinterest board in order to “pin” these links and create “Idea Boards” to share with my co-developers during our online brainstorming session.  I have found that my colleagues work better with the Pinterest board than they do with Evernote or Google Docs, when we are sharing important or interesting links.

I am not sure if it is the visual element to the Pinterest Boards in comparison to e-mail sharing, however the ability to share and collaborate on building these boards has strengthened the brainstorming process for my organization. Especially considering that we are a group spread across the globe and operating in multiple languages, the Pinterest boards have allowed for us to share our ideas in such a way that it feels like we are all in a boardroom brainstorming the future course of our programs and placing Post-it notes on a whiteboard.

I even find it helpful as a personal brainstorming tool when I am trying to organize my ideas for a research project, speech, or article (such as this one). I can pin interesting quotes, images, and references to my board (or unpin them) during the brainstorming.

For emerging start-ups that are in the midst of research and development, fundraising, or even simply brainstorming; Pinterest is an amazing tool for teams that allows for borderless collaboration.

7. Team Task Management – Asana

Honestly, I am very good when it comes to managing my time…usually (if time on Facebook and Twitter counts as social media marketing and not procrastination).

When it comes to managing a team of program coordinators on tasks such as website development across different time zones and various levels of Internet connectivity, I just want to crawl into a corner and hide.

Usually, I would send out a Google Spreadsheet with the various tasks that need to be completed including deadlines and have my program coordinators enter their names under specific tasks in the spreadsheet in order to manage the program development process.

However, there is always that one person who forgets to remove a task from the spreadsheet when they have completed the task, causing me to suffer a mini-breakdown while I frantically try to contact them and obtain further information or an explanation.

Then we decided to move to Google Tasks, but quickly became overwhelmed posting and assigning tasks to individual team members. I remember at one time I received a text message with over 100 tasks, with only 10 tasks pertaining to me.

Task management was the logistical nightmare that no one wanted to handle in my organization.

I love Asana. Now, I don’t mean they type of love that only lasts a few weeks before abandoning your flame due to boredom  but the type of love for which you leave the dating scene and buy a nice house  to start a beautiful life together.

Asana’s workspace is very intuitive so there is really no need to train your co-workers on how to use the application. The website version of the Asana application allows for more flexibility in use for project teams which include a mix of those with the latest gadgets and those who are still heavy desktop or laptop users.

Instead of managing multiple spreadsheets at once and having to check them on a daily basis, I can go to my homepage and view all the projects that I am involved in and assign various tasks to my program coordinators without exchanging multiple versions of a spreadsheet.

I can also add new people to the document, easily post and remove various tasks with deadlines (without the risk of endangering other tasks), and the task reminders for each member of the project who has a task assigned to them also allows for us not to rely on Google Tasks or Google Calendar.

In fact, I have been so taken aback by this application; I will be incorporating the application as a task management tool for my students to use in order to collaborate with their teammates on their start-up projects.

I know this list is very short, considering that their exist thousands of applications in the iTunes App store and Android Marketplace, however this is my list of essential tools for start-up founders.