February 24, 2022

What are the best tools for startup founders?

Amy Cuevas Schroeder
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What are the best tools for startup founders?What are the best tools for startup founders?
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Editor's note: 

From a tools perspective, there’s no better time to start a business. As if entrepreneurs weren’t moving fast enough, every day more tools are released to help them work faster and, hopefully, more efficiently. 

So, how do you skim the fat and pick the right tools when there are so many options? 

With an eye focused on early-stage enterprise software startups, most of our recommendations are optimal for B2B organizations, but apply to direct-to-consumer businesses as well. We’ll spare you the time of reading through the tools that have become ubiquitous (looking at you, Slack and Zoom).

Amplitude for product analytics

When you’re ready to grow your user base and you need more than surface-level analytics about how people really use your product, you’re ready for Amplitude. Known as a leading product data platform, Amplitude gives teams deep insights into engagement, retention, behavioral cohorting, cross-device journeys, and more. The key is to not wait too long. Establishing a product analytics foundation is critical to ensure you have all the right inputs and hypothesis on user experience for scale.


Recommended by Sandhya Hegde, Partner, Unusual Ventures

Arcade for product demos

Nothing helps a potential user understand your product and its benefits more than a well-executed product demo. With Arcade, anyone can create interactive product demos in minutes by simply recording your session as you navigate and use your app. Add tooltips to connect the dots between features and benefits and even include a CTA in your interactive demo to help generate leads. Arcades can be embedded on a website, tweeted, or shared with prospects through email.


Recommended by Bill Hodak, Marketing Partner, Unusual Ventures 

Cabal for investor networking and communication

There’s just about nothing worse for founders than having a fantastic network of investors and advisors but failing to engage them effectively. Cabal makes it easy for founders to ask for help and activate their network of advisors for relevant introductions.

Cabal is a private workspace for founders to send requests and updates, track contributions, and scale their advisor program.


Recommended by Rachel Star, Principal Investor, Unusual Ventures

Carta* Total Comp for compensation benchmarking

We all know Carta as a power tool for managing investors and organizing cap tables, but you might not know about some of their other tools for founders. One of our personal favorites is Carta Total Comp, which provides compensation benchmarks (salary and equity) by role and geography.


Recommended by Rachel Star, Principal Investor, Unusual Ventures

(*Note: Unusual Ventures is an investor in Carta

Figma for collaborative product design

Figma has become the go-to design tool for product development. It’s the one-stop design tool for all things product design — from whiteboarding sessions with FigJam, wireframing, prototyping, interaction design, style guide and the overall collaborative nature of the tool.


Recommended by Suraj VenkataRaman, Head of Design, Unusual Ventures

Goldcast for revenue-driving event marketing

With so many virtual event platforms to choose from (thanks, pandemic), how do you pick the right one for your business? Now that virtual events are in many ways the new email nurture, Goldcast helps B2B marketers organize and scale the entire process. As startups increasingly move toward a Modern GTM motion, tools like Goldcast are proving instrumental in efficiently reaching, engaging, and converting users and buyers.

With an emphasis on community building, Goldcast allows orgs to create virtual lounges, breakout rooms, 1:1 networking, gaming widgets, photo booths, and more.


Recommended by Sandhya Hegde, Partner, Unusual Ventures

(*Note: Unusual Ventures is an investor in Goldcast

Hootsuite for maximizing social media efficiency

Time is a founder’s scarcest resource. Especially in the earliest stages, founders are constantly balancing priorities across teams. Social media marketing is valuable because, done properly, it can lead to outsized awareness and conversion, but it also requires considerable time investment and it can sometimes take years to bear fruit.

If founders and startups need a robust social media footprint in the future, they need to start building it now. But there will always be more urgent priorities for their time. That’s why we often recommend Hootsuite. Founders can expend minimal effort while still propping up a solid social media presence that will pay dividends in the future.

There are three valuable — and free! — aspects to Hootsuite that founders will appreciate:

  • Scheduling
    Instead of remembering the right time of day to post, and then clearing your calendar to type out a tweet right then, you can write a post whenever you have time, and then schedule it.

  • Building brand and executive platforms
    You can manage multiple accounts on Hootsuite, so content and news can be shared — and tailored — to each account on each platform. This allows you to spread more content further, and do so in a more relevant manner to each audience.

  • Acting on high-impact opportunities
    For enterprise startups, most of the chatter on social media is irrelevant. But where your users, buyers, and influencers congregate, you will find massive opportunity, but timing and precision is key. If you’re five days late to a vibrant conversation about your company or competitive set, you’re too late. You can’t constantly scan social media for high-impact conversations among relevant audiences, but Hootsuite (and other social tools) can. Set up specialized columns scanning for keywords relevant to your users and then you’ll be able to filter for the conversations that matter, while letting the rest of the chatter fall to the background.


Recommended by Caleb Bushner, VP Marketing, Unusual Ventures 

Material for MkDocs for user documentation

Material’s tagline is “documentation that just works” and that’s been our experience. It’s easy to get started and the Material theme provides a familiar and well-crafted user experience on top of MkDocs. Material for MkDocs is designed to enable you to brand your docs site with minimal effort.

Material and MkDocs are developed by teams that have anticipated what you’ll need to support your users with documentation. In addition, there’s support for a large set of Markdown extensions that enable advanced docs features you might need as you grow your user community.

The develop-test-review-publish cycle with Material for MkDocs is one of the best we’ve used. In a matter of minutes you can be up and running with a local copy of your docs site. As with many static site builders, a simple web server automatically reloads the site as you make changes. Host your documentation source on GitHub to enable version control and review and use the GitHub pages integration to publish your live docs site.

Material for MkDocs

Recommended by Shannon Bradshaw, Education Partner, Unusual Ventures

Notion for wikis and total project management

You’re probably noticing a theme of “all-in-one” tools in this list, and Notion fits the bill. If you’re looking for a trusty wiki to document and keep track of internal comms, consider Notion. You can also consolidate docs and projects, manage collaborative workflows and sprints, and publish content publicly like a blog.


Recommended by Rachel Star, Principal Investor, Unusual Ventures 

Pitch for presentation design and collaboration

Want to go next-level with your presentations — without hiring an expensive agency? Consider Pitch.com for engaging, well-designed presos for investor pitches, project plans, conference speeches, sales decks, and more. Pitch provides templates and a CMS tool to add rich media, choose from tons of imagery, and collaborate on next steps with your team.


Recommended by Caleb Bushner, VP Marketing, Unusual Ventures

Unsplash for free, high-quality images

A sample image from Unsplash (also a place where Caleb would like to be)
Photo by Fabio Comparelli on Unsplash

One of the most important ways to level up the look and feel of an early-stage startup is with compelling visuals. But finding beautiful, relevant images is not only time-consuming and difficult, it can also be extremely expensive. And, when all is said and done, that expensive stock art still usually looks like it’s just that.

Early companies don’t have the budget or capacity to do custom photography, so where do they turn? Unsplash. Here you’ll find truly free, surprisingly eclectic, and interesting images — all in one service. 


Recommended by Caleb Bushner, VP Marketing, Unusual Ventures 

Rippling for centralized HR and IT management

Rippling describes itself as the first all-in-one HR system for a few as two employees all the way up to thousands. With Rippling, you can take care of all the HR stuff (payroll, benefits, PTO, etc.) and IT stuff (device setup and security, single-sign-on, password management, and more).


Recommended by Sandhya Hegde, Partner, Unusual Ventures

SEMRush for SEO insights and strategy

Curious how many times certain terms are searched for in Google and Bing each month? Do you know which websites rank the highest for your product and industry’s most important keywords? If you want to understand the inner workings of how people hunt for information on the Internet — and why certain websites attract eyeballs more than others — you’ll enjoy SEMRush. 


Recommended by Amy Cuevas Schroeder, Director of Educational Content, Unusual Ventures

Sentry for open-source error tracking

Sentry is an error- and performance-monitoring software platform that helps developers diagnose, fix, and optimize the performance of their code. 


Recommended by Shannon Bradshaw, Education Partner, Unusual Ventures

Strategyzer Business Model Template for business model innovation

Looking for a game-changing business model? Want to overhaul an existing one? Not surprisingly, there’s a tool for that. 

Based on the bestselling book Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, Strategyzer is canvas software for creating and collaborating on business models. You can also use Strategyzer to map existing business models or manage a portfolio of multiple models. Want to try before you buy the software? Download the free Business Model Canvas PDF template here


Recommended by Bill Hodak, Marketing Partner, Unusual Ventures 

Undesign for free design assets and tools

Raise your hand if you need help with design. Now keep your hand up if you’re interested in free, open-source, and royalty-free design assets that make design next to turnkey for your startup.

Created by Sandoche Adittane, a French full-stack developer and UI/UX designer, Undesign is a curated collection of templates and links to some of the best design resources on the Internet. Here you’ll find templates for mobile app pages, Open source clones of popular sites, social media posts and videos for Sketch, Figma, XD, Photoshop & Illustrator, the best free illustrations websites for landing pages, presentations, and apps. And a whole lot more.


Recommended by Simon Zhou, Research Associate, Unusual Ventures

Startup Field Guide templates for early-stage B2B software companies

If you’re looking for actionable tools to build a software business, The Unusual Field Guide is an ever-growing one-stop shop of expert insights from leaders of, well, successful software companies. Here are just a handful of the tools to hit up:

  • The Modern GTM Planner and planning spreadsheet helps you understand how to achieve your user adoption and revenue goals. This simple Google spreadsheet converts the user and revenue goals you want to achieve before your next fundraising round into activity and OKRs (objectives and key results) for you and your team. 


Recommended by Amy Cuevas Schroeder, Director of Educational Content, Unusual Ventures

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