When it came time to outfit his startup with digital tools, QuotaPath co-founder AJ Bruno had more than one choice to make.
While sorting through a bevy of potential toolmakers for multiple functions, Bruno — who leads sales performance software company QuotaPath — focused on scale, familiarity and natural adoptability to bring project management software like Asana and collaboration platforms like Slack into the company's daily flow.
"There's so much tech out there that, as an exec, I don't have time to evaluate all of the different tools," Bruno said in an interview with CIO Dive. "If a team says 'this is already widely adopted by the team' I'm not going to ignore it."
As access to digital tools in the workplace become table stakes in industry, startups lean on them for an efficiency boost in the early days.
As access to digital tools in the workplace become table stakes in industry, startups lean on them for an efficiency boost in the early days. But founders must choose which of the thousands of SaaS platforms out there make most sense for their company culture and strategy.
It's a small target. Under-equipping teams means losing a competitive edge against larger players with bigger budgets. Over-deploying tools can raise operating costs while overwhelming staffers who are still figuring things out.
For vendors and more established players, loyalty among rising startups in their early days can mean larger, well-funded clients down the line, once companies mature.
From accounting to communications to project management, here are the tools founders, executives and consultants say are mission-critical for startups.
1. Money on the mind: Accounting software
From Day One, founders should leverage financial management software platforms — such as QuickBooks or Xero — to closely monitor finances, said management consultant Alan Kraus, founder of Blind Spot Strategy, in an interview with CIO Dive. Others in the space who cater to small businesses include Intacct, Zoho Books, NetSuite ERP and Sage50.
Investors look for startups that can responsibly put their dollars to work. In turn, customers are less likely to trust a startup that isn't diligent with finances, or has issues with payments.
These tools can help founders "know your finances, and not just leaving it for a bookkeeper to do whenever they get to it," Kraus said. Someone within the company should, at all times, "know what's going on."
2. Knowing what works: Customer relationship managers
Coming from its mindset of scale, QuotaPath initially got things up and running using HubSpot as its Customer Relationship Manager (CRM).
But because QuotaPath's tool plugs into Salesforce — another CRM provider — the company made the switch in order to explore Salesforce's capabilities.
Given how critical experimentation is for early stage startups, CRMs allow companies to gather data. They can analyze what's working and what's not from the performance of sales strategies to clicks on digital ads.
It can also come in handy while managing communications with future investors or clients once specific milestones — like revenue or feature launches — are hit, said Kraus.
3. Early AI adopters: Artificial intelligence platforms
A startup looking to begin its automation roadmap can do so with out-of-the-box capabilities that hyperscale cloud providers offer, according to Shervin Khodabandeh, managing director and senior partner at Boston Consulting Group, in an interview with CIO Dive.
Depending on their market, companies may find that off-the-shelf solutions won't do the job in order to increase competitiveness, which leads them to rely on in-house talent to create what they need.
AI-focused startups may have an edge in that context, if they opt to leverage internal talent and technology for in-house needs.
For startups in different fields, competing against larger enterprises in resources and talent may prove an uphill battle, particularly given the change management impact AI supposes.
4. Internal efficiency: Collaboration tools
Bruno's previous venture was a Slack customer in 2012. But familiarity with Slack wasn't the only reason the collaboration tool is now part of the daily workflow at QuotaPath.
"Employees are empowered to bring their own software to work," Bruno said. "It's like a bottom's up approach that we have taken seriously."
Tools that help teams communicate smoothly, from Teams to Slack or Facebook's Workplace, have enough buy-in from technical staffers that it's often one of the first choices to be made at startups.
5. What's the goal? Project management software
Project management tools afford startups transparency and communication, two areas founders often fail at, said Bruno, who uses Asana's project management capabilities to set priorities and communicate internal goals across the company.
Another advantage of project management tools is that they help founders visualize what's happening inside the company as it scales up, Kraus said.
Work flow at startups, marked by experimentation and a rapid pace, can mean workers lose sight of the bigger goals as they focus on execution. Adherence to project management software tools can help avoid scope creep.