Tools of the Trade – SaaS
A lot of software is moving to the cloud, so much so that if you want to find an online service there are a daunting amount of options, especially in the productivity space. I’m often asked what we use and why, so here’s a brief post on that. I’ll follow up with one on the desktop apps we use too in the future.
Since we started out from scratch at the beginning of 2013, working from home offices, we’ve had the great opportunity to start with a blank canvas when it comes to how we work at OneSheep. Here are the select few tools we chose.
Basecamp (Project Management)
Basecamp is essentially our bedrock, where we’d be without it I don’t know. So it’s hugely reassuring to hear recently that 37 Signals are doubling down on this great product, dropping all their others and even renaming themselves Basecamp. A great future to come, hopefully.
We picked Basecamp partly from experience, partly for simplicity and partly for massive flexibility. In our early days our Project Management requirements we’re OneSheep Start Up (we even had a project named as such). So lot’s of little to-dos, mixed with lots of big discussions and major decisions.
This evolved into Retainer management, with Clients, managing priorities and various sub-projects that often crop up inside a retainer contract. Now, we have all this plus Development Projects that have Agile-Scrum project management requirements.
Basecamp, is simple enough to handle all of it. I say simple, because a lot of competitors try to enforce their own project management philosophies or ideas. Whereas Basecamp is pretty flat, with five basic features; To-Do’s, Discussions, Files, Text Documents, Calendar. With a bit of imagination this format allows us to manage any kind of project.
Prices range ($20 – $150) depending on the number of projects you need to manage. From one project for life, through to unlimited projects per month. The no-seat fee is great.
Google Apps (Documents and collaborating in house)
When it comes to modern office working and especially remote working, the central office server or network is dead. The ad-hoc peer-to-peer and cloud syncing is the future (for now). In addition, running an agile, evolving and dynamic organisation requires simple things that just work, zero bureaucracy and an everything everywhere approach to collaboration and files. Like it or not eco-systems or walled gardens are great for this, especially when you carefully select the components that talk nicely across the garden fence too.
So, we looked no further than Google Apps. Email sent to any device, but also fully accessible in the cloud. Files that can be shared organisationally, per person, or even ad-hoc with outsiders and synced to any device, whilst being backed up in the cloud. Documents that everyone can work on – at the same time, with version history and commenting. Calendars that sync, share and work on any device.
All of which is tightly woven together, yet, has great API’s to connect with external apps and tools. We were fortunate to get in before the free option was scrapped, but prices start at just $3.30 per user per month so it’s not a heavy burden compared with desktop licenses for the equivalent tools.
MailChimp (Email campaigns and Client Reporting)
It’s got to be the king of the email space, a super clean and well thought out UI and great features that lead to great and even fun user experience. It handles the pesky task of mobile formatting and the overall challenge of formatting for different email readers too, whilst giving excellent analytics and of course delivering your email safely, exactly when you want it to.
MailChimp also has excellent API’s, which as mentioned earlier is a big help for tying all this stuff together. And did I mention it’s free – for 12000 emails a month. We do look forward to having to pay though one day when we cross that threshold.
BitBucket (Code Repository)
This handles all of our coding, each project has a space here where our code and UI assets are managed. Each user can check out a repo onto their own machine and commit their updates. This works well for team projects when different people are contributing to different places, it’s reassuring to know this service is pulling it all together whilst keeping the code nice and safe. And if we screw it up, we can roll back to the previous commit.
I have to say the user management tools need a rethink, they have got themselves into a bit of messy UI structure, leading to a frustrating user experience at times, but aside from that it delivers on it’s core task well.
It starts from free with quite a few prices points up to $200 per month for unlimited users.
TestFlight (Publishing mobile apps for testing)
Another app that delivers it’s core task fairly well. But boy, of everything we use this is the worst offender in complex messy hard to use tools. However, there is very little competition in this space right now – which is surprising because TestFlight is so core to mobile app development I don’t know how you would work without it.
TestFlight allows us to publish our development builds of mobile apps to all our testers and clients for evaluation and feedback. Since we have to do this prior to release, we can’t use the app stores, so TestFlight enables us to get the app installed on anyones device while it’s in development.
We chose TestFlight for the client and testers ease of use, which was the priority for us. We needed a method of allowing the client to see and use the app before sign off and completion and making it as easy as possible for them to do that was the problem. That’s where TestFlight scores, client side ease of use, just a shame it’s not so nice for the developer to set up and publish.
Another free service!
UPDATE: Apple acquired TestFlight’s owner Burstly last month. Dropping support for Android has already been announced, no clear future for the iOS side though. Alternatives are Hockeyapp or using Google’s fairly new Developer Console
KashFlow (Looking after the money side of things)
As non-accountants we needed something simple and easy to use to keep tabs on the bottom line. We tried a few different options, but found KashFlow to be the clearest with enough to customise it to our needs and handle a variety of inputs.
Tying up with PayPal and our UK bank account was also key, as well as various API options for integrating it further in the future. We’ve also been impressed with the help and service at KashFlow for the most part and the overall reliability of the product.
Of course dealing with money, there aren’t many free options, but paying for security and reliability for a tool that looks after the numbers is no bad thing.
Kashflow have a flat fee of £18 per month.
IFTTT and Zapier (tying it together and automating tasks)
It’s worth adding these two little tools. Great to have in the back pocket if you love two different SaaS products but their owners haven’t got it together to integrate yet. Both services have a range of recipes that work on triggers, using the premise; If This Then That.
So if one action in one service requires an action in another, these two services probably have recipe to automate that action and do it for you. Whether it’s keeping contact lists in sync, sending notifications to you or a client or updating to-do’s check out what you can do to simplify your work flow. The first few times you use it, it feels like actual magic, which is one of the joys of great tech.