You’re scrappy. You’re ambitious. And you’re trying to build the next big thing. So what are the best startup tools to help you scale your business?
Since 2013, I’ve worked almost exclusively with startups as a freelance writer and former marketing consultant. During that time, I’ve gotten a feel for how startups operate and which tools they prefer. I also did some research. In determining what I think are the best startup tools, I considered the following:
Popularity: If big-name brands and 90% of startups are using a particular app, it’s probably indicative that it’s the best around (not always, but it’s a good sign).
Affordability: Startups, especially pre-funding, typically have tight budgets. I tried to find options with free versions.
Features: I wanted to make sure the features were useful to startups.
Ease of use: If the tool had incredible features but is so confusing you waste time trying to figure it out, I avoided it.
Personal experience: I also based this on any personal experience I’ve had using the tool.
Below, I’ve tried to include the best startup tools that pretty much any business would need. Enjoy!
1. Best Project Management Tool for Startups: Asana
Imagine your whole team opening their laptops in the morning, going to one website, and knowing exactly what they need to get done that day, what order to do it in, and who they need to collaborate with. Sounds like work bliss, right? Because that’s what it should feel like when you use the right project management tool.
Asana is a popular choice for startups and one that many of my clients use. With it, you can build workflows to ensure maximum productivity, plan out your tasks for the day, and get a big-picture view of your team’s progress to demolish any roadblocks. Asana is used by teams at Spotify, Zappos, PayPal, and Slack.
Best Asana Features You Can Get for Free
- Unlimited tasks
- Unlimited projects
- Unlimited file storage
- Up to 15 teammates
- Multiple ways of visualizing info: list, calendar, board views
- 100+ app integrations
Asana has three paid plans, starting with the Premium plan, which is $13.49 per user per month billed monthly. Upgrading to this plan gets you a timeline view, dashboards, advanced search and reporting, custom fields, unlimited free guests, rules (for automation), and an admin console. Check out Asana’s pricing page.
2. Best Team Communication Tool for Startups: Slack
Slack is, hands-down, one of the most popular team communication apps around. It’s used by more than 750,000 companies worldwide, including TD Ameritrade, Lyft, IBM, and the world’s oldest national broadcaster—the BBC.
With Slack, you no longer have to live inside your inbox. Collaboration becomes easier because it has channels (spaces dedicated to specific topics or teams) where everyone sees what everyone else sees (versus an email where someone’s left out of the loop if you forget to CC). It also allows you to chat in real-time with your team instead of waiting for their email reply.
Best Slack Features You Can Get for Free
- Real-time chat messaging: This is what Slack is best known for. You can send messages in real time to your teammates, either through channels or through private direct messages.
- Channels: Channels streamline communication by letting you organize conversations by project, topic, or team.
- Slack Connect: Slack Connect allows your clients, customers, partners, or anyone else outside your company to join your Slack account to continue the conversation in one place.
- Built-in audio and video calls: Great for stand-ups, Slack has built-in audio and conferencing. But what’s more is that it integrates with other video conferencing apps, too, such as Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, and Google Hangouts.
- More than 2,200 Slack apps: In the Slack App Directory, you can find apps that help you maximize your Slack experience—everything from an app that lets you create a new task in Asana to one that lets you challenge your teammates to do 10 pushups every hour.
- Free: Grants you access to unlimited private and public channels, 10,000 searchable messages, up to 10 app integrations, 5GB total of file storage, 1:1 audio and video calls with your teammates, and standard support.
- Standard: $8 per active user per month gets you unlimited message history, unlimited app integrations, 10GB of file storage per team member, audio and video calls with up to 15 attendees, and 24/7 support.
There are two more tiers above these. Check out Slack’s pricing page for full details.
3. Best Noise-Canceling App for Startups: Krisp
When you’re working from home, it’s tough to find a quiet place to make a call when you live with family, pets, or roommates. But thanks to Krisp, you’ve got one less thing to worry about.
Our AI-powered app learns to distinguish between your voice and background noise—and blocks out the latter. So even if your dog is barking or your roommates are talking loudly outside your door, the coworkers on your Zoom call will never know.
On the flip side, Krisp also allows you to block distracting noise coming from other people’s mics. It’s no wonder TIME has just named Krisp as one of the best inventions of 2020!
- Mute microphone noise.
- Mute speaker noise.
- Krisp works with more than 800 apps.
- Free: Mute microphone noise for up to 120 minutes a week and mute speaker noise for up to 120 minutes a week. Krisp supports more than 800 apps, including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet.
- Teams: For $5 per user per month billed annually, you get unlimited minutes to mute both microphone and speaker noise. You’ll also gain access to an admin panel where you can manage members, and you’ll get priority support. Get started with Krisp for free.
Short on time? Watch our video on the best startup tools instead.
4. Best Customer Support Tool for Startups: Groove
Years ago, a startup client of mine was overwhelmed using his inbox to keep track of customer questions and concerns. Emails got lost in the mix, and threads were hard to keep track of.
That’s when I went searching for the best customer support software for a startup on a tight budget. Groove ended up being the winner. Not only is it one of the most affordable support ticketing tools out there, but it’s also easy to use.
With Groove, you can create a knowledge base to answer questions before customers email you, track the progress of support tickets so no customers fall through the cracks, and even implement live chat support (this is an upcoming feature).
Groove Features You Can Get on the Starter Plan
- One shared mailbox for centralized communication
- Knowledge base
- Live chat (upcoming feature)
- A web widget where your website visitors can quickly search your knowledge base or contact you
- App integrations, including HubSpot, Slack, and MailChimp
Groove does not operate on a freemium model, but they do offer a 15-day free trial (no credit card required!) before you commit. Additionally, at $12 per user per month billed monthly, their Starter plan is very affordable compared to other customer support software. See their full pricing details here.
Lastly, Groove has a special Startup plan program for early-stage startups with fewer than 10 employees. If you apply and get approved, you get a steep discount on their Pro plan. Gotta love a generous, startup-friendly company!
5. Best CRM Tool for Startups: HubSpot
If your startup is ready to focus heavily on marketing and sales, then a CRM is a must-have. HubSpot is free forever and has tons of features I didn’t even realize existed until I tested it.
Need a landing page for a marketing campaign? You can create one for free in HubSpot from one of its many templates using a drag-and-drop editor, so you don’t need a design or IT team to help you.
Need traffic to your landing page? You can connect Facebook ads to your HubSpot account. You can even check your ads campaign data right inside your HubSpot dashboard to see how it’s going.
Additionally, HubSpot allows you to track a lead’s history, showing you every interaction they’ve made with your product—including which pages they’ve visited on your site. This helps you understand the customer’s journey through the sales funnel and turn a cold lead into a converted customer.
Best HubSpot CRM Features You Can Get for Free
- Contact management
- Contact website activity
- Tasks and activities
- Company insights
- Gmail and Outlook integration
- Custom support form fields
- Reporting dashboard
- Meeting scheduling
- Email marketing
- Landing pages
- Ad management
- Live chat
- Free: HubSpot CRM has a free forever version with all of the features listed above.
- Paid plans: For more advanced features, you can upgrade to a paid plan for marketing, sales, customer service, or CMS. You can even bundle plans. Paid plans start at $50/month billed monthly. Head to the HubSpot pricing page for full details.
6. Best Graphic Design Tool for Startups: Canva
If your startup doesn’t have a graphic designer yet, let Canva be that for you. I’ve used Canva for my own business and my clients’ since 2015. With its drag-and-drop editor and library of templates, icons, and free stock images, you can create visuals for anything imaginable—from Instagram posts to email headers to Facebook ads.
Best Canva Features You Can Get for Free
- Templates: Canva’s power lies in its professionally designed templates that you can use and edit for free.
- Collaboration: Invite people to edit a design you’re working on.
- Stock photo library: You don’t have to buy a stock photo subscription for your designs; Canva has a library chock full of them that you can search without ever leaving the app. You can also upload your own photos.
- Backgrounds, icons, fonts, music, and videos galore: Beyond stock photos, Canva has tons of other design elements you can sift through.
- Photo editor: A built-in photo editor lets you crop, adjust, and apply filters to your photos.
- Free: Canva has a free plan with all the features listed above and more. I’ve used this plan for years and have been satisfied with it.
- Paid: Paid plans start at $12.95/month billed monthly and allow you to create a Brand Kit with your logo and colors, resize graphics so you can use them in different places, schedule social media content, and more. Check out Canva’s plans here.
7. Best Email Marketing Tool for Startups: MailChimp
Whether you need to run a drip campaign to onboard new users, send a monthly newsletter to keep customers in the loop, or announce product promotions—you’ll need email marketing software.
For startups on a budget, you can’t beat Mailchimp. I’ve yet to find any email marketing software that offers such a good deal: Mailchimp is free up to 2,000 subscribers and 10,000 monthly email sends.
Best Mailchimp Features You Can Get for Free
- Send up to 10,000 monthly emails to up to 2,000 contacts.
- Basic segmentation
- Basic templates
- Audience dashboard
- Behavioral targeting
If your email list outgrows the free plan, you can upgrade to one of their paid plans, which start at $9.99/month. The Essentials plan lets you have up to 50,000 contacts, plus it gets you access to A/B testing, custom branding, and 24/7 email and chat support. Compare Mailchimp’s plans.
8. Best Accounting Tool for Startups: Wave
During my seven years in business, I’ve cycled through many accounting tools, from Quickbooks to Xero to Wave. And by far, the easiest for me to use as someone who isn’t a bookkeeper or accountant is Wave. Plus, Wave’s accounting software is free, with paid options if you need online payment and payroll functionality.
Wave Features You Can Get for Free
- Connect bank accounts to automatically import transactions.
- Scan, email, or upload receipts and attach them to expense transactions.
- Create and send invoices.
- Invite your accountant or bookkeeper to your Wave account.
- Have all your income, expenses, and invoices in one place for tax time.
Wave’s accounting software is free, but if you need to accept online payments, you’ll pay a fee per transaction. And if you need payroll features, you’ll pay a monthly fee. Get Wave pricing details here.
9. Best All-Around Tool for Startups: ClickUp
ClickUp continues to wow me. Launched in 2017, this SaaS company has covered a lot of ground in just three years, finding devoted users at places like Google, Airbnb, Nike, and Uber.
ClickUp’s slogan is “one app to replace them all.” It could replace two apps on this list (Slack and Asana), plus several more that aren’t on this list but that you’re likely using (Google Docs, Google Sheets, to-do list and time-tracking apps, etc.).
I think the biggest barrier to switching to ClickUp is that—while there’s the huge draw of having almost every app feature you need in one place—there’s the onerous task of learning how to use a new app. How likely is it that your entire team is going to replace beloved and ubiquitous tools—such as Slack, Google Docs, etc.—in favor of a newcomer? There will be a learning curve, and it might be overwhelming.
Having said that, I included ClickUp in this list because its users seem to love it, and it’s a seriously impressive suite of tools all wrapped into one for free or for an incredibly low price. To put ClickUp’s affordability into perspective, its cheapest paid plan is $9 per user per month billed monthly. Compare that to Asana’s cheapest paid plan of $13.49 per user per month billed monthly. And given that ClickUp claims it can replace Asana and many other apps, that’s a steal.
If you decide to make the switch, ClickUp makes it easy by allowing you to import your data from other productivity apps so you don’t have to start afresh.
Bottom line: ClickUp may be the new kid on the block, but don’t brush it off. It’s a real contender in the SaaS space and a robust tool for your startup.
Best ClickUp Features You Can Get for Free
- 100 MB of storage
- Unlimited users
- Unlimited tasks
- 24/7 support
- Custom fields
- Mind maps
- Gantt charts
- More than 50 native integrations
While ClickUp has a generous Free Forever version, you can get more robust features by upgrading to their paid plans, which start at $9 per user per month billed monthly. ClickUp’s Unlimited plan gets you unlimited file storage, portfolios, goals, Gantt charts, forms, and more. Plus, it gets you reporting, cloud storage, and Google Drive integration. Check out ClickUp’s pricing page.
Which of These Best Startup Tools Will You Use?
In the end, the best startup tools will depend on your unique situation. For instance, a highly technical startup team will likely need specialized tools that a non-technical team wouldn’t need. Similarly, a startup with a full-fledged marketing department will probably need different software than one without any marketers.