I was talking with a friend the other night about all of the software tools we use to run our business (Astrohaus) and how they are immensely helpful. He is the CFO of a holding company and has to manage multiple operating businesses that all use different systems, many of them not taking advantage of new software available. See below for our full ‘stack’ of paid services we use to keep our business running smoothly and with minimal interaction. If I missed something that you think would be helpful to us, please let me know!
Traveling Mailbox – They provide a virtual mailbox with a real mailing address. All our company mail goes there and a picture of the envelope gets uploaded to a web portal. I can decide if I want them to open and scan it, shred it, or forward it to my real address. They automatically trash any junk mail. We initially got the service because we were moving to New York and we knew it was unlikely we would be at any one office address for too long. It’s always a hassle to track down mail from previous addresses and this service provides a great solution. Never worry about missing important mail. It’s very affordable and well worth it.
Gusto – Pay yourself and your employees on time and correctly. It does automatic employee onboarding. The UI and UX is well thought out. The price is reasonable and it just works. All your payroll taxes are automatically paid and the reports filed. It’s easy to see what was filed on your behalf too. You can manage employees and contractors. You can even add benefits and manage them there. It also syncs with QBO without fuss.
Employee Expense Management
Expensify – Another really great piece of software. Use the app to take pictures of receipts or forward them via email. Employees quickly create expense reports, classify expenses using QuickBooks categories, and submit them to a manager. The manager can quickly review the report, see all the attached receipts, approve the report and even reimburse employees for cash expenses directly through Expensify. Expenses are synced to QBO and journalized properly so you can push expenses to the right categories while maintaining the ability to match with a payment. A link to the expense report is added to the journal entry in QBO so you can quickly get to a receipt right in QuickBooks.
Carta – We don’t have a complicated cap table but Carta still provides a great service. I would highly recommend it for any company that offers equity to employees or has more than a few investors. I would also recommend it for anyone that needs to do 409A valuations because it is far cheaper than other sources. It gives you, the employer, a view into your cap table that can quickly get very confusing when tracking on your own. It also gives employees the ability to check on their vesting schedules, review agreements, and exercise options. It’s not expensive and well worth it.
Company Bills and Expenses
Bill.com – Forward invoices to bill.com and it will create vendor profiles, manage payment due dates, and provide an approval and payment process. If you have more than one person in the organization that receives bills and if you need an approval process to pay, bill.com is great. It also syncs with QBO and makes sure that invoices are easily tracked to bill payments. We actually stopped using bill.com only because I am the only one receiving bills and paying them. If my organization was just a tiny bit bigger I would sign up again.
Quickbooks Online – When choosing small biz accounting software it’s basically QBO or Xero. We chose QBO and I’m happy with it. It keeps improving and all our other services integrate with it. I have heard good things about Xero too.
Amazon Transaction Journalizing
A2X – This was referred to us by our new bookkeepers. It pulls reports from your Amazon seller account and packages them for QBO. From what I’ve seen it’s awesome and works exactly like it should. Without this, properly booking Amazon sales is a pain and leaves a lot of opportunity for errors.
Taxify – Managing sales tax receivables, payments and filings quickly becomes unwieldy even with a modest sized business. Did you know there are sales tax rates at the state, city, and county level in some places? The state of sales tax laws in our country is a disaster and not at all friendly to modern ecom businesses. That’s where Taxify comes in. You tell it where you have nexus, connect your shopping carts and it takes care of the rest (you also need to make sure your tax collection settings are correct in your shopping carts and marketplaces). Taxify quickly shows how much tax you are collecting versus your liability. It also automatically files with the relevant agencies on your behalf.
LastPass – Security is important and there is no worse thing than using the same or similar passwords on every site. When a site you use has a data breach, and they will, its possible that your username and password combo will get leaked and sold. Hackers then try that same combo on every other site. Just recently I have been getting phishing emails with one of my old passwords in the subject line. The phishers got my login combo from a websites data breach and is now using it to scare me into thinking that I need to give them money, etc. That’s why you need a password manager, so you can keep track of unique passwords for every site. It also allows you to have long passwords that would otherwise be hard to remember. LastPass also works phenomenally for businesses that need to share login info. You can setup shared folders and allow certain people access to specific passwords. You can then easily manage access without emailing credentials and trying to remember who has access to what.
E-Commerce Shopping Cart
Shopify – I don’t LOVE shopify but it is very good and right now, it’s the right choice for the great majority of e-commerce companies. Magento is the devil and should be avoided at all costs. Shopify is great because the checkout flow is well designed and they are constantly improving. It is also hosted which means you get robust infrastructure and don’t need to worry about downtime. The reasons I don’t love it are that it’s easy to outgrow the base features and costs quickly start escalating. If you can get away with features in their normal plans, it is well worth it.
Sumo – We’ve been customers of Sumo (previously SumoMe) since day 1 at Astrohaus. Actually, even before Astrohaus we had Sumo running all of our email opt-ins on our original Hemingwrite wordpress site. Their products are what allowed us to get 9000 email addresses from all our initial traffic prior to launching the Hemingwrite Kickstarter. We’ve come a long way since then and so have they. Sumo is very powerful and still provides some of the easiest/best tools to add opt-ins to your website.
Email Marketing and Automation
Klaviyo/Sendgrid – Both are great and I would highly recommend them. For us, email has been a major pain point for a long time since there was no perfect solution. There are three categories of emails we send: 1. broad campaigns 2. transactional emails and 3. automated emails. Campaigns are emails that go out to a list such as a newsletter. Transactional emails go to individuals such as order confirmations. Automated emails are also transactional but I’ve separated them out because they are a huge focus area for any ecom business. This is where Klaviyo shines. It allows us to do sophisticated sequences based on triggers. For example, we can send an email to a customer if they recently opened a newsletter, visited our website and then didn’t make a purchase. We can also send specific emails based on purchase behavior such as offering a cross sell if their recent order didn’t include an accessory. When we first started using Klaviyo a couple of years ago, it was a recent entrant and had a long way to go to making their email delivery reliable. These days it is great and I have no problem recommending it. The only issue is that it gets expensive if you have a large list. Klaviyo is now our largest recurring monthly expense except for rent. Ouch! It’s powerful and it works though. If you have an online business, email should be a major focus.
Helpscout – I have already raved about this software in a previous post but it’s really great. We use it to manage our primary group inbox and it also powers our knowledge base at support.getfreewrite.com. It works exactly like you’d want it to. Assign conversations, write notes to other staff, respond from your email, quickly access knowledge base articles, keep track of previous conversations, and much more. They also just rolled out chat which we haven’t implemented but will soon (sorry Olark!).
Shipstation – We do most of our fulfillment through 3rd parties but the few things we fulfill from our office, Shipstation manages. If you run your own warehouse, no matter how small, Shipstation or something like it is invaluable.
AWS – Of course we use Amazon web services. Does any startup not? We also use some other hosting services but none worth mentioning in more detail.
We also use a variety of other hosted services on the software side of our business including Docker, Redis, Zapier, PaperTrail and Sentry, which are all invaluable. For SSL we use SSLMate and Letsencrypt. For DNS we use DNSimple.
Dropbox – In my Great Software post, I already elaborated about what makes Dropbox great. It still is and in my opinion the best cloud storage provider. It’s even great enough that we still pay for it despite already paying for Office 365 that includes OneDrive storage. However, I have a feeling that OneDrive may be worth reviewing again in the near future as a replacement for Dropbox. Dropbox is still great but Microsoft products are improving and the potential integration with the rest of the Office suite and windows could be a game changer.
Hellofax – I hate that we still pay for this but we do. I have no complaints about the product but the idea that I have to fax something in 2018 irks me.
eVoice – We pay for a virtual phone line through eVoice. This is a new subscription for us and it works fine. Haven’t used it much but we needed to post a phone number clearly on our website to be approved as a Google Merchant.
Office 365 – I don’t do Google apps so Office 365 is the only real option for business apps. Real Word and especially Excel are impossible for me to leave behind. We have been using Outlook which has thus far been fine but it is actually improving on a regular basis with Microsoft’s updates.
Slack – Technically we started using it recently because one of the agencies we are working with suggested we use it to communicate with them but its very limited. I tried to stay away from it as long as I can! I am still on the fence as to whether I think it is good or not but I think I am probably being old fashioned. One thing I definitely don’t like is how slow the app is on my desktop and phone. There is nothing more annoying than clicking on a notification only to see that the app hasn’t updated yet. Don’t send the notification if the app can’t keep up!
Inventory Management software – We run a hardware business and you’d think we’d have a better system for this but we don’t, at least not yet. We don’t have a lot of SKUs and Freewrite production batches are painfully infrequent allowing us to get by with general tools.
All in our monthly recurring costs for services and software runs to about $2k including hosting and bookkeeping. Not bad at all considering how much value they provide. The biggest thing is giving employees the ability to self-administer as much as possible. Providing certainty that all the various administrative functions are working allows me to focus on driving sales and the rest of my team to do their job.