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15 essential tools every lean startup can’t live without

  1. Lean Canvas

    If you’re an early stage startup the last thing you want to have to do is write a 30 page business plan. Wouldn’t it be great if you document your business model on one page, allowing you to focus on actually building your business? This great tool lets you adopt the principles of the business model canvas using a simple web interface. Create multiple canvases if you like, collaborate and share with others, and re-visit later. Adapted from the Business Model Toolbox, this is the brainchild of Ash Maurya, author of Running Lean and a successful blog. We use this on every project we work on and you should too. It’s a lifesaver as it makes you focus on the things that count right from the outset – What’s your problem-solution fit? Who are your customers? How are you going to reach them? What’s your pricing model? The Lean Canvas will help you crystalise your ideas and communicate these better. As well as creating the elements that make up your business model, you can also set up experiments to test your assumptions and comment on other people’s entries. An awesome addition to the startup toolkit.

  2. Personapp

    OK, this is a shameless plug, but as there wasn’t a solution out there we at Spook Studio decided to build something ourselves. We like to create quick, informal user personas to help us (& our clients) start thinking about the people we’re designing for. After many a project hacking together hand-written personas, word documents, Fireworks & Balsamiq mockups, the frustration came too much and Personapp was born. Create multiple personas per project and export for sharing or printing. It’s still in beta but you can sign up for an invite.

  3. Unassumer

    A new addition to the lean startup tools out there but a valuable one all the same. Created by customer development expert and author Brant Cooper, Unassumer helps you learn quickly what your customers really want, so you can focus on delivering the best product. Get feedback from customers and prospects automatically with a simple scoring system, and get actionable data that helps you find and target your market.

  4. Kiss Insights

    KISSinsights gives your customers a way to tell you what they need. Ask a question (or two) and your customers will see it slide up from the bottom right-hand corner of your site. A neat little addition to the feedback space.

  5. Survey.io

    A great tool for for testing product/market fit through a customer development survey. Use their standard template to create a survey in seconds (or use KISSinsights to create your own).

  6. Google Apps

    So many (free or very cheap) tools for the lean startup. Docs (spreadsheet, presentation, pages, forms, etc). Use them as you would Office or iWork but you can also hack them for different needs. We use Google forms for user surveys, for instance.

  7. Unbounce

    Unbounce lets you create simple landing page design and do A/B split testing. It takes the pain out of creating landing pages (no HTML knowledge needed) and enables you to quickly test the market for your product idea.

  8. WuFoo

    WuFoo lets you easily create forms that can be embedded onto your site (or Unbounce landing page above) without the need for a developer to set this up for you. We use this for email signup forms on landing page MVPs to see if there’s an interest there before we build something. It also has a very user-friendly interface for managing your forms and keeping track of analytics & conversions.

  9. Usertesting.com

    Not a replacement for face to face usability tests but a good way of pinpointing any usability issues at an early stage. Their network of testers can test anything from an early stage prototype, flat designs or a soon to be launched web app. They will review your product and provide audio commentary whilst they are using it. Bear in mind though that from our experience they can come across as expert testers so may not be an accurate reflection of your target audience. But for cheap, quick feedback it’s a very useful service (from $39 per participant).

  10. Silverback

    A handy little piece of software by UX experts and neighbours of ours Clearleft, Silverback lets you record live usability tests through your built-in webcam (and mic) for watching or sharing later. As well as recording the tester themselves it also records the screen activity of them using your product so you can keep track of each stage of your test. We find it particularly useful for referring back to later when you’re writing up usability test sessions. They can also be useful to distribute to your client if they weren’t able to attend the sessions in person. There’s a free 30 day trial or it’s $69.95 for the full version. A bargain.

  11. Kiss Metrics

    KISSmetrics is a customer analytics software that allows you to understand and optimize the user experience throughout your entire customer lifecycle from first click to the last conversion.

  12. Balsamiq Mock ups

    A great tool for creating interactive wireframes. It’s very easy to learn and many non-creatives find it a breeze to pick up. It helps them to visualise their product ideas without the need for lots of documentation. Don’t create a technical spec, create a low-fi Balsamiq wireframe. Your developer will thank you.

  13. Chargify

    Chargify takes the pain out of recurring, subscription based payment plans. As their tagline says ‘you build, we bill’.

  14. Verify

    Verify is the fastest way to collect and analyze user feedback on screens or mockups. See where people click, what they remember, or how they feel. We think VerifyApp is awesome.

  15. Olark

    Allows your customer to reach you via your website through a simple, unobtrusive live chat widget. See an example here.

I hope you find these useful.

If you need help turning your startup idea into a successful web product, visit www.spookstudio.com or contact me via Twitter @welovelean. I offer a free 20 minute sanity check for startup founders to share and discuss their ideas in confidence via Skype.


22 Responses to “15 essential tools every lean startup can’t live without”

  1. Giles Farrow

    Great list, thank youI’m familiar with most of these and I know they are excellent. But that makes me even more keen to check out the others

  2. Anonymous

    No problem, hope you find them useful. If you come across any others you’d like to see here, let us know.

  3. Kris Draper

    Thank you for the list. I’ve used many of them and am always looking for new ones. I’m especially interested in anything that makes it easier for team members to collaborate. One that I’ve been looking at is LiquidPlanner. If you are familiar with it, I’d be interested in the pros and cons!

  4. Ron Evans

    Those are some great tools, have had especially useful experience from LeanCanvas.Please excuse this shameless plug, but our product Kanbanpad (http://kanbanpad.com) is great for lean startups, and being free is great for early stage companies. This is why we call it the Happiest Project Management Tool on Earth!We also use KissMetrics, and is provides some excellent info on the usage patterns of real users… essential for customer driven product development.

  5. Josh Ledgard

    Great list, but you missed something for lean marketing… a signup page that helps you find more beta users for feedback and market your product while all you have is mock-ups. 🙂 For example: our service: http://www.kickofflabs.com.

  6. Yair Furman

    Thanks for this list, looks awesome. I can also recommend Zoho.com which is a very nice free CRM with lots of add-ons (some at cost).Please allow me to add my shameless plug as well: Startups may require more computers than their budget may allow. So they can use SoftXpand from MiniFrame (www.miniframe.com) to expand their existing computers to more users, each one working independently. This can be useful in meeting rooms, front desk, training rooms, QA labs and generally any open-space environment.We will offer the first 4 seats for free to readers of this blog.

  7. coopermarcus

    If you like Google Apps, and you like free apps, then you’ll probably end up using MailChimp – if so, you’ll really like Wishery to tie these all together – http://wishery.com/install Yes, shameless plug, I’m co-founder of Wishery – but that doesn’t mean you won’t love it!

  8. Danielle

    Oh how wonderful it would have been to see WalkMe on this list – a unique interactive guidance system that allows online publishers to walk their users step-by-step through any online process. What a useful way to refrain from massive customer support desk costs. FABULOUS list, though, I have to say!

  9. andra

    This is a great list! I’d like to add Asana to it – it’s a great project management and CRM tool. I’m not associated with it at all but on other recommendations I’ve been trying it out. It’s clean and works quickly. Love it.Also Zeromail is useful too for fast workflow. (Although, these are lean only in being great ways to reduce time spent on make work.)

  10. Marcin Treder

    Thanks for this great list! We’re already using couple of them and I absolutely agree there are essential.I’d like to show you tool that will help you create stunning designs together with your team-mates. UXPin (http://uxpin.com) is a User Experience Design platform that keeps everyone on the same page of the design process. Nobody will ask "what is this wireframe thing" anymore :).Have a look on UXPin and let me know what do you think.

  11. Davide

    Thanks for your list. I’m especially interested in Survey.io that makes it possible to create surveys just in seconds…I think it will be usefull for my business

  12. Josh Ledgard

    Hi Laurence, This is a good list, but I’d like to humbly suggest our service as well. http://www.kickofflabs.com. If someone is considering woofoo + unbounce then we have simplified that down to one service. We also have some killer influencer and email marketing features. Even if you don’t post this comment you may want to check it out. Thanks, Josh

  13. Anonymous

    Excellent list – very much appreciate your work! Got the info about this via a dear friend from Sevilla, Spain, Inma Vp.Myself I am a passionate lean thinker for quite some time, running some blogs, and groups on it. Currently building a lean startup accelerator in Dresden, Germany. Working on bringing http://leanstartupmachine.com/unlock to Dresden – and share some of this awesome content. Feel free to join, and come over to Dresden.

  14. Anonymous

    Thanks Ralf. Hope you get to go to LSM. It’s an eye opener! Would be happy to help/mentor.


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