Many first-time founders struggle with figuring out what tools to use to build their products and manage company operations. Having endless options for CRMs, knowledge bases, and design tools doesn’t make it any easier. If there’s one thing you shouldn’t be doing in the early stages of your company, it’s wasting hours doing due diligence for software.
We were in that spot a few years ago when we started CommandBar. Luckily, having access to YC’s network made the chore much easier since founders who’ve gone through the process are always happy to share recommendations (much more concisely and honestly than comparison tables can 😉).
Innovate on your product, go with something standard for the products you buy (for the most part, unless you have an extremely custom need in some area).
Here’s a list of the software we use (and love), from the first days of CommandBar, up until today. Use this as a guide if you’re wondering whether you should pay for a tool for doing X.
When just starting out (pre-seed -> seed)
From just my co-founders and me to adding a few other folks to the team.
- Slack for all team communication and for analytics (a bunch of events piped into channels)
- Superhuman as an email client (the standard for founders)
- Pitch for decks and presentations that spark joy (boo Google slides)
- Loom, which we still use and is indispensable for so many things (design feedback, explainers, walkthroughs, product updates), but back then, especially for cold outbound.
- Notion for everything that we’d need to save and reference later. Also used for our first product docs.
- Github (self-explanatory)
- AWS for hosting our servers
- Netlify for hosting our frontend (including our janky marketing site)
- Highlight for session capture/replay; this was very useful in helping us understand how the product was used in the early days.
- Excalidraw for anything design-related. Yes, really.
Marketing / Sales / Operations
- Google Sheets as our CRM.
- Rho for banking/operations
- Ramp for credit cards
- Intercom for human chat support.
- Gusto for paying ourselves
Once we felt PMF (seed -> series A)
Here’s what we added/switched to at around ~$1M ARR.
- Figma for design.
- Docusaurus for our product docs.
- Retool for analytics and sending important events to Slack.
Marketing / Sales / Operations
- Webflow; we built the first versions of our real marketing site and blog using this. A lot faster and more lightweight than custom-built (for what we needed at that point anyway).
- HubSpot as we started growing our marketing efforts. We use it for marketing emails, but also analytics.
Once we built a sales team
- Outreach for getting started with outbound email.
- Salesforce as our CRM. We needed something more complex that could also make it easier for the sales team to collaborate.
- Apollo.io for lead enrichment.
- Gong; absolutely critical for staying close to customer conversations. Also used as an unconventional onboarding tool for new team members.
Once we built a marketing team
- 6sense for account-based marketing.
- Ghost for hosting all of our blog content (when we started to get serious about SEO)
- Letterdrop for social selling
- Clearbit for B2B data
Once our product needed to scale
- Segment for analytics
- Explo for embedded product analytics (so we didn’t need to DIY it ourselves)
- Vantage (for saving money on AWS costs)
- LaunchDarkly for feature flags and A/B testing
- Segment for product analytics
- ContentStack as a CMS for our docs (so anyone can contribute)
We've clicked, installed, and occasionally uninstalled our way to this list. It's less about finding the perfect tool and more about not getting tangled in the software jungle.
Use this as a shortcut and remember, sometimes the best tool is the one that doesn't take your focus away from building a great product. We all love shiny new toys, but, in the early days, if they start feeling like assembling a spaceship with a toddler's instruction manual, it might be time to step back and reconsider.