Get-Started-Quick Bootstrapping Tools

Originally posted on Reddit, but here it’ll be easier to find again.

These are links that I’ve bookmarked over the past year or so. General theme: Tools that you can use to quickly bootstrap. In most cases it’s best to prove out your concept before, say, spending $100s on a professional graphic designer. Some are free, others are just low-cost.

I haven’t used all of these services personally, but they all seemed handy enough to save for future reference. Not intended to be a comprehensive list of options.

Design + Visual

Logojoy:

Instantly design custom logos for free. Only pay if you’re 100% happy.

Launchaco Free Online Logo Maker: Basically the same thing as Logojoy but totally free.

Cool Backgrounds:

Cool Backgrounds is a collection of tools to create compelling, colorful images for blogs, social media, and websites. Beyond backgrounds, the images generated can be used as desktop wallpapers or cropped for mobile wallpapers.

Unsplash:

Beautiful, free photos. Gifted by the world’s most generous community of photographers.

I use Unsplash alllll the time because you don’t have to credit the photographers. You can, so I do when it’s feasible, but you have a lot more flexibility than with Creative Commons.

Flickr Creative Commons search with commercial use and modifications allowed: Another one that I use constantly. Make sure to attribute properly according to the license terms.

unDraw Illustrations:

Browse to find the images that fit your needs and click to download. Take advantage of the on-the-fly color image generation to match your brand identity.

LunaPic: Free online photo editor with lots of effects. The website looks archaic, but the results are surprisingly good. YMMV depending on the aesthetic you want.

Websites

Bootstrap Shuffle:

Bootstrap builder for busy developers. Too often developers don’t have time to perfectly implement their designs. That’s why we have built a tool that will help you move faster from building a layout to the refining stage so that you can have time to work on the details.

HTML5 UP:

Spiffy HTML5 site templates that are fully responsive, built on intelligent HTML5 + CSS3, super customizable, and 100% free under the Creative Commons.

(I lightly edited that description into an actual sentence.)

Carrd:

Simple, free, fully responsive one-page sites for pretty much anything.

Tons of templates. Pay up for a custom domain and other features that aren’t in the free version.

PhastPress:

PhastPress uses advanced techniques to manipulate your pages, scripts, stylesheets and images to significantly improve load times. It’s designed to conform to Google PageSpeed Insights recommendations and can improve your site’s score dramatically.

No idea how well this works, but if it does work well, what a great shortcut.

WriteFreely.host:

WriteFreely is a writing-focused blogging platform that’s uniquely simple and distraction-free. Instead of having one website called Medium or Tumblr, anyone can start their own entire community with the WriteFreely software and govern it however they want.

Marketing

“The art of storytelling” course by Pixar: Exactly what it sounds like.

Twitter’s advanced search page: Can be used to find reporters, other people to approach for various reasons, complaints about competitors, chatter from unserved niches, etc.

Stuff:

Create awesome invitations to small and large events. Distribution of invitations and collection of RSVPs made really simple. So no invitations are ignored or forgotten. Totally free. A really simple browser and email platform. Easy to use for both organizers and guests. Works for everyone without the hassle.

thad.cc:

Organize events from email. Add cc@thad.cc to an email. Once the email is sent, we’ll create a private event on thad.cc and send a follow-up email to each address with an invitation. Each participant will receive an email with a special sign-in link to access the event. No sign-up necessary!

“It’s okay that your startup doesn’t have a communications strategy”:

In today’s crowded startup landscape, it’s rarely obvious what will cut through the noise. You’re not just competing with direct competitors for customers, you’re competing with everyone for attention (and all the potential future hires, partnerships and funding rounds that awareness can help drive). Tactics are more amenable to creativity and experimentation, don’t devour massive resources, and come with shorter and simpler feedback loops.

I know it’s a little weird to include an article, but the advice is that good!

Legal

Y Combinator Safe Financing Documents:

Y Combinator introduced the safe (simple agreement for future equity) in late 2013, and since then, it has been used by almost all YC startups and countless non-YC startups as the main instrument for early-stage fundraising.

WilmerHale Document Generator:

Our Document Generator is custom-tailored to offer important legal documents that will enable you to start and grow your company. It is an invaluable resource for entrepreneurs and founders of startups in various stages of growth and is designed to help you navigate the unfamiliar and manage interrelated issues. The Document Generator has been developed with the guidance of our experienced lawyers who have a longstanding tradition of offering strategic advice and an indispensable business perspective.

Security

macOS Security and Privacy Guide:

This guide is targeted to “power users” who wish to adopt enterprise-standard security, but is also suitable for novice users with an interest in improving their privacy and security on a Mac.

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The Barnacles Forum Is Worth Your Time

Barnacles is a clone of the Hacker News clone Lobsters, but Barnacles is aimed at bootstrapping entrepreneurs instead of general software devs. It’s a lot like Hacker News, actually, but maintained for small-scale internet businesspeople instead of enterprise employees. Barnacles is pretty low-volume compared to a place like /r/Entrepreneur, but that means it’s more thoughtful. So far I’m enjoying interacting with the frequent contributors, and the links that rise to the top usually feature concrete techniques that you can readapt to your own business.

Barnacles on a rock. Photo by Quinn Dombrowski.
Photo by Quinn Dombrowski.

Most social venues yield what you put in. My personal Twitter account is enjoyable as well as promotional because Twitter is a platform that perfectly fits how I want to interact with strangers (through ironic jokes). I spend a lot of time on there, quoting the articles I read and commenting on other people’s thoughts. I do that on Facebook too, but it’s more of an afterthought. Barnacles provides something in between — I can post a link without extensive commentary, but if it’s not valuable, I’m not using the forum correctly.

I also self-promote via Barnacles. For instance, I’ll post a link to this article. When you make sure to post links to useful articles and generally provide value to others, they don’t mind a little bit of self-promotion.

“If you’re truly talented, then your work becomes your way of doing good in the world; if you’re not, it’s a self-indulgence, even an embarrassment.” — Kathryn Chetkovich

I think a lot more people are “truly talented” than we typically acknowledge. Marketing is still hard, but when we band together, we build up our collective knowledge and do a better job.

“Software is a completely new type of good in that it is both infinitely differentiable yet infinitely copyable; this means that any piece of software is both completely unique yet has unlimited supply, leading to a theoretical price of $0.” — Ben Thompson

Barnacles is a place where new entrepreneurs collaborate on raising that theoretical price from zero to something more tolerable like $100 per download or $15 per month. Even though software is trivial to copy in a technical sense, it’s very possible to convince customers to pay a premium if you deliver value that they need. Sell convenience!

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The Entrepreneur’s Blindspot

I borrowed the title from something that business analyst Ben Thompson wrote about Dropbox in 2009. In that essay he said:

“[O]nce you’ve developed a product that meets your needs — and many products start out this way — how do you market it to a population that is not like you at all? […] And so it goes for all too many tech companies. Amazing technology is followed by lots of funding and backslapping in Silicon Valley, and far too few ‘normals’ from the rest of world.”

This phenomenon worries me. In fact, it’s the whole reason why I wrote Product Communication Basics — bootstrapping is particularly difficult because people who excel at building software don’t necessarily excel at marketing. Getting all those skills united in one or two people is difficult.

You build something cool. It solves your problem. You think it’ll solve other people’s problems too. But how do you communicate that? How do you convince them that you’re trustworthy and that you’ll deliver the value they need? Will they feel comfortable with the level of ongoing support that you’re able to offer, compared to larger competitors?

From the potential user’s perspective, buying from a small bootstrapping company is risky, especially if they’re going to rely on you for business-critical tools. I think the answer to this problem is bringing passion to the table, and explaining that your success hinges on their success. You have to take your users’ needs seriously, or you’re out of a job…


User lgray pointed out on Barnacles:

“This doesn’t really jive with how my business has come to be. For me, the hard part was finding the right problem to solve. I wanted a problem that:

  • Was clearly a problem.
  • Didn’t have any satisfying solutions yet.
  • Interfered with people’s businesses.

First point made the marketing really easy — all I had to do was tell people I had a solution to their problem. I didn’t need to convince anyone that they had a problem they didn’t see. Second one meant I didn’t have to convince anyone to change products. And the third one meant that people would be willing to pay money, since it was in an environment where money was changing hands.

Not that there’s anything wrong with starting a business in a situation unlike the one I’ve outlined. Just thought I’d point out that the problems raised in the OP aren’t always problems.”

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Is A/B Testing Worth It for Bootstrappers?

“Companies that use innovative and data-driven analytical approaches to marketing are found to have the highest success rate of conversions on their website.” — WeSpotlight

In case you’re not familiar with A/B testing, here’s a quick definition from Visual Website Optimizer: “A/B testing (sometimes called split testing) is comparing two versions of a web page to see which one performs better. You compare two web pages by showing the two variants (let’s call them A and B) to similar visitors at the same time.” Then you record how those website visitors behaved differently based on which version they were shown.

After analyzing the data, you keep whichever design performed better, discard the other one, and start the process again with a new tweak. Over time, you iterate toward the Holy Grail: a perfect landing page that converts 100%! Jkjk, that’s impossible — but you can certainly improve your baseline. A/B testing is a simple way to ensure that the changes you make are doing what they’re supposed to.

This is obviously a very clever idea. Equally obviously it takes time and energy to pull it off. If you have limited resources and you’re forced to be ruthless about where you focus your effort, is it worth it to A/B test? You have to come up with website variations, deploy your A/B testing tool(s), and then wait for enough visitors to be processed. The concept is simple, but the execution is often lacking. From the Kissmetrics blog:

“A/B tests are designed to imitate scientific experiments, but most marketers running A/B Tests do not live in a world that is anything like a lab at a university. The stumbling point is that people running A/B tests are supposed to wait and not peak at the results until the test is done, but many marketers won’t do that.”

As a bootstrapping entrepreneur, maybe with a day job to balance, it’s important to evaluate where your energy will have the highest impact. Of course, “is it worth it to A/B test?” is one of those trick questions: the real answer is that you have to weigh your priorities and decide for yourself.

This issue is on my mind right now because I’m personally debating whether I can justify spending time and effort A/B testing the Product Communication Basics landing page. And I think the answer is… no. Here’s why: opportunity cost.

Investopedia handily defines opportunity cost as “the cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action. Put another way, the benefits you could have received by taking an alternative action.” Right now I don’t even have enough website traffic to get statistically reliable results from an A/B test! So I’m gonna work on that first. Hi Reddit ;)


Do you need a practical guide to writing sweet landing page copy? Check out Product Communication Basics.

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The How & Why of Premium Pricing: Anxiety Included for No Extra Charge!

Update: I decided to cut the scope of the workbook and hence cut the price as well, but the reasoning remains the same.


“There’s one easy way to find out what customers think about prices. By selling them things.” — Tom Whitwell

I’m reaching the stage where I ask people to hand over their money. Frankly, it’s terrifying. What if I fail at the very thing I’m trying to teach? A big part of me wants to pretend that I’m sure the launch will be a slam dunk, that I’m abso-freaking-lutely confident 💪🏀👍 But a bigger part of me wants to be honest about my thought process and my anxieties.

Javon McCrea dunking. Photo by Chad Cooper.
Javon McCrea dunking. Photo by Chad Cooper.

Value > Dollars

When it officially launches, Product Communication Basics will cost $34.99. That’s definitely more expensive than the average ebook. Heck, Amazon wants to cap prices at $9.99! And yet I think $34.99 is justified; PCB is more of a guided do-it-yourself consulting session than it is a standard book. Like I wrote on the landing page:

“Consider this: if you hired an excellent copywriter, you’d end up paying them $50 per hour at the very least, and you’d spend most of that time just trying to communicate your vision. How much is your time worth?”

I chose this framing for a very specific reason. Price is 100% a function of perceived value. The time, effort, and cost of materials are close to irrelevant — it’s all about what the product will do for the customer. Bootstrapping guru Amy Hoy quips, “Don’t get snared into a price conversation. Turn it into a value investigation, instead.”

If people anchor on how much hiring a consultant costs — if they perceive the value of Product Communication Basics in those terms — hopefully they won’t worry about paying $20 more than usual for an ebook. My guess is that the kind of person I want to sell to will understand my point and find it compelling. Hoy has also written that people who pay money for things “value their time more than their money.” Why? Because they understand comparative advantage and opportunity cost.

If you’re a high-impact professional, especially an entrepreneur, then spending your time compiling a bunch of information into a useful format is not worth it, and your end result won’t be on par with what domain experts can offer. Any hours you might spend researching are hours that you could have spent improving your own product, which has an order of magnitude greater effect in terms of 1) saving your future time and 2) multiplying your future funds.

Patrick McKenzie, a former bootstrapper who is now CEO of Starfighter, similarly exhorts people building products to value their time highly:

“Instead of [trying to do more with the limited time you have], build time assets: things which will save you time in the future. Code that actually does something useful is a very simple time asset for programmers to understand: you write it once today, then you can execute it tomorrow and every other day, saving you the effort of doing manually whatever it was the code does. Code is far from the only time asset, though: systems and processes for doing your work more efficiently, marketing which scales disproportionate to your time, documentation which answers customers’ questions before they ask you, all of these things are assets.” (Emphasis in original.)

An effective product pitch is a great example of a marketing asset that scales — once you’ve found the essence of your value proposition, you can and should use it again and again on your website, in emails, in advertising, etc. Do the labor once and reap the rewards continually.

Looking Forward

I think I’ve made a solid argument that my potential customers will save money if they buy from me, because otherwise they’d have to pay a copywriter much more or waste their own time figuring out an approach. I’ve also made the argument that my customers will earn more money in the first place.

But… I’m still nervous. What if the people in search of marketing resources don’t agree with my reasoning? What if no one orders the book? Realistically, in that case I’ll lower the price and try again. I’m a big believer in ~markets~ and I’ll listen to the signals as they come.

Another point from Amy Hoy: “You’re afraid of asking for money, so you think the thing to do is to ask for only a little. It feels safer.” Welp, she’s right. In the grand scheme of things, $34.99 is not a huge amount of money. You can drop that much on brunch or jeans from Target. And yet I’m still scared that it will seem like a ludicrous ask.


What are you waiting for? Assuage my fears and go buy Product Communication Basics!

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