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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


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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 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 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.


“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.


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.

Organize events from email. Add to an email. Once the email is sent, we’ll create a private event on 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!


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.


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.

Monthly Shenanigans, February 2018

Hello again 👋

Welcome back to The Newsletter Formerly Known as Exolymph! May its cyberpunk self rest in peace. The other way you’d know me is as tech reporter Sonya Mann. At some point you signed up for this mailing list on one of my websites.

Reporting ✍️

Here are the best articles I’ve written since I last emailed you:

  • A profile of San Francisco-based Republican lawyer Harmeet Dhillon, who is representing fired Google employee James Damore. [link]
  • A takedown of self-proclaimed “cryptocurrency genius” and actual grifter James Altucher. [link]
  • “These College Startups Don’t Charge Tuition Until Grads Make $50,000 a Year” [link]
  • What it was like to eat 90% meat for two weeks. People loved this one! Presumably because it’s fun to read about crazy diet experiments. [link]

Thoughts 💅

These days I’m always asking myself, “What do you want?” It’s a hard question (although not at the level of a quarter-life crisis). Also, it’s a question that I’ve asked myself many times before.

The answer varies somewhat. Usually what I want the most is to be an independent creator, along the lines of Ben Thompson. Alternately, one of those people who churn out zombie novels for Amazon Kindle users.

I’ve read the “1,000 True Fans” essay a couple of times and it’s fueled hours and hours of daydreaming. Daydreaming is easy — the hard part is committing to a particular vision and putting in the work. I sorta did that with Exolymph… until my creative juices dried up.

To be clear, I don’t feel sorry for myself. My life is charmed in most respects. I live in an economically vibrant area with good weather, near my family. I have a committed relationship and two friendly cats. Finances are comfortable. My health is stable. I am grateful for all of these things.

Nevertheless, I’m dissatisfied. I wonder if this is pure hedonic treadmill, and I’m just predisposed to wish for greater levels of achievement no matter what. Before I got my job as a full-time reporter, that seemed like a milestone that would erase my discontent. And yet here I am!

I waffle about the practical options too. Do I want to stay in journalism, despite the perverse incentives that have remade the industry? (As much as I love the internet, it’s been terrible for news businesses.) Should I jump ship to do content marketing? I’d make more money.

On the other hand, money isn’t everything. Cliché but true.

Are you where you want to be?

Bunny and guinea pig photo by Chris Parfitt.
Photo by Chris Parfitt.

Pros & Cons Of Collecting Worthy Links To Share

Martin Weigert of Meshed Society recently made a good point about curation as the future of blogging. He writes that many bloggers have stopped making new stuff, instead “selecting and repackaging existing content.” Weigert continues, “Curation itself is nothing new and has been happening on Twitter and other platforms for many years. But I see signs that more creators have shifted their attention from writing content to curating content lately. Considering the huge quantities of great reading stuff that are published every day somewhere on the web, I think this is a good development.”

I have mixed feelings. Curation is certainly useful, and I appreciate being pointed in the direction of articles worth reading. I click so many links out of Twitter and add them to Instapaper. However, an exclusive focus on curation strikes me as… boring. I feel suspicious of anyone who would want to curate as their main “creative” activity. I’ve never loved Daring Fireball for that reason, and also because Apple fanboys are annoying. Same problem with Tumblr: the vast majority of users are tricking themselves into thinking that collecting images is making something. It’s not. I’m reminded of that horrible saying, “People who can’t do, teach.” My stance is, “People who can’t create, curate.” Creating is a lot of work, but ultimately it is more fruitful and rewarding that curating. In my experience.

I view responding—what I’m doing right now—as different from just saying, “Here, read this.” But, y’know, that said, here are eight of the good articles I read recently:

^^^ “Hunger games” by Will Wiles, an essay on survival-based video games, in which the drama comes from scarcity, from scrabbling to get by. I don’t play games and this was still fascinating.

^^^ “How Junk Science Sent Claude Garrett To Prison For Life” by Liliana Segura, on the typical failure of the “justice” system. As a bonus, fire science!

^^^ Mat Yarrow warns, “This is the publishing industry’s iTunes moment—and we’re blowing it.” Yikes.

^^^ Simon Owens explains why news aggregation degrades the value of ads.

^^^ David Ulevitch of OpenDNS explains why “Superfish had to happen”: “Internet security and online advertising are fundamentally incompatible. Full stop.”

^^^ Also about advertising: “The Weather Channel’s Secret: Less Weather, More Clickbait” by Claire Suddath.

^^^ Romance author Courtney Milan shows that self-publishing is definitely more lucrative.

^^^ A short story about an ornery old lady who smokes: “The Ashtray” by Rolli.

Schedule Changeups & Five Recommended Essays

Sleepy vs. Bedtime Bear (265/365)
Photo by JD Hancock.

Geez, I’m tired. Working is hard! Every time my schedule gets more rigorous, I’m newly astounded that people manage to work full-time—or longer. There are industries where sixty-hour workweeks are common. Ugh, no thanks. (Not that anyone is begging me to join their tech startup, lol.)

Anyway, getting a gig with Bustle has put me in the weird position of having a weekend. Well, it’s weird for me. I haven’t had periodic two-day breaks since… high school. I am accustomed to working roughly three hours daily, instead of concentrating my efforts during a certain chunk of the week. Now my days off are Friday and Saturday. Accordingly, today I am lazing instead of furiously typing. Gotta take a break, right? I still feel absurdly guilty, like I always do when I don’t measure up to my own arbitrary standards of PRODUCTIVITY.

Even when creating is too energy-intensive, curating is pretty easy. Inspired by a combination of my love affair with Instapaper and Meshed Society’s recurring link lists, here are five essays to serve as food for reflection (pun intended):

* “The outsider” by caustic British novelist Rachel Cusk, on joining a book club and finding it beneath her. Notable quote: “we learn to surrender the sense of our own importance, but the writer does not. He continues to pit his private world against everything, to fend it off.”

* “Scorched Earth, 2200AD” by Linda Marsa, a dystopic take on what will happen during the next couple of centuries as climate change continues unchecked.

* “I Made $570K Last Year, But I Don’t Feel Rich”, interview by Logan Sachon with a wealthy man who doesn’t appreciate his luck because of lifestyle creep. Attitudes to guard against!

* “J-School Confidential” by Michael Lewis, about how Columbia’s much-touted journalism program is an overblown mess. Good schadenfreude read, especially if you’re in media but lack the credentials.

* “The incredible story of the Dirty Dozen Rowing Club” by Erik Malinowski: ten amateur athletes from the Bay Area decide to become Olympic rowers; they are more successful than you’d expect.

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