Startup tool inspiration – what we use

  • Lukas Kahwe Smith

Liip has a fair number of startup customers who often struggle with finding the right set of tools, so I will share here a bit what we are using on a daily basis. We traditionally use a lot of open source tools in our projects. For our infrastructure tooling we also use a fair bit of open source but also an ever increasing amount of SaaS products. Additionally we build some tools internally, some of which we have made open source. One of my holacracy roles is called “Platform Gardener” with the purpose “Provide corporate-wide streamlined digital services and tools”. This role gives me a pretty good overview of the tools we use, which I would like to share below.

Google at Work for email, file exchange and live streams

We are not entirely happy with Google but overall it works quite ok. Some issues we run into are related to how Google Drives deals with changes in large binary files which has resulted in our UX team getting Dropbox. We also frequently run into issues where sharing policies are set too tightly by default when people are sick or on vacation. Finally Google Hangout overall works ok-ish but we preferred a hardware solution for our meeting rooms and the Google Chrome for Meeting device UI is too limited (f.e. it doesn't integrate with Hangout Live for recording and its quite cumbersome to join calls in other organizations). For this reason we adopted Highfive last year and we are anxiously awaiting their 2.0 release which should provide Linux support and live streaming and recording. Hangouts are therefore only used for our weekly Liiptalks that are streamed to all locations and recorded on Youtube.

Slack for constant exchange information during the day

Slack was chosen via company-wide vote after previously having used Skype. We also tested HipChat and a few others at the time and have taken a look at Mattermost (which might deserve another look). Overall Slack is probably the tool that gets used the most and sees the least criticism and has killed off probably around 80% of emails. To some degree Slack is now also yet another way to exchange files though usually with a more temporary character. That being said Slack search is amazing. The amount of integrations rises continuously and we now have a few bots of our own. For example we have one that integrates with Google Calendar to send a message every morning who in the team is available on that day. Actually this is provided via Presence a open source simple tool we created that allows to group Google accounts into teams. We have another one which is a slack channel recommender, since we have almost 900 channels.

Zebra our custom time tracking solution and data hub various SaaS tools

Zebra is our time tracking tool and much more. Unfortunately its not open source as it build around Liip specifics. Basically all hours are entered there. But there are tools in there for product owners to track time spend on specific tickets (via an integration with Jira), for teams to see who they are impacting company-wide finances (you can see an explanation about them in a talk Tonio and I held last year at DrupalCon), to track which tools are used in which project and who has knowledge in these tools and how much they like them. There is also a tool called Taxi which allows submitting time sheets via the command line. We have integrated Zebra with Run my Accounts for billing and Pipedrive for our CRM needs and we might eventually integrate it with   10000ft for rough capacity planning (especially across team, which we try to minimize but sometimes you still need to load balance between teams). Overall this homegrown solution is a vital tool for sales, scrum masters and product owners and is in many respects the data hub that integrates our various tools.

Jira ticketing and Confluence as our knowledge database and contract generator

Jira is our authentication source for all of our Atlassian products. Otherwise our use of Jira is pretty obvious, not much more to say there. We are moving more and more topics related to other things than projects away from Jira (leads are now in Pipedrive and our recruiting process is in the process of  moving to Greenhouse).  Confluence is our key resource for knowledge sharing though with Google Drive and Dropbox things have become more fuzzy. Generally if we do place content outside of the wiki we try and link to it so that it can be found. We have considered adding plugins to the wiki search to span across tools but so far this has not been done. We use to generate all our offers and contracts via a custom integration with Prince XML. We also make use of lots of different plugins that let us pull data from different sources. We actually have 2 separate instances: one for internal use, where we are making increasing use of spaces to separate out the content to make it more searchable (we are also experimenting with the archive plugin to help us get rid of old content) and another one for client projects, where each project gets a separate space.

Gitlab, Gitlab CI and Github for version control and CI

Gitlab and Gitlab CI have become our default tools for git hosting and CI. We still have lots of projects on Github, mostly when customer developers join on the development or if we want to use a specific SaaS tool (like Travis-CI). In most of our projects we use vagrant (increasingly also docker) and with Gitlab CI we can use the same vagrant box for the CI. It runs amazingly smooth and feature set increases steadily.

Holaspirit to manage our holacracy process

We briefly tested Glassfrog but found the UX and feature progress much better on Holaspirit. As such it is becoming kind of mandatory but in theory one could get by without it. We have only been doing holacracy for less than a year now but steadily we will integrate Holaspirit via its API more and more into our internal tools. Like for example we might allow lead links to define time budgets in Holaspirit which then automatically create projects and activities in Zebra.

Closing notes

This was just a quick overview of the most used tools at Liip. The rate of adoption of new SaaS tools is quite high and so is the monthly bill. That being said the costs is still a tiny fraction compared to salaries paid. So generally as a Platform Gardener if someone says a tool will make them more productive, I whip out the credit card and get it for them. If there is interest we can follow up talking a bit more about specific tools. Especially our UX and Analytics teams are using dozens of tools for their specific uses and of course our developers too. Generally for a startup I think SaaS tools are a great way to quickly get functionality without distracting too many resources with setup and maintenance on things which are not the secret sauce.

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