Working flexible/crazy hours and from various locations is the norm in the startup world, and I’ve been meaning to write a quick post about some of the useful tools I’ve come across for helping collaboration in my startup, MediaPiston. I just saw this tweet by @thinkmaya which inspired me to get the post out.
Here are some of my favorite collaboration tools in no particular order:
1. oLark – If you make it easier to do something, they’ll do more of it — in this case: getting customer feedback. oLark puts a live chat box on your website and routes chats to your favorite IM in realtime. I can initiate a chat with visitors or vice-versa. Every startup doing customer development / lean startup should be using oLark.
2. Join.me – conduct free screencasts without hassle. The key is “without hassle.” There was some one-time software setup for me, but from that point on I just launch the app and it spits out a URL to send to whomever I happen to be talking to and they can instantly see what I’m doing on my computer. I’ve never had it stutter or be a problem for the other side.
3. Propane for Campfire – Propane is a rich client GUI for Campfire (a group-chat room geared for developers). At MediaPiston we keep a chat room open 24×7 and have things configured so that merge conflicts, check-ins and and other code or server related events show up.
4. FaceTime – Sometimes it’s easy to have a face to face discussion, or you just need to look someone in the eye. My sister for example likes to gesticulate, so when she was helping us out on a big project, I found that FaceTime was the best way to communicate.
5. ScreenFlow – Sometimes screencasts are the best way to explain something or to get feedback on a concept (without needing the other party to be 1:1 live) and I’ve found ScreenFlow to be the best tool around for quickly making great screencasts. Simple but powerful editing + easy upload to YouTube.
6. Thinkfuse - Thinkfuse turns the mundane necessity of status reporting into something easy and fun. I’m using Thinkfuse with our account managers so we can easily capture the status of various customer accounts, comment on them and see the history of everything rolled up. (Disclosure: I’m an advisor to Thinkfuse via the TechStars program, Update: they’ve sold to Salesforce.com and the product has unfortunately since been shut down)
7. CloudApp - sometimes you’re on an IM chat and you want to share a screenshot with someone in realtime. CloudApp makes that possible by automatically uploading screenshots to a server and putting the public URL in your copy buffer. It can be toggled on and off in one click too.
GitHub – Social features meets source code repository. Every checkin or at least the one’s commited by me get reviewed and commented on. ”Um, you program Ruby like a Java dev, try it this way instead…” and the feedback process is awesome for keeping dev collaboration tight and helping bring new team members up to speed. Side-note: I know someone who wrote a script to crawl GitHub to identify the best coders for recruiting purposes!
Q: What are your favorite tools for helping collaboration given the odd hours and distributed team environments common to startups?