The software customers don’t see

Tech startups write a ton of code. Broadly speaking, most of that code base is customer facing. But to be successful, the product must be supported by a litany of great “invisible” technology - the internal tools and products that help a company scale. They are the skeleton of the startup.

At Google, there were hundreds if not thousands of small internal tools built to solve problems. CRM tools, email automation tools with canned responses, lead prioritization tools, project databases, weekly snippets for reporting, email lists, and so on.

We built these tools following Larry’s advice to his teams which was to find a problem or inefficiency, generalize it as much as possible, then build a tool to automate it and then tune it over time. It was the only way we could scale. In AdSense operations, the average account manager supported more than 10,000 customers (!) because of the tools.

Like Google, startups build many of these tools in house. Sometimes, they purchase off the shelf solutions. In either case, these essential supporting cast members enable startups to grow much faster.

Garden-Tools.jpeg

I think about a startup’s toolkit in three buckets:

First, technology tools ensure high quality code and a responsive product:
Developer tools - regression testing, continuous deployment (CircleCi)
Operational tools - deployment management (Puppet), application performance management (New Relic, Crittercism)

Second, marketing and sales tools build and manage customer pipelines:
Marketing tools - email performance (Sailthru, Userfox), social media monitoring (HootSuite)
Sales tools - CRM (Salesforce, Streak), webinar tools, salespitch tools (ClearSlide), salesforce education tools (Bloomfire), customer support (Zendesk)

Third, financial and BI tools help the company measure and forecast:
BI tools - website data (Mixpanel), core business metrics (Gooddata, Datameer, Periscope)
HR tools - performance management and recruitment (Workday, JobVite, Lever) Financial tools - planning and analysis (Tidemark), expense management (Expensify), Billing (Zuora)

These tools provide the infrastructure for startups to grow rapidly but this is an area where startups continuously underinvest. Trying to change the tires on the bus as it’s traveling 60 miles an hour is tough - but it’s worth the investment. The bus will travel faster.

Every quarter, take a step back, examine your internal processes and make sure that your teams are building the invisible infrastructure that will help your startup blossom.

Dec 12, 2012

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