Lean Startup Toolkit

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post that asked of the Lean Startup… is it the right strategy or fool’s gold?

For many of our customers and colleagues, the response has been overwhelming. For them, it’s clearly the right strategy; or at least worth trying.

If you’ve decided it’s time to take the plunge with a Lean Startup—whether a new business or product launch—you’re going to need a good set of tools to use. And in keeping with the Lean Startup philosophy, you don’t need to invest a king’s ransom for them.

The Essential Lean Startup Toolkit

While there are many good tools out there, these are the ones that are popular among our customers, associates, and co-workers. This isn’t an exclusive list, by any means. We encourage you to search for the tools that work best for you and your situation.

And just so you know, SmartDraw and those of us who work here aren’t being compensated by any of these companies. We’re just hoping to provide a Lean Startup Toolkit that you’ll find useful.


freshbooksFreshbooks. This cloud-based app lets you do important things—like sending invoices and getting paid!—quickly, at your desk or from your mobile device. They also have great video tutorials and an online get started guide. Oh, and a great blog. I love great blogs.


gosquaredGoSquared. We love stuff that’s easy to use without a training manual (like SmartDraw, for example). The GoSquared interface is really, really simple. Keeping track of your site analytics, measuring social interaction, and even fixing mistakes (such as broken links) is quick and easy.

Browser Testing:

browserstackBrowserStack. Avoid zombie nightmares. Test your virtual machines and devices across all desktop and mobile browsers. Test responsive design across mobile devices, too. Pricing models are suitable for anyone from a team of one all the way up to big-time enterprises.

Domain Registration:

hoverHover. Okay, I get that your edgy domain registrar runs titillating Super Bowl ads. But do you really want to pay them for that when all you really needs is a domain name, some email addresses, and to maybe do it while skipping all the annoying upselling? Hover gives you that, plus great online help resources and real human beings if you call.


shopifyShopify. Set up your online store. Design your store from a template (or create your own), add products, upload photos, and boom! You’re in e-business. Accept payments, set shipping options, even get tools to help with stuff like SEO, email marketing, and analytics.

Email Marketing:

mailchimpMailChimp. Maybe it’s Freddie the mascot. Whatever it is, MailChimp takes something that seems kind of bland and makes it kind of fun. And for your Lean Startup, you can get design templates and send up to 12K emails a month free, with nice upgrades for just a few peanuts.

Email Testing:

litmusLitmus. Checks the stuff you need to know before you send email. Like, how will it look across various email clients and on mobile devices? And because it won’t get read if it’s not in your customer’s inbox, Litmus spam tests it. Litmus offers analytics and integrates with MailChimp, too.


tenderTender. Your customers need help. Stay connected to them with Tender. Build customer support forums, create “echoes” to answer frequent questions with a personal touch, keep discussions focused and relevant with “queues.” Plans start at just $9/month.


linodeLinode. Get all geeky without nerd glasses. Virtual, cloud-based hosting lets you skip the costs of owning or leasing hardware. Hosting centers in the US, Europe and Asia Pacific give you versatility in choosing where your data resides. Plans from $20/month.

digital-oceanDigitalOcean. Get SSD cloud hosting with 55-second provisioning. Tier 1 bandwidth. Easy control panels allow you to create, resize, rebuild and snapshot with single clicks. Plus two-factor authentication for enhanced security. Great for startups with plans as low as $5/month.

Lean Diagrams, Project Management, Web Design, Etc.:

SmartDraw-boxshotSmartDraw. More than 70 different types of charts and diagrams help you design, plan, track, and communicate with powerful diagrams. Automated design is fast and easy to use. Having all of these tools in one saves a bundle over buying several applications individually.

Payment Gateways:

stripe-logoStripe. Hugely popular payment gateway among developers. Stripe checkout is a customizable payment flow that works across desktop and mobile platforms. Stripe also handles currency conversions—139 currencies with hassle-free security and compliance.

spaceboxSpaceBox. Stripe for non-developers. Do you sell subscriptions or collect ongoing payments like rent or membership fees? You need SpaceBox. Accept customer payments one-time or recurring basis. Membership sign-ups, account management, and billing are done for you. Cha-ching!


duo-securityDuoSecurity. Two-factor authentication platform to ensure security of your data. Easier than tokens. Ranked the #1 Highest Value Security Company by Box. Integrates with a wide range of devices and applications. Free trial and pricing as low as $1/user/month.

Source Control and Issue Tracking:

githubGitHub. Collaborate on software development online. Hosts code review and code management for both open source and private projects. Free accounts for public projects. Private accounts start at $7/month for personal plans and $25/month for organizations.

beanstalkBeanstalk. Another alternative for private code hosting for teams. Version control, access restriction, and anywhere-access from the web and mobile browsers make it popular with users. Freelancers can get a free single-user account with one private repository. Five-user plans just $15/month.

Hopefully, you’ll find these suggestions helpful. Do you have other resources you can’t live without? Let us know so we can add them to our Lean Startup Toolkit.

And happy launching!