The 6 Tools We Use To Run A Company While 500 Miles Apart

Tim lives in San Francisco. I live in San Diego. Exactly 497 miles of driving separates our two home offices. Together, we are cofounders of a newly minted startup named Whttl.

All day, every day, we are bouncing new ideas off one another and collaborating on product and growth. How’s the home page build coming along? How can we improve our product pages? Which bank account should this $10,000,000 check go into? (OK, the latter one hasn’t happened just yet.) The extreme geographic disparity creates some monumental challenges in running our business.

Carrier pigeons and fax machines only worked for so long, so we vetted a number of products to level up our remote working environment. Here’s a quick rundown of what our digital toolchest looks like.

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Slack

Skype + Fun + Integration = Slack. Channels are particularly useful.

In less than two years, the crew at Slack managed to turn a fresh idea into a company valued at over $1.1 billion. Pretty crazy, huh? If you have actually used the product, you may not be as apt to file Slack in the loony valuation bucket.

Slack is beautiful, fun, creative and just simply amazing. A communication app generally embodies about as much sexiness as an accounting app (to be fair, there are indeed some astonishly beautiful products in the accounting space), but Slack has shattered the mold on the constraints that traditional communication platforms have chosen to abide by.

Slacks works great for chatting with other team members, but alternatives like Skype and Google Hangouts could do just as well. Where the app really shines is through its ability to plug and play different elements. With channels, we can monitor all dialogues and actions that pertain to our company. This helps us understand what is going on with the business on a micro level. Here are a few examples:

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1. Every time someone writes a review on a product page, we get notified in the #notifs channel.

2. When a transaction takes place, we get pinged via the #orders channel. (A cash register sound ensues.)

3. When certain phrases, words and handles are mentioned on Twitter, they get piped into a #twitter channel.

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Apple FaceTime Audio

FaceTime works on all iDevices.

When you cannot hear the other caller on the other end, you get frustrated. It‘s enough to make you angrier than an oil tycoon sitting passenger in an electric car. FaceTime video is widely known, but few people seem to realize that it can be used solely for audio. Those with severe aversions to wearing pants will find this particularly valuable.

The audio is remarkably clear, a noticeable improvement over standard cell call quality. Could Viber, Google Hangouts, Line2 or Tango work just as well? Sure, most definitely. But since Tim and I both work on iPhones, iPads and Macbooks, the added benefit of a baked-in solution becomes evident. Battery low on my phone? No worries, I just fire up my Mac, and Tim doesn’t even know the difference. It’s the same seamless experience for both of us to connect each time on every device. Given that we chat every morning for 30 – 60 minutes, it’s imperative that we hear each other loud and clear.


Google Drive

Tim and I are constantly putting our thoughts, ideas and actions to proverbial paper. Whether the medium is a spreadsheet, document, drawing, form or presentation, we are constantly creating. Accordingly, a platform to share and store our files is imperative.

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The cloud space has been particularly hot as of late, with billion-dollar organizations Box and Dropbox widely recognized. Even Apple and Microsoft are in the game with iCloud and Office365, respectively. However, they all fall short of Google’s suite when it comes to real-time collaboration. Tim and I can be working on the same document at the same time, and it is no less convenient and seamless than if we were in the same room on the same computer.

The ease of remote collaboration makes all the other players obsolete. We’ve just got to work on stuff together, and Google Drive allows us to do that.


Capsule CRM

Since we are’t always in the same place, we are often pitching investors in parallel. To make sense of all our conversations and latest happenings, we use a proper Customer Relationship Management (CRM) product. After all, even the most organized spreadsheet starts to break down rather quickly.

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We chose to go with Capsule for a number of reasons. It was cheap ($12/seat/month, but they do even offer a totally free version), no contract was required, and it was simple. We didn’t need a boatload of integrations and functions; we just needed to inject a little organization to our fundraising process.


Reminder Notifications

Whenever we have a pressing objective, we put a reminder on it. When we needed to name the company before a certain date, we used Apple’s Reminders app to notify us at 6:00 p.m. every weekday. When it was triggered, Tim and I would send each other a quick message with that day’s reflections on new domain ideas or ongoing discussions.

The Reminders app helps us keep the most pressing issues at the front of our mind. The ability to share lists means that we are always on the same page too.

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Asana

Top Secret!

Due to our lack of proximity to one another, whiteboards and sticky notes wouldn’t work. So, we have to deposit all of our projects, thoughts, goals and tasks into one digital source. Enter: product management software.

There are a bevy of project management tools out there, and most will work just fine. We chose to to go with Asana for a number of reasons, mostly because of its widespread adoption. Due to its popularity, a high number of platforms offer Asana integration. While we haven’t needed that function just yet, it’s nice to know we have it in our back pocket. After all, migrating project management software is quite an undertaking, so a smart bear chooses something to grow into.


Curious to what we are actually building with the aforementioned tools? Head on over to Whttl, the “Yelp for services that come to you.”

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About the Author: Greg Muender is the cofounder of Whttl, described as the “Yelp for startups.” Use it to find the sweet startups that have launched in your ZIP code. Drop Greg a line via greg<at>whttl/dot/com or check him out on Twitter.

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