Time is an entrepreneur’s most valuable resource (besides money, of course), and some of the most successful startups count on outside help to manage their time in the best way possible.
“The best advice I received as an entrepreneur starting my first company is to follow the two-by-two rule, which is [that] it’s going to take twice as long to achieve whatever I want, and it’s going to cost twice as much,” entrepreneur, angel investor, national bestselling author, and tech CEO Kim Perell told Business Insider. Her advice? “Focus on three areas of the business where you could invest a little bit of money and earn a significant return in a short period of time.”
For business owners looking for assistance in organizing their inboxes, keeping track of sales, and responding to customer service requests (and then some), we tapped founders from 19 brands to share the cost-effective and time-saving tools that help keep their businesses running effectively and efficiently.
“The only thing I wish I did, looking back, is keep organized from the very beginning,” Zachary Quinn, the president and cofounder of mission-driven apparel brand Love Your Melon, told Business Insider about starting his business.
“Something that’s helped me with this is an app called Superhuman, which has done a really good job of reorganizing my inbox. You can schedule emails [and] follow-ups, and quickly and easily remove the clutter of messages that pile up by ‘snoozing’ messages that don’t require an immediate response. It keeps you focused on completing tasks that come in and then moving to the next one in the most efficient way possible.”
On the other hand, Luigi Picarazzi, president and CEO of Digital Media Management, a full-service agency dedicated to managing high-profile individuals, brands, and theatrical movies across digital platforms, loves to keep things simple with the classic Gmail app.
“I love Boomerang for Gmail because it allows me to send [an] email so that the recipient receives it at a later date,” said Picarazzi. Also, he added, “it allows me to spend some time in the evening clearing my inbox without flooding other people’s inboxes in the process.”
“We have used dozens of digital tools for project management, communication, and lead management, but nothing has had all of the features and flow that we need,” said Scott Wilson, former Nike creative director and Cooper-Hewitt Design Award recipient and now the founder and CEO of CBD-based wellness brand WellBeings. “Many of them have caused more headaches than help. 10,000ft, however, has worked well for our project planning, resource management, and time-tracking.”
While less of an app and more of a device, Supergoop! Founder Holly Thaggard, who helped lead the suncare brand to over $40 million in revenue in 2018, can’t live without her Apple Watch. It’s “the perfect tool to make sure I don’t miss any of the important stuff,” she said. “It keeps texts from my daughter, flight info, and meeting reminders all in one place. Plus, the UV index on the home screen is the perfect reminder to reapply sunscreen all day!”
“It’s important for me to stay connected with my team, but it’s equally as important to make time to unplug,” said Jordana Kier, cofounder of the feminine care subscription service LOLA. “Now that I also have a baby at home, I’ve had to figure out how to best manage my attention day-to-day.” Kier relies on tools like Google Calendar and the snooze feature on Slack to organize her time and set boundaries.
Christiane Lemieux sold her company DwellStudio to Wayfair in 2013 and is now the cofounder and CEO of direct-to-consumer home furnishings brand The Inside. Her go-to productivity tool to manage her time effectively? Trello.
“It houses my daily brain dump of everything that needs to get done that day, where I can then visually stack-rank in order of priority and timelines. My team loves it because it’s a super non-invasive way for them to get urgent priorities in front of me. Every night, I stack-rank based on importance and due date, which allows me to hit the ground running the next morning and create efficiencies for my team and myself,” she said.
Trisha Roy, founder and CEO of window-covering company Barn & Willow, uses Klaviyo for email segmentation management. “Email is one of the most powerful tools to convert your site traffic into customers. We love Klaviyo’s segmentation, and the kind of insights we get about our different customer groups is absolutely crucial.”
Bhupi Singh, founder of Spanish-made shoe brand The Spanish Sandal Company, loves Returnly for handling customer service issues. Because the return rate in the shoe business is high, Returnly “allows customers to manage their return online without having to talk to customer service,” said Bhupi Singh. “Customer emails and phone calls have dropped dramatically” since he adopted the platform.
Jenn Kapahi, cofounder of trèStiQue makeup, is also a big fan of Zendesk. “As a small brand, it’s extremely important to us to hear feedback from our customers to make sure we are always giving them what they need. Zendesk allows us to communicate with them seamlessly,” she added.
Claire Mazur and Erica Cerulo, cofounders of fashion retailer Of a Kind, count on Help Scout for customer service support and Loomly for social media marketing. And Health-Ade Kombucha Cofounder Vanessa Dew, who has raised $7 million in venture funding for the tea drink, loves Domo for tracking data.
“Now that we have a lot of people, customers, and data flying around, it’s easy to have analysis paralysis,” said Dew. “The Domo interface helps dashboard and benchmark all of those metrics and data in one place so that I can access from the web or through the phone app anywhere in the world.”
“When I first opened my studio in 2005, my biggest investment was Studio Designer software,” said decorator Christine Markatos Lowe, principal of Christine Markatos Design. “It is an indispensable tool specifically designed for the interior design industry to help in managing budgets, expediting, client billing, and job profitability. It’s organized in a logical manner by client and room and has many features, such as the ability to add notes throughout the tracking process. We use it daily to keep our projects moving along!”
Christina Samatas and Renee DiSanto, cofounders of interior design firm Park & Oak, said that Ivy is invaluable in helping them stay organized and aligned. “This cloud-based business management software made for designers has accounting features that help us when creating proposals, crafting invoices, and organizing payments. It also has a project tracking tool, which is incredibly helpful for managing deadlines and for keeping project-related information aligned and organized,” they added.
Interior designer Bria Hammel, founder of Bria Hammel Interiors and of home furnishings brand Brooke & Lou, credits Design Manager for helping her build her business. “DM has so many features that we use on a daily basis, like project management, creating purchase orders and tracking shipments, accounting, pulling reports, and checking inventory. We use this tool to log and track hours for billing our clients as well. This software was created for interior designers, so it has everything you need to run your own firm,” she said.
Betsy Vohs, founder of design agency Studio BV, loves the sketching tool Trace. “I use it with my iPad Pro, and it’s the best collaboration tool to share design ideas quickly and digitally,” she said. “We were previously using ‘Trace Paper’ as designers to sketch on drawings. With Trace, we can now do this seamlessly in a digital format. It makes our lives easier and our clients love it, so it’s a win-win.”
“We rely heavily on a handful of tools to help us systematize various aspects of our ecommerce business,” said Mazur and Cerulo of Of a Kind. The founders use Stitch Labs for inventory management and Streak for Gmail-based project management — and are big fans of Google Drive.
Jordan Jones, founder of lifestyle gifting company Packed Party, which just announced a partnership with Whole Foods, also uses Stitch Labs internally to manage their physical inventory and ever-growing customer list on the wholesale side of the business, “and it has been a lifesaver for me,” said Jones. “We scaled the wholesale side of our business really quickly, so connecting these customers to what we had in stock was important to our business, and Stitch Labs made this easy for us to do.”
Lori Coulter, president and cofounder of the direct-to-consumer fashion brand Summersalt, finds Shopify and Glew vital for ecommerce success. “Shopify makes it easy to customize your virtual store, no matter how big or small your business, from browsing to check-out, while GLEW helps manage the analytics behind the operation. We’re able to get reports and capture customer insights in the form of real-life data so our team can streamline the experience for future shoppers,” she explained.
Emily Jackson, founder of activewear company IVL Collective, said the industry-specific tool rewardStyle has been crucial for her success. “It has not only been a place to link and share our products, but has also allowed our influencers to make money and be incentivized to share the brand, too.”
Jeanne Kneen, founder and CEO of luxury home decor brand Kneen & Co, uses Lightspeed to organize inventory, pull quotes, generate sales reports, and more. “Our comprehensive POS software is absolutely invaluable to our team,” said Kneen. “Everything from product information to client purchase history is at our fingertips. The more you can do with one platform versus spreading information across many applications, the better.”
Wilson of WellBeings also uses Pipedrive for tracking leads and new business opportunities. “The desktop and mobile interfaces are very similar and easy to use,” said Wilson. “The visual drag-and-drop cards allow you to organize all the deals in your pipeline to track workflow and progress, and it also integrates with email.”
Allison Duncan is a freelance journalist based in Minneapolis, MN. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, Fast Company, and the Cut, among others. Read more of her work here, and follow her on social media at @allisonpduncan.