When I created the first version of the accessART website in February 2015, I knew little about startup terms as minimum viable product, bootstrapping and lean startups. I did know however that I had to start my company with little cash and test the concept as soon as possible :). Now, we are about to re-launch our platform while experiencing solid growth.
Building our minimum viable product
I built our website on WordPress, Easy Digital Downloads and Marketify for about $250 and with help of a freelance developer I managed to add some crucial features to the website over the next 5 months to end up at an amount of around €1000. I had my minimum viable product! About 20 artists signed up with some 80 artworks and I learned a lot about what worked and what did not. Then my co-founders Ralf and David joined and we started growing exponentially. More artists, more artworks, more visitors – the result was that the website started to show performance issues. It was time to re-lauch the accessART platform. This will happen in January 2016 (soon!) and I wanted to share with you the tools that I used to establish this growth.
Moving from Minimum Viable Product to Re-launch
1. Finding Co-founders
I simply love Angellist. You can post your job openings here for free, browse the database of candidates and create a profile for your company. I found my two co-founders here and we get an average of 6 international applicants for for our internships here.
2. Email & document management
I started of using the webmail from my website hosting company. Basically – terrible. But free! So I stuck with this for the first 6 months until I expanded the team and we needed to properly work together. Synchronizing e-mail with your phone, sharing calendars and scheduling meetings were some of the features I was missing. I quickly turned to Google apps. Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive -we use it on a daily basis and it works flawlessly.
3. To-Do lists & Project Management
This is a tricky one. One of my personal strengths is to keep track of things and make sure everyone is one the same page. I had to look for a tool that could support me in this, especially working with remote resources. I ended up with daPulse – a visually oriented project tracking board with every task being a “pulse”. The boards give you a high level overview of all parts of your company and within the pulse you can write comments, tag people and add documents. It works like a charm! You create a backlog of activities and every week you prioritize tasks to execute. We put all our to-do’s here and never lose discussions/communications because also all tasks that are “done” are kept here.
As soon as we decided to start a new website, we had to collaborate on the design. At the time, I was in Australia, my co-founders were in Amsterdam and our designer was in Brazil! Fun times 🙂 But we had this great tool Invision where the designer would upload the designs and we could comment. The great part about this tool is that you can click in the design and add a comment in there, tag people and even make sketches to help your designer understand your needs.
5. Growing, CRM & Opportunity Management
The first months, I did all acquisition by myself. Until 20 artists this was easy to handle, but as soon as I started to collaborate on this part with my co-founder I realized quickly something had to change. You simply always need an up to date list about your current clients, potential clients and “lost” clients that you can reach out to again after a period of time. We started using Insightly, a CRM tool that you can integrate with your Gmail account. Every time you get an email from an important contact, you can easily store this contact, attache the email or write a note about this contact. We create an opportunity for every artist we approach so we can easily calculate our conversion rates. You can add sets of tasks to all your opportunities so you can keep track of your actions. The great thing is that 2 people use Insightly for free. We have recently upgraded to the paid version because we had a third person joining and we need the integration with Mailchimp. See next section 🙂
We send out a monthly newsletters to our artists (and soon also buyers). From the start we have used Mailchimp. It’s easy, works well, has good analytics – and it’s free! You create template once and from then on you only have to change the texts and images.
We have a team what’s app which is great fun and we are increasingly moving towards Slack. Especially with remote resources that need quick interaction it’s great and we are integrating it with our new website so it will give us notifications in real-time – no more notification e-mails needed.
8. All other freelance jobs
I love Upwork. I use it myself to do some freelance jobs to supplement my monthly cash flow 🙂 and for any job you could think of there are people on Upwork. I found my first developer there that helped me build the MVP, I found content writers, animators, translators, developers for the new website and more. Such a great source of people from around the world. You get increasingly smart on how to filter to the best people and how to define your requirements best.
There are many ways to create a minimum viable product, to grow it, re-build it (and again and again). We live in a time where (free) tools are everywhere and I think every startup should use them as much as they can :). Let me know what are your favorite tools!
ps. One more awesome “tool” is Unsplash – the most amazing free to use stockphotos which I use a lot on this site 🙂
pps. All these tools are used by us and in no way sponsored 🙂