When starting out on any new venture especially when operating on a budget it can soon seem overwhelming how quickly costs can add up. When launching a new web app there are many areas besides the core functionality of your application that demands attention, areas such as help & support, billing, email services, security, the list goes on. At the beginning it can be very tempting to try and develop each of these functions in-house to keep costs down but you will soon find out if you take this path you resources will be spread too thin and inevitably your app will suffer.

The key to a successful lean startup it to focus on the core functionality of your application and not on the peripheral functions, let someone else do that for you.

Below is a list of 5 great online services and tools which all startups should know about. They are simple to use, easy to integrate and best of all (at the time of writing this) you can use them for free!

Help & Support – Freshdesk

When creating a website/business one of the most important and sometimes overlooked objectives is making sure your customers are happy. More often than not focus is made on trying to produce the best product possible, and although this is of course important, what is often overlooked is the happiness of customers. After all a happy customer is much more likely to buy your products or subscribe to your service then an unhappy one. Using a service like Freshdesk make supporting your customers easy. Freshdesk provides an easy to use and free customer support ticketing system. Freshdesk will take care of all of your customer support needs, creating new tickets from emails sent to your support email address or from a ticket creation form which your customers can use. Using Freshdesk allows you to easily track all your support issues in one place, assigning them to the relevant team members and make sure they are resolved in an adequate time.


Bluesky – Free and simple time tracking software & invoicing app for your online billing


Customer Engagement – Customer.io

Keeping your customers engaged is vital to the success of your business. If your customers are not engaged there is a higher chance of losing them. Engaging your customers individually manually will be an impossible task the more a business grows so using an automated solution for customer engagement is a must and Customer.io is one such tool. You can use Customer.io to track your application users and send automated redefined emails to them on certain actions. For example when a customer signs up to your site you may want to send them a welcome email. Previously you would have to program such logic into your application, but with Customer.io you can perform the same function in just a few clicks. Once a customer has signed up its a good idea to send them an email periodically to see how they are getting along and if there is any assistance they may need. Again, setting up such functions with Customer.io is quick and simple. A great feature of Customer.io is to use it to track when your users have not interacted with your application for a certain period of time, inactive accounts can mean you are losing the customer. Customer.io can automatically detect such users and send them an email seeing how they are doing and if they have any issues.


Subscriptions & Billing – ChargeBee

Once your website is up and running you are most likely going to want to make some money and start charging for your product. Charging customers can be done in two ways. Firstly you can just charge a one off payment for your product but more often than not you will want to charge your customers on a monthly basis. In the past a business would have to factor all the possible scenarios when dealing with recurring payments, things like setting up different pricing plans and billing dates, verifying customer details, dealing with missed payments, dealing with expiring payment methods – the list goes on! This does not even mention the security factors when dealing with customer financial data. Creating a subscription and billing service within your application is like building a whole other system on top of your actual service. This is where a solution like ChargeBee comes in. ChargeBee can integrate with your website and take care of collecting all the relevant customer details, including billing information, and will automatically deal with all the points mentioned above. Using a service like ChargeBee allows you to focus on your application and not worry about how you are going to get paid.


Email Services – SendGrid

Most web applications will at some point need to send emails to their users. Sending email from an application is pretty easy from a development point of view, just a few lines of code and your email can be on its way. What’s important though is to reliable service to send your emails from. SendGrid provides a simple, reliable and free SMTP solution which you can get up and running with quickly and easily. Once you are using SendGrid to send your emails you can check exactly what’s happening to your mails after they have left your application. SendGrid provides a delivery status of each of your emails and also give you the ability to track email opens and clicks so you can even see when people are looking at and interacting with the emails you have sent.


Monitoring & Security – CloudFlare

Now-a-days one of the most important factors, if not the most important factor in creating a successful online business is security. The security of your customers and customers data should be your top priority and using a service like CloudFlare is a very simple step you can take on the path to creating a more secure environment for your users. CloudFlare is a DNS hosting service which monitors all the traffic hitting your website via your domain and checks it for malicious activity and payloads. CloudFlare provides a large number of security measures and systems to protect your servers and your customers. CloudFlare sits in between your users and your server and as well as providing security it also acts as a Content Delivery Network (CDN) helping optimize your website.


Sign up for free to Bluesky’s Time Tracking and Online Billing


Well there you have it, 5 free tools that every web startup should know about. I hope you found this post useful, please feel free to send your comments below, especially if you want to share other tools which maybe useful.

– Mathew