My post from BWL main blog on tools we use. Original found here

What we Use

Our business model is based on a local interaction front (Ranvir and I are between Cambridge and New York, Greg is mostly in San Francisco) for our distributed (US and international) team of Rails and PHP developers and designers.

It’s been a very interesting process up until now, and safely we can say it’s definitely challenging to run an office where people work in many different places. There are many pitfalls to avoid and decisions to make to avoid attrition and keep efficiency up, but I’ll save those for another post.

To manage a distributed organization well, occasional in person contact is obviously important, however when you’re not on the ground, communication needs to be regular, seamless, and organized. Now being known as “the tools guy” in the office, I thought I would give a quick rundown of the products we use to help run our business.

We focused on a few elements when looking for software tools: service model with low monthly fees, simple to use and learn, and complex enough to handle our tasks. This keeps us out of big software licenses and enterprise-level complexity which we don’t need and would actually probably reduce productivity.

Not everybody uses everything, but this is a good sampling of the tools we use to manage on a day-to-day basis. It was inspired by Lifehackers similar post.

  • Google Apps
    • Mail, documents, chat, and pages for very little money. This is a no-brainer for any startup
  • QuickBooks Online
    • The entry-level bookkeeping software, hosted version. This one is taking us a bit longer to learn and become familiar with, and is likely because of my low knowledge of accounting to begin with. I’ve used Quicken for my personal finances for years, but business accounting can be much more complicated.
    • You start with two admin and one accountant login, which we’ll make use of once we have a much bigger operation
  • Basecamp
    • The classic entry-level communications and project management tool from 37 Signals. The big upside for Basecamp is the ease of communications – if you post a message, everyone you select gets an email copy, and if they reply to the email, it gets attached to the message thread.
    • The big advantage is allowing client access to files and messages. Our clients are mixed on the usability of BC and often run into some of the same issues we have.
    • You can set up todos and milesones with due dates, but time tracking is weak and tasks are not organized well. Tasks are easy to comment on, however, once again proving the ease of communications.
    • The other big downside is that files tend to get lost easily. The search functionality is weak and the freedom for anyone to post anywhere means that message threads and files are not easily located.
    • We are migrating our task management away from Basecamp and toward Intervals in the short term
  • Intervals
    • One of several new competitors targeting Basecamp’s strong foothold in the SAAS simple project management market. The flavors vary from more communication-focused like Basecamp to more straight bug ticket tracking.
    • Intervals does both well and adds in a strong time-tracking functionality which allows billing hours to individual tasks. This is the perfect model for a software company like ours so we can get a sense for how our devs are spending their time, something crucial for us when we’re abroad
    • Prioritization is strong with four levels to start with which are customizable. This is great for our devs who can filter down to their task lists and just pick them off from the top and help keep them on task
    • Client access also exists here and is largely restricted to viewing data rather than adding in unnecessary comments. I think this is the right approach – most communication should take place outside of the software and it keeps the information on the service less cluttered
    • Another big plus is the responsiveness of developers – they appreciate bug fixes and feature suggestions, like all good software devs.
    • The only downside is the lack of bulk editing of a task list (for example export to XLS and import of edited tables). Apparently they are going to implement these features in Q4, which will be a huge help
    • No offline version, which is always a pain with SAAS options
  • Yammer
    • Twitter for your company – won the TC50
    • Works as an Adobe AIR application on your desktop
    • Does exactly what you expect – good for light communication, but lacks file sharing and anything beyond twitter-level posts
    • Integrates with mobile devices by SMS and has iPhone, Blackberry applications
  • Evernote
    • This post is written on it 🙂
    • Note-taking destop app which syncs with the online version so you can be seamlessly integrated
    • Has web, iPhone, and mobile versions, all of which synchronize
    • Has good character recognition software, so encourages you to take photos and email them into evernote, which will then decode the text and make it searchable in the note index. Pretty cool but I don’t have an iPhone so this is less relevant
    • Big downside is lack of sharing – I want to collaborate through Evernote but no options exist
    • No spell checking (blame this if there are errors in this post)
  • RTM
    • Remember the Milk is the classic “Getting things Done” todo list
    • Allows emailing in individual and bulk tasks which go into your inbox list or specified todo lists
    • Biggest upside is the sharing of lists and tasks between contacts so you can give people todos and see what they’re upto
    • Really solid keyboard shortcuts, which work well if you get the hang of them
    • Downside – usage of the mouse is awkward – could be an AJAX drag/drop resorting and moving between lists but doesn’t exist
    • They’ve pushed a lot to integrate with other apps (Gmail, Gcal, Twitter, iPhone, Blackberry, Google Gears, Netvibes, OS X, Jott, IMified, Quicksilver, etc etc etc I wish they focused more on making the app 100x more usable