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Category: startup life

My Core Productivity Suite

I launched a startup in 2007-2008 for which the essential idea was to have a centralized place to store content from around the web, then access it from any device. It doesn’t sound very innovative today, but at the time it was (more on that experience in a subsequent post).

I was then, and remain today, passionate about the idea that all my content should be easily accessible via any device. IMAP for email was an early, successful implementation of the concept, and I believed the same approach should be applied to most, if not all, other content. For productivity, I was an early subscriber to The Omni Group’s OmniSync solution to keep my OmniFocus content up-to-date on both my Mac and iPhone. Today, centralized storage and syncing of email, notes, to dos, calendar items, and other productivity solutions is requirement number 1. More and more, support for inner app compatibility is also becoming table stakes.

I remain an unabashed user of Apple products, and my current productivity choices are a direct reflection of my bias. I’ll review each product in more detail later, but here’s what I use and why:

  • Spark for Email on macOS and iOS. Honestly, I preferred Astro, but they were purchased by Slack last year, and ended support for Astro as a standalone email client (it also handled calendars and Slack messages). I use Spark because it features all the basics (support for wide variety of email service providers, multi-device syncing, swipe actions for quick processing, etc.) in an aesthetically pleasing but highly functional user interface. I have recently started using their Quick Reply feature more often, which is like using Emoji to respond to an SMS message, but the feature appears slow.
  • Things 3 for Task Management on macOS and iOS. Believe me, I’ve tried them all (OmniFocus, ToDoist, Wunderlist, Remember the Milk, Reminders, and many more). Things 3 is my current favorite. The UI is really polished and easy to grok. It supports several working styles, from Getting Things Done, to daily list making, to obsessive, plan every task, every day, in perpetuity. Two of my favorite features, used in tandem, are the ability to specify when I should start focusing on something and when it’s due as separate dates. For example, I can specify that I want to start working on something at the beginning of next month, but its not due until the end. The task will be hidden from view until the start date, and my due date is clearly visible.
  • Bear for Notes on macOS and iOS: Bear is my favorite new-ish app. I don’t use dark mode on my Mac, but I do in Bear. I love Bear’s Markdown support, and very simple user interface, and it’s tagging feature for keeping up with Notes as my library grows. Bear is full-featured, but just the features I need, which I suspect is true for many people. I can’t say a ton about it. It just works, and it’s right for me.

I still using Apple’s built-in calendars, mostly because I personally can’t justify the cost of Fantastical on multiple devices. And I still use Reminders and Notes for certain use cases (like asking Siri on my Apple Watch to remind me of something, or to scan files using Notes’ very capable scanning feature). But these three solutions from independent software developers are my go-to apps for now.

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The Collaboration Conundrum

There are lots of challenges in launching a startup. Raising money, hiring and leading a team, closing sales to grow revenue, having time to focus on the product you love… it’s not easy.

But finding the right collaboration tools for your team is essential, particularly if you’re dealing with a distributed workforce. And it may be among the toughest of challenges that entrepreneurs face. Why? There are so many damn options it becomes hard to choose. Some are great conceptually, not so much in execution. Some try to do to much, others not enough. Some are more creative solutions than others, but may be hard for some employees to grok.

My current startup is using Google for Email, Calendar, and (occasionally) Docs/Drive, but we mostly rely on for shared files. And we’re using Podio and GoToMeeting, both owned by Citrix, for team collaboration, web meetings and group video chat. We’ve created custom apps on Podio for sales/CRM, marketing, and product development, as well as for each client we have. Polio is integrated with GTM for video meetings, with Box for attaching files to conversations, and with Gmail and Calendar to turn emails into tasks and show tasks on the calendar. And the list of integrations goes on and on. In theory, it seems like a good solution. In theory.

The reality is that we deal with hassles all the time. GTM has pushed several updates this year, and there have been enough bugs to cause some real inconveniences. Plus they don’t seem to handle low-bandwidth situations for audio and video as well as they once did. Podio has some great features, but it’s core task functionality is flawed in how it relates to custom apps and their fields. While I love Gmail, some team members come from a corporate background and struggle with Gmail’s user interface, pining for Outlook. And Box Sync for Mac is incredibly slow, even for some of the smallest of files.

We’ve looked at changing things up before we start to accelerate our growth. I’d really like a goal-driven collaboration platform like Workboard, but just haven’t seen enough value to pull the trigger. We’ll need a true CRM before too long, and I’ve toyed with migrating from Gmail to hosted Exchange, but Outlook for Mac 2016 has been really buggy in my limited trial. We haven’t yet integrated expense management like Expensify, or HR management like Benefits, so we’re just scratching the surface. In any case, we’re likely to need multiple solutions, which means multiple logins, learning curves and invoices.

I would love for someone to solve this problem, so I can focus on growing my company.

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