Our favorite digital tools for building startups: Marketing and Creative Edition

If you caught the first edition of this story last month, you already know our favorite tools for Workflow Management and Research. We’re building on that lineup and dishing out our Marketing and Creative tool essentials.

Spoiler alert: if you’re looking for a start-up starter pack, Webflow and Figma top our list as must-haves.

By: The Studio Team at 25madison

Marketing

ActiveCampaign: Goldilocks email platform

When it comes to email marketing platforms, we’ve tried them all. Mailchimp, Sendgrid, ExactTarget, Responsys, ActiveCampaign and more. While they all have their ideal targets, our favorite for startups is ActiveCampaign. It’s the Goldilocks of marketing platforms with the right amount of functionality for early-stage companies looking to lean into automated marketing. The functionality is sophisticated enough for career marketers to build elaborate automated campaigns while maintaining simplicity within the UI. It has a bit of a learning curve, but once you play around in the tool for a few hours and watch a few tutorial videos, you can quickly build out personalized, multi-touch campaigns.

BeePro: Email coding WYSIWYG

When we’re launching an email marketing campaign, BeePro is our go to email design tool. BeePro makes creating beautiful emails easy. With the ability to simply drag and drop elements that we want to include in the email body, we can quickly create emails that we’re excited about sharing. We love the marriage between Figma, Beepro, and ActiveCampaign. What we design in Figma is easily stitched together in BeePro and distributed through ActiveCampaign.

But really, we’re just thankful that email building has come a long way since the days of HTML coding in Dreamweaver.

Pro Tip: BeePro’s HTML export function, complete with image hosting is perfect for providing the email code for other distribution partners to distribute on your behalf.

Typeform: The natural language form creator

Typeform is everything, seriously. It’s such a simple survey and form platform but is incredibly versatile. We’ve used Typeform to create simple lead forms on our website, quiz ads on social, but have also gone so far as to create custom questionnaires that take upwards of 30 minutes to fill out.

We absolutely love the sophisticated look of Typeform, and our audience digs it too. We’ve had great completion rates and have experienced very low drop off, even when asking for emails. It’s so easy to use, and the logic is extensive for a no-code platform. Plus, we’ve yet to find another app it does not integrate with.

Webflow: Highly customizable website platform and CMS

This is another area where we’ve tried a few different platforms and have ultimately settled on Webflow as the best tool for early-stage company websites. While a platform like Wix is great for building a landing page in a few hours, Webflow offers much more flexibility along with the ability to grow with early-stage companies over time.

Webflow sites are custom-built — and as Peter Parker knows, ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ Thus, using Webflow will require someone with coding expertise that can pair up with a front-end web designer.

We are very pleased with the results of our Webflow builds and have now created many sub-company websites within Webflow. You can check out a few of them at helloharbor.com, meetruby.com, and joinaxl.com.

ProTip: Webflow’s built-in CMS is perfect for sharing a WYSIWYG editor for the non-coding marketers — so they can maintain the site themselves, without needing to call you on a Thursday at midnight.

Hootsuite: Making social media management easier

If you’re managing multiple social media accounts like we are, Hootsuite is a no brainer. Your unique dashboard gives you insight into all your account streams at once. With easily digestible analytics, scheduling capabilities, and the ability to post to all your accounts simultaneously make this platform a winner.

Docsend: The pitch deck sharing platform with analytics

Our teams spend a fair amount of time sharing our ideas with investors as we develop companies and ultimately fundraise as each startup grows. Docsend is where we store, share, update, and track all of our company pitch decks. We love the ability to continually update our pitch decks — so we know that investors are always viewing the most recent version. We also get a lot of valuable data out of Docsend analytics. Which pages are investors most interested in? Which ones are less valuable and get skipped over? Who should we reach out to for a follow-up conversation?

Recently we’ve also been using Docsend to host documents for board meetings. Their “spaces” product is a data room, with the ability to build out a landing page where users with access can navigate through multiple relevant docs.

Creative

Figma: Creative sandbox we can’t live without

If we had to pick a tool out of this list that wins the blue ribbon, Figma would be it. Although Figma was built to create web and mobile mockups and prototypes (which the tool is great for), we quickly found that Figma was useful for so many other needs. In short order, Figma has become our favorite tool, allowing our team to easily create, collaborate, review, comment, share, and export files of all sorts.

From website mockups to social media development, to brand creation, to ad building, Figma does it all. The board categorization and storing is insanely helpful, too. For each of our portfolio companies and incubations, we’ve created separate workspaces where we can share boards with whichever team members need access. The versatility of Figma is hard to overstate. If the Figma team is out there listening — thank you!

Miro: Collaborative, digital whiteboard

When we first began working from home in March of 2020, we were in the midst of kicking off some key brand and product development projects. We wondered what brand and product creation would look like in our new Zoom world, sans in-person whiteboard sessions.

Enter Miro. Miro is a useful team brainstorm and documentation tool, allowing team members to collaborate all at once on a virtual whiteboard, complete with post-it notes, colored stickies, and markers. We must admit that there’s a bit of a learning curve — especially when trying to train a team on the tool while facilitating a strategy session (Quick! Someone accidentally deleted an activity mid-session — hit command+z!). That being said, we’ve loved how integrating Miro helps us facilitate group discussions while also serving as a living archive of those conversations that can be revisited in the future. Added benefit: Miro sessions are culture building sessions, too. Miro rallies teams around ideas while giving plenty of opportunities to laugh at user errors along the way.

Pro tip: if you’re using Miro with a large crowd, we’ve often found it better to have 2 team members run the board and the session rather than having the entire team working in the board at the same time. It helps to focus the conversation on the meat of the problem rather than diluting the conversation with any Miro user distractions.

Google Fonts: Free, web accessible font library

We build over a dozen brands a year between tests and go-to-market companies. This means we are also using a lot of fonts across these brands. Google Fonts tends to be our go-to for web accessible, free, well designed fonts. It’s a large library of fonts that is easily searchable with the ability to preview custom words or text and easily download and share font files with team members. There are certainly instances where we’ll purchase font licenses from type foundries (e.g., the logo font for a go-to-market brand), but Google Fonts gets the job done for a large majority of our font needs.

Unsplash: beautiful, free photography

In addition to needing many fonts, we also consistently need photography to build out our test brands and websites. In the early days of conception, we love Unsplash for free photos to help visualize a product while we’re in the validation phase. At this early stage we’re still learning and things are constantly changing, so it doesn’t make sense for us to invest in paid stock photography until we’re building our go-to-market brands. For that phase, we’ve used both Getty and Adobe for great imagery.

Icon resources: Because who doesn’t love icons?

Similar to our font and photography needs, we also use a fair share of icons to help illustrate product benefits or add a graphic to many different elements and assets. To this end, we use a number of different icon resources to find what we’re specifically looking for. Our favorites are Streamline Icons, The Noun Project, and System UIcons.

Colorable: Easy color accessibility testing

When designing our brands, we want to ensure that our brand colors will meet web accessibility standards for the ease of use of all users. Colorable allows us to quickly test our proposed brand colors, offering color substitutes when needed that are as close as possible to the originally selected color while also meeting accessibility standards.

What are your favorite tools?

What are your go-to tools that we need to know about? We’re always looking for new tools to make our work more efficient, so please send your favorite tools our way! Right now we’re specifically looking for great tools for content creation. Let us know what video and animation creation tools are working for you.

25madison is an NYC-based venture studio, incubating companies from the ground up and investing in early-stage companies. Learn more at 25madison.com.

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