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Karl L. Hughes
Karl L. Hughes

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The Startup Tools I Can't Live Without

I’ve always liked trying new software tools, but the more experienced I get, the more solid my business operating system has gotten. As I refine the toolset I use for running my startup, I like to keep a running list of the tools that I use and recommend.

While I’m always open to trying new things, I don’t add tools here unless I personally use them and endorse them.

Entries are broken down into categories and include a bit about how I use them. If you’re interested in a longer explanation, email me and I’ll send you more details.


  • Airtable - I use Airtable as a content calendar, personal CRM, applicant tracking system, and much more. It’s essentially a spreadsheet-like interface for structured data.
  • Trello - Trello is my go-to project management and life organization tool. I use it for my daily and weekly to-do lists and managing team projects.
  • Notion - I use Notion for my side projects. It’s a bit more flexible than Trello, but (until recently) didn’t offer an API, so it’s not as powerful as Airtable.
  • Zapier - I automate everything I can with Zapier. I’ve also tried and liked n8n, but until they’ve built all the connectors that Zapier has, I’m still more heavily locked into Zapier.
  • Calendly - I never knew I needed Calendly until I started a business. It cuts down on so many back-and-forths around scheduling.
  • GSuite - Maybe this one is too obvious, but half my life is in the Google Suite. We use it for documentation, delivering content to clients, diagrams, team emails, and much more.
  • Toggl - I’ve tried several tools for time tracking, but Toggl is my favorite. The weekly reports help me see which areas of my business I’m spending time on and help me direct my priorities for the week ahead.
  • Diigo - I use Diigo as a bookmark organization system and a way to pipe interesting articles into my email newsletter.

Payroll and Freelancers

  • - We have contractors in 27 countries, and Pilot was the best payroll solution I could find for our use case. They’ve been very helpful about understanding international taxes and laws too.
  • Gusto - For full-time employees, Gusto is the best option available today. It’s affordable and lets you easily layer on other benefits.
  • Upwork - I’ve hired developers, writers, and designers on Upwork. While you have to wade through a lot of junk to find the few good people there, they make it really simple to hire freelancers.
  • Fiverr - For very short-term projects, I use Fiverr. Things like logo design, bug fixes, and presentation design are all easily outsourced to Fiverr members.


  • Google Docs - After trying a few methods, I found the editing and commenting features in Google Docs in addition to the Grammarly integration to make it the easiest tool for writing. If only it supported Markdown…
  • Jekyll - While not the most modern static site generator available, Jekyll works well. Most of the blogs I operate run on Jekyll at this point.
  • Grammarly - I love that Grammarly takes care of most of the little details when you’re writing. It’s saved me from a lot of comma splices over the years.
  • Typefully - Twitter really loves threads, so I’ve been doing more of them lately. Typefully is the best tool I’ve found for writing them.


  • Zoom - While I’m heavily using GSuite for most of its services, I think Zoom is better for video calls. Despite a clunky calendar integration, it tends to establish a more reliable connection.
  • Loom - Our team at is remote and mostly asynchronous. Loom is a great tool for sharing quick instructions with the team or helping people get unstuck without needing to hop on a call.


  • Jet Brains IDE - Jet Brains’ suite is the first IDE I’ve had that cost money, and it’s the best one I’ve found overall.
  • DigitalOcean - Simpler than the big three (Azure, AWS, GCP), I like DigitalOcean’s philosophy of minimal hosting options. The templates they offer are a nice middle ground for getting started quickly.
  • Vercel - On the other end of the spectrum, I often use Vercel to host small, frontend-heavy projects. Very quick to get started with if you’re working in Node/JavaScript.
  • Github - Not only a code-sharing platform, Github is my go-to static site host and CI/CD platform as well.

Sales and Marketing

  • Carrd - Carrd is the best one-page landing page builder I’ve found. For testing a new project idea or email newsletter, Carrd is the best.
  • Webflow - Once you need more than a single page, Webflow is pretty solid. It’s significantly more complicated than Carrd, but more powerful as well.
  • Pipedrive - I don’t love it, but it’s the best CRM I’ve found for my relatively minimal needs.
  • Mailchimp - Mailchimp is probably the best all-purpose email management tool available. I keep most of my email lists here, but it’s pretty easy to port them to another provider if you want.
  • Curated - For my weekly email newsletter, I’m currently using Curated. It’s a little more complicated than I’d like, but it’s a lot better for sending “list of link” style emails than Mailchimp.
  • ahrefs - My go-to SEO tool, ahrefs also provides some really solid educational material on their blog and YouTube channel.


  • Stripe - Stripe has revolutionized the world of online payments. While it can still be messy and confusing at times, it’s an order of magnitude better than the old solutions I remember early in my career.
  • Moonclerk - Moonclerk adds recurring billing to Stripe for just a few dollars per month. It’s not that customizable, but it’s really simple to use.
  • Invoice Generator - One of Moonclerk’s missing features is proper invoicing. So, I use Invoice Generator to create and send them manually for clients who need them.


  • Canva - I’m definitely not a designer, so I like how simple Canva is for creating images, logos, book covers, and more.
  • Wohven - Wohven takes care of my t-shirts by sending me a new one every month as mine fade.

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