6 “bootstrapping” tools for software product manager


You are a software product manager trying to start a software company on your own. Or you work for a startup or a small software company and don’t have much money to spend. But you still need to design a good user experience, do early usability testing with your prospects, do a quick show and tell of your ideas to your management, your customers or potential investors. Here are 6 “bootstrapping” tools that I have used a whole lot to communicate and collaborate without denting my wallet too much.

1) SnagIt – When doing wireframes or mockups, you want to steal UI ideas from different websites you see – you want something quick and dirty to show your product development team or your customers to get some early feedback. SnagIt is one heck of a tool that comes to the rescue. It is super easy to use and helps you capture images from your screen and edit it quickly. Cost: $50

2) Balsamiq – An outstanding, super easy to use tool for creating early wireframes. I am a very visual thinker and need to draw when trying to communicate user experience ideas. This is the best tool I have used to quickly create some quick and dirty wireframes. The wireframes look hand-drawn so your management team or your customers do not think you have it all coded and ready to ship. The palette that is available is exhaustive including the very nice interface elements for developing wireframes of iPhone apps. Cost: $79

3) Google docs – Need to write functional specs? How about revenue modeling or what if product pricing analysis? Google docs works very well. Its collaborative ability where users can markup documents and can compare the different revisions is good enough. You will not find everything Microsoft Office has, but it has a lot of the things that you commonly use (except Pivot tables – can do via Gadgets, but painful to use). But then beggars cannot be choosers. If you don’t have money to pay for the expensive MS office ($149.95 for Home edition per user) and need most of the features that one commonly uses, Google docs does the trick. Plus it is all online and everyone is working off one copy of the document. Nice! I personally have not used the presentation functionality and hence cannot comment how useful it is. Cost: $0

4) Goto Meeting – So you have created the mockups and want to do some quick usability tests with your customers and prospects and none of them are local. You want to do web conferencing for free? Goto Meeting is my favorite tool. So easy to use and works like a charm everytime. In the hundreds of times I have used it, there were only 2 instances where the customer could not use it because of firewall issues on their end. Though it is a little expensive to use, it is something where I would spend the money so that you can easily collaborate via web conferencing. Cost: $49/month or $468/year

5) Skype – Do I need to say anything about this popular FREE tool? I use Skype in conjunction with Goto Meeting so that I get free phone calls. The only thing you need to make sure is that the folks at the other end also have a Skype account. You can get your team members to create an account, but with customers or prospects you may have to use Goto Meeting’s audio. Cost: $0

6) Gmail – Again, want free email without having to shell out money for MS Outlook? Cost: $0

Overall, total fixed cost = $129, recurring cost = $49/month for GotoMeeting.

I am sure there are many more tools out there that one can use. What do other software product managers use? Please let me know.

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Image: Courtesy of GuyKawasaki.com

12 Responses to 6 “bootstrapping” tools for software product manager

  1. Vandana Nayak says:

    Haven’t tried Balsamiq – will give it a shot. Thanks for the tip.

  2. MindMap is a fantastic tool I find. It allows me to “get it all down” and rearrange and recategorize in a very visual way. I also find its the best way (for me) to do quick competitor landscape type research.

    On the mac it is $129.00 and well worth the expense, on Windows for some reason it is $349.00.

    I would also recommend Microsoft word on the mac. It has a note taking view with a voice recorder integration, so your notes from a meeting are accompanied by the audio. Great for customer interviews where you want to concentrate on what they are saying, not taking copious notes.

    • Mark Officer says:

      I agree that MindManager is a great tool and a “must have” for all product managers. It’s a great way to visually organize and communicate. The only downside is it is a bit pricy.

  3. Kelsey C says:

    Wow, this is a useful list of tools (you’ve got to love Google docs!). My company uses gmail too, but for web conferencing we use RHUB. What’s nice about it, is it’s not based on a monthly subscription, but instead you just pay one fee at the beginning to purchase it. If you want to check them out, their website is http://www.rhubcom.com

  4. Great list Gopal! A few comments:

    – I love SnagIt and swear by it! Unfortunately its not yet available for the Mac, and there don’t appear to be any comparable tools for the Mac (they’re either too basic, too complex, or too expensive).
    – Balsamiq is pretty good. There are others I like better, but one of its really nice features…integration w/Jira!
    – For even better pricing than GoToMeeting….dimdim. Free for up to 20 attendees!

  5. Fritz says:

    Good list, Gopal. I’d modify #1 though. If you use Firefox (free) there’s are several plug-ins (again all free) that can do a very good if not great job of capturing your entire screen, just the window or a selection. I personally use a plug-in called “ScreenGrab”. Good list though would love to hear about other tools. – Fritz

    Fritz Desir
    Experience Strategist/Interaction Designer

    Blog: http://www.fritzism.com
    Twitter: @fritzism

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  7. Nimish says:

    Great article!

    I recommend the free tool “easycapture” for screen grabs – almost as good as snagit. For free document writing/ editing – nothing to beat OpenOffice – very stable and fully compatible with MS Office (at least for most documents).

  8. Rohit Bhatia says:

    great list . thanks for sharing!

  9. Brij Shah says:

    I am a big fan of Snag-It but recently discovered another tool called PicPick. It doesn’t do everything that Snag-It does but it is free.

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  11. Mark Officer says:

    I use Evernote to gather, collect and organize notes and information from all types of sources. It is perfect for competitive intelligence or any other type of research where you collect from multiple sources and need to organize it all in one spot for convenience (and your sanity).

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