startup tools for collaboration and mobility

Being a bit of a geek, I’m always interested in which tools & techniques people use to go about their things. So it’s only fair I also share mine. Here’s a quick snapshot of how we’ve been organizing our company. Keep in mind, what works for our agency of three, Third Wave, may or may not work in your context.

For us, collaboration and mobility are key requirements, so besides a few exceptions working exclusively local isn’t really an option.

Experiment & share your experiences!

Email: Nothing beats Google Mail at this point. Period. Google Apps allow you to use Gmail with your own domain.

Project management: That’s a much more tricky one, as different needs and preferences both inside and outside the company play a role. We’re betting on Basecamp, the web-based project management tool by 37Signals. It’s relatively light-weight, has a fairly comprehensive UI and it’s heavily based on email, which makes it easy to use even when you’re on your phone or extremely low bandwidth (think train rides). This also makes it easier for clients to get involved if they choose to. Hands down the only annoying thing I found so far is that you sometimes have to change through several information layers when moving from one project to another – but it’s doable.

Contact management: Again, we’re going with 37 Signal’s Highrise. Not sure how happy I am with this solution yet. Then again, I don’t know anything better either, so there you go.

Chat & ongoing discussions: There’s always some things that require some discussion, so you need some kind of chat. Skype is very powerful, but also quite invasive. For good measure we’ve been using the third 37Signals product, Campfire. Not all that powerful, but it does the job. Of all the 37Signals tools we use, this is the first I’d give up, but it’s really ok.

Fluid: With all these browser-based services, the tab overkill gets even worse, so you might want to pull some of them out of the browser and into their own app. Fluid for Mac does just that. Make sure to learn how to work the settings and customize them to your needs. If you don’t it’s the software from hell, but once it works it’s a charm.

Phone: Still looking for the best Voip solution, particularly since all of us will be traveling a lot. So far, we’re old school: landline and cell phone, occasionally a Skype call.

Twitter: We have a shared Twitter account (@thirdwaveberlin), but everybody uses their own preferred tool to manage that one.

Files: Dropbox can be very useful in sharing larger files while working on a project.

No big surprises in the whole thing I guess. Always keep in mind that certain projects have security requirements that may not be met by cloud services. Where that isn’t an issue, the setup described above can be enough to get you going.

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