LaunchRock

March 19, 2012 in 3 out of 5 stars, Free, Landing Pages, PR and Publicity

What is it?

Launchrock-logo

LaunchRock: A service that provides a pre-launch page for your startup (you know, the "signup to be notified when we launch" type of site).

Heres the one I created for a project I'm working on for startup founders (and those aspiring to be).

Who makes it?

LaunchRock

Why is it the killerest?

In addition to a nice pre-launch page, it has good social integration, encouraging those who sign up to share it with their friends via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr or email. 

FireShot Screen Capture #013 - 'Are you a founder of an internet startup_ - We're looking for startup founders who have launched (or are launching soon) and are willing to share their story_' - signup_launchhappy_com

There are also some modest stats telling you your conversion rate, which can be helpful.

FireShot Screen Capture #012 - 'Insights I LaunchRock' - app_launchrock_com_insights

It's fairly easy to use, and they've thought of a lot of details like a confirmation email, social integration where you can pre-seed what they say when they share, an ability to export all of your subscribers for easy loading into your favorite email sending system, and domain mapping (i.e. you can point your own URL to your page).

If you feel too constrained by their limited template, you can embed the form on your own site, where you have more latitude.

What could be improved?

They offer a very limited ability to customize the design and layout for the fully hosted version. They have custom CSS "coming soon" which should help immensely. I was able to work around some of these limitations by using inline HTML and inline styles - which seem to be supported. It's fairly amenable to a little lightweight "hacking."

How much does it cost?

Free

Rating?

Reviewed by Carson McComas

p.s. see also: Launch Effect which I liked a bit better. It's a WordPress theme with the same purpose.

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Gumroad

March 5, 2012 in 3 out of 5 stars, e-Commerce Solutions

What is it?

Gumroad-logoGumroad: A service that lets you "sell anything you can share" which is to say - anything you don't need to collect shipping information for. Each purchase ends with a download link.

You create "links" that send you over to a Gumroad page where customers can enter an email address, credit card number, and boom - download what they purchased. (Here's an example I set up to sell one of my photos).

Who makes it?

Gumroad, Inc

Why is it the killerest?

It's not PayPal.

Everything is elegant, simple and quick.

For entrepreneurs, I could see using it to sell stuff like advertising slots, access to a beta release, an ebook, software, stuff like that.

Here's a nice demo they put together so you can see how it would work.

What could be improved?

Your customers don't have to hassle with PayPal, but Gumroad does use PayPal to pay you what you earn. Direct deposit in my bank account would be a lot better. They also ask for a $10 minimum owed, and 60 days to pay you (I assume they pay quicker than that though).

It's a touch buggy still (I created a link, and it created two for me - easy enough to delete one though).

I'd love an embed option. Let me just drop a button on a page that opens up with this Gumroad goodness. Every PayPal button on the internet tied to an intangible could be replaced with it.

It's a little pricey.

How much does it cost?

5% + $0.30 per transaction

Rating?

Reviewed by Carson McComas

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PollDaddy

January 20, 2009 in 3 out of 5 stars, A service, Business Intel

What is it?


Poll Daddy: A service which allows you to put a poll or survey on your site. It then offers rich graphical reporting of the responses.

polldaddy

Who makes it?

Automattic, Inc.

Why is it the killerest?

Because it makes it simple to ascertain the opinions of your website/blog visitors.

As the website publisher, you fill out a simple form on the PollDaddy site indicating your question and the possible responses (including "other" where they can enter their own responses) and they provide you a snippet of code which you place on your website to display the poll/survey.

It has a user-friendly admin interface which makes it easy to quickly create a poll and view the results.

All plans (free included) offer the ability to customize the look of the poll to match your site, if you don’t like one of their preset looks (they’re not too bad). They’ve got a nifty editor to make customizing easy-ish, but if you want to edit your design once it’s changed, you need to know CSS. The upside is that if you do know CSS, you can make a very customized poll.

You can add youtube video, or images as your question, or answers.

There’s pretty good logic and constructs in place to help you prevent and manage multiple votes by the same person.

And you can close the poll after a certain date.

They’ve done a nice job of making a fairly easy-to-use site and service. The reports are pretty neat as well, and the poll and survey setup (when they work) are pretty straightforward and easy.

What could be improved?

I ran into numerous bugs using the service. Nothing I wasn’t able to work around, but it was a mess. I had pages error out, and when I generated my first poll, the code (to paste) was wrong and didn't work. I had to go back through the site and load the code page again to get the right code. It had several problem that I assume are probably related to the a heavy load today? Things did eventually work after I re-tried them so I assume they'll get these cleared up, and when they do – this is a great offering.

How much does it cost?

Free for a basic version, then $200/yr or $900/yr to allow more than 1,000 responses per poll.

Rating?

Here’s an example of the poll (and I’d love to have your responses).

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SEO Toolbar

January 15, 2009 in 3 out of 5 stars, SEO/SEM

What is it?


SEO Toolbar: A tool bar providing very valuable (and juicy) SEO intelligence for any site. If you have a site and are serious about SEO, this is an excellent resource.

seo toolbar logo Who makes it?

Aaron Wall of SEO Book.com

Why is it the killerest?

First of all, Aaron has had most of these tools available in other forms before now. They are all excellent tools that I've used for a while (SEO Rank Checker and SEO XRay). The SEO Toolbar just packages them into an even easier-to-use interface, with a few more features. In so doing, he has really created something valuable.

It provides valuable SEO information like Page Rank, page links, Compete.com and Alexa scores, site comparison tools, and much more, all at a glance. It also integrated helpful tools like a Keyword Suggest tool that reaches out a dozen keyword tools to help you get the juices flowing and gather intelligence to make decisions.

In addition to the excellent comparison tool built in, it’s handy to load your site, along with your competitors sites up in different tabs, then click across the tabs at the top to see the different scores. 

This is a pretty exciting tool – can’t wait to see it evolve. Watch the video Aaron has put together to learn more.

What could be improved?

BUG: Using the keyword highlight box at the top clears form data on any form page. So don’t write a big blog post online, then use this box or you’ll lose everything. This is evil, and surely a bug, I'm sure it'll be addressed in future versions.

Also, the toolbar should be off by default every time the browser is launched. Otherwise people will install this out of curiosity and leave it running forever on every site they ever visit, forever. In addition to slowing down their browsing experience, it will tax the servers providing this information and potentially jeopardize the ability to freely grab it with tools like this. Make sure you turn it off yourself if you’re just browsing around and not actively doing SEO research.

I’d like to be able to show/hide certain parts of the bar – not sure if this is even possible, but it would be nice. There are a few things I don’t imagine many people will find useful, or that are covered by better tools already. The RSS aggregator, for example.

How much does it cost?

Free (for now, he says that may change at a later date).

Rating?

Reviewed by Carson McComas

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Blog Blazers

January 12, 2009 in 3 out of 5 stars, A book, Blogging

What is it?


Blog Blazers: 40 Top Bloggers Share Their Secrets: A book of interviews with 40 bloggers, including some high profile ones like Seth Godin, Dan Lyons (A.K.A. The Fake Steve Jobs) and Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasion. The interview questions center around what has made their blogs successful.

Who makes it?

Stephane Geniere

Why is it the killerest?

Grenier isn't the author so much as he is the editor - but he does ask an interesting set of questions (mostly common amongst all the interviews) and uncovers some insightful perspectives from bloggers who have found success in terms of readership, influence, revenue and opportunities.

This book should appeal to two audiences:

  1. Those who are very serious about creating a successful blog. One of the common questions with interesting responses was “If you knew what you  know now when you first started, what’s the one biggest tip you’d give yourself today?” I enjoyed those answers the most.
  2. Big fans of some of the bloggers profiled who want more.

If you’re serious about blogging, this is a motivating snapshot of what can help you be successful.

What could be improved?

Packaging it into a book made it convenient, and it accomplishes what it wants to, but it's not a profound or terribly in-depth book. 

Some of the interviews are very concisely answered so if you’re buying it for the responses of just one or two of the bloggers, it might be disappointing.

How much does it cost?

$16.95

Rating?

Reviewed by Carson McComas

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TaskBin

September 18, 2007 in 3 out of 5 stars, Hosted software, Issue trackers, Productivity

What is it?


TaskBin: It is a group task management tool.

It helps you allocate tasks to your team members and is built around the concept of sharing tasks as a group (or groups). All of your tasks are visible to others and can be shared.  Other members can add tasks to your plate or edit tasks already there.

Taskbinlogo

Who makes it?

Mangospring

Why is it the killerest?

Very smooth interface, attractive, feature-rich, and for a group working on a project, it offers a simple way to share and keep track of tasks. Nifty constructs like softer deadlines (today, tomorrow, next week, sometime soon) introduce an interesting (and more real-world?) way to prioritize tasks.

What could be improved?

It has a highly annoying construct where it forces you to add first and last name for anyone.

None of the marketing pages outline what the "premium" account is, or what it costs.

The confirmation link they email you is beastly-long, but not a hyperlink (easy fix, guys!).

How much does it cost?

Free for everything I could find. There's mention of a "premium" account during signup, but I never saw anything else about it.

Rating?

Reviewed by Carson McComas

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Adwords Optimizer

June 11, 2007 in 3 out of 5 stars, Analytics, SEO/SEM

What is it?


Adwords Optimizer: A tool to help you fine tune your AdWords ads.

Clickmuselogo

Who makes it?

MindValley LC

Why is it the killerest?

It's simple, it's free, and it works.

Savvy AdWords users write two or more ads for a given ad group. Google then uses both ads and you can learn which ad performs the best by watching the CTR (click through rate) and conversion over time.

Adwords Optimizer sends you a daily report of how your different ads are performing and which one has the best CTR, then offers suggestions for improving. It's a simple thing, and something you can do by hand-checking your AdWords account every day and keeping track, but Adwords Optimizer makes a tedious thing you should do every day (but probably don't because it's tedious) very simple.

What could be improved?

I wish I could view a back history of my reports. If you save all the emails you get, you have a crude history, but I'd like a screen where it listed all my reports so I could view past ones.

It's a bit sparse on metrics (but it does provide what it promises to provide).

Update: The signup process they suggest is confusing and lame, you can signup here.

Rating?

Reviewed by Carson McComas

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Google Alerts

February 20, 2007 in 3 out of 5 stars, A service, Free

What is it?


Google Alerts: A service where Google will send you an email anytime a term you specify is found by its crawler. In other words: roughly any time a certain term is used on the Internet.

Googlealerts

Who makes it?

Google

Why is it the killerest?

Because you can use it to watch what others are saying about you, your business, your industry or whatever else would give you a competitive advantage.

If desired, you can narrow it down to just what blogs, or the news say about a search term. You can also limit how often it emails you. From as-it-happens to once a week.

This service use to be horrible, inaccurate, incomplete, and late when it worked at all. About a month ago something magic happened and suddenly it works as advertised.

How much does it cost?

Free

Rating?

Reviewed by Carson McComas

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Relenta CRM

October 16, 2006 in 3 out of 5 stars, CRM, Email newsletter management, Hosted software

What is it?


Relenta CRM: A new CRM tool (customer relationship management). Includes email, contact manager, shared calendar, email newsletter marketing/autoresponders.

Relentacrmlogo

Who makes it?

Relenta

Why is it the killerest?

They claim, and employ a (now familiar) "Less is more" approach. They call it the  "90/10 rule"

"Designed for usability and efficiency, Relenta CRM achieves 90 percent of the functionality commonly required by small business users with only ten percent of the application weight."

They integrate email, contact management, calendar, and email newsletter marketing software into one application.

The free plan offers quite a bit for the starting-out entrepreneur trying to determine if this software is right for them.

They've obviously put a great deal of effort into this offering. The interface is attractive and fairly well conceived and it includes many of the features you'd expect from a CRM.

It will be interesting to see how it evolves (it needs some maturing still) and how it stands up to the imminent Sunrise (CRM product) from 37signals.

What could be improved?

A detailed user guide/help/knowledge base is really needed (they are working on it). The support is decent in the meantime (although the support form is cumbersome to fill out). They do have a PDF "user's manual" you'll find in your Relenta inbox after you create an account, which is helpful.

They need spell check.

HTML email templates would be nice (right now offers only plain-text email)

They require 3 credentials for login, not just the normal 2 (i.e. username/password).

The initial starting experience still needs some polish. I had that bewildering "what do I do now" moment when I started.

The free account allows only one user, but you are offered the form to create another user. Only after you attempt it does the application tell you can't add one ("user limit exceeded"). Then the statistics on my dashboard reported 2 out of 1 user, but I still only had the one.

The application response feels a bit sluggish (and no AJAX in sight, which could alleviate some of that feeling).

It feels like they may have rushed to launch it. It's certainly usable as it is and (I have reports from a very happy user), and it's an impressive application, but we've come to expect more from web applications in the last couple years, and this one isn't quite there yet.

How much does it cost?

From FREE to $50 per user per month

Rating?

Reviewed by Carson McComas

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nPost

September 6, 2006 in 3 out of 5 stars, A person, An interview

What is it?


nPost: Another great resource for entrepreneurs, a collection of interviews with CEOs and Founders of small and startup businesses.

Menulogo

Who makes it?

Nathan Kaiser

Why is it the killerest?

Kaiser has collected almost 150 intelligently conducted interviews, including some favorites of mine like Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia (how awesome is he?) and Joe Kraus of Jot Spot. Clean site, searchable, or list them all.

What could be improved?

It appears that he records these, might be nice to have the audio versions as well.

The search is a bit iffy.

How much does it cost?

Free

Rating?

Reviewed by Carson McComas

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