Our stack: the tools we use to power Karbon

Stuart McLeodCEO & Co-Founder, Karbon

People are the most important thing in all industries influenced by technology. But your company is only as good as the tools you use to run it — especially in the tech world.

For successful startups, change is fast and inevitable. In order to save time, money, and effort throughout the growth process, you want to find software that supports that growth for years and allows flexibility to match your changing needs. In short, a tech stack is a collection of external apps and programs that, when combined, help your business to run smoothly.

That said, I’ve learned first-hand that some platforms will inevitably fall flat, and you can’t have them slowing down your progress. As the CEO of Karbon, I’ve had to switch up my technology stack a few times. I first wrote about it back in August of 2015, and I did another update in May, 2017. Now, it’s changed again — for the better.

Here’s the tech stack we currently use to run our startup, as well as how it’s evolved over the years:

Microsoft Azure: This cloud computing platform has come an enormous way in the past few years. Microsoft has created a highly competitive product that handles analytics, computing, storage, and networking, so we no longer use Amazon Web Services (or AWS) for anything. Azure SQL Data Warehouse’s capabilities have improved dramatically, and we also use Pipelines and App Service. In the future, we plan on implementing their linguistics analytics and their AI tools. We’re really happy to have increased our spending with this one.

Segment: Segment continues to go from strength to strength. Based in San Francisco, Peter and the team have done an amazing job with this service. It allows us to measure everything that users do in the app and on the website, and that information ties into every other platform we use. The team has since added a few other functionalities like personas and protocols. That way, we can pinpoint specific traits to get a much better idea of who is visiting the site — and how we can target them with tailored content.

Algolia: The ability to search for and find anything within your platform is a really compelling feature for the user. There’s a lot that goes into quick and accurate searches, and so far, Algolia has served us well. Karbon has a lot of searchable data, including email, and this service has ensured that whether you’re explicitly or implicitly looking for something, you’ll find it.

React: As I stated in my last update, we’re no longer using Xamarin for our mobile product. Now, we’ve released our iOS predominantly in the React platform. This tailors the interactions for different devices, which enables us to deploy other operating systems like Android. React is unbelievably efficient — in fact, it allowed one or two people on our team to build and deploy a mobile app on their own.

Clearbit: Since making the switch to this marketing data engine, we’ve started using all their products, and it’s going really well. Using Clearbit Reveal, we can now determine what our website visitors do and who they work for: Are they an accountant? What type? How large is their firm? What’s their job description? That way, we can tailor our content specifically to them — maybe set up an opening message that connects them with a particular account manager. We can also use the data from Clearbit to re-target content on other sites, like LinkedIn. It’s allowed us to stay at the forefront of our customers’ minds during their buying journeys.

Base2: We previously used New Relic for all our performance metrics and monitoring as just a tiny part of devops. We’ve since changed our entire ops platform, so we’re now using a software consulting company called Base2. They have their own unique DevOps stack, so several of our platforms will change according to their practices. This includes replacements for all four Atlassian products we were previously using. But ultimately, they’re experienced and talented, so we’re happy with whatever they choose.

Salesforce: In short, Salesforce is a cloud-based customer relationship management service that allows every team member to access a view of any customer. It’s still the powerhouse behind everything we do, and we’re currently working on our own integration into Salesforce so our data is even tighter. Our usage statistics and logins from our own platform are now mostly replicated in Salesforce so that our salespeople have more information and a better handle on the health of their accounts.

PardotWe transitioned off of Marketo and now use Pardot for marketing automation, which is part of the Salesforce platform. The transition was relatively straightforward and we’re happy with the performance.

Quip: Google Docs still has the most amazing ability to ensure that nothing will ever get found again and retains less than zero institutional knowledge about the decisions that are being made in teams via the documents they produce. Some companies rave about Notion, but we’re trying to reduce, not increase, the number of vendors we operate. So, Quip, now owned by Salesforce, is giving us more structure and we’re moving our Confluence content over to that platform.

Outreach: Over the last two or three years, Karbon has been making an effort to secure larger organizations as clients. As we’ve increased the target size of our accounts, outbound marketing has become a necessary strategy. We’ve been using Outreach to establish rapport with as many organizations as possible through automation. They’ve been a great partner for that.

LinkedIn Sales Navigator: In addition to Outreach, we’ve also been using LinkedIn’s sales navigator to research accounts and target them. With this tool, we’re able to categorize businesses by size and technological progression. It’s helped us to discover that larger organizations have longer buying timeframes, but they don’t go into buying phases that often.

Stitch: Stitch is an open-source platform for rapidly moving data, and we use it in conjunction with Segment, Google Analytics, and our own app. Once we’ve collected all the data from these various sources, we run it through Azure’s SQL Data Warehouse and then we build an extensive array of reports inside Microsoft Power BI. Using that strategy, we’ve been able to get extremely succinct statistics — right down to weekly quotas for the sales department. This movement to consolidate our data has been cost-effective and really valuable.

Intercom: In the past, we used Zendesk for customer interactions, but now we’ve moved all our help content to Intercom. It’s a customizable messaging suite and it’s been quite a success at our company.

LogRocket: We use LogRocket, which is a cost effective service that allows us to replay user interactions on our site, so we can find and fix the bugs. It saves our engineers tons of time when they can see exactly what was going on when the system malfunctioned.

Slack: Like most other startups, Slack used to be integral to our team’s communication. But believe it or not, its usage here is tapering off. In fact, notifications are banned across the whole organization. We’re now using our own product, Karbon, to keep track of all things work-related and to optimize efficiency and collaboration. Our Slack usage has declined considerably over the last few years, and honestly, I’d like to see it decline even further, for many of the reasons I’ve written about previously.

KarbonOur own product is a collaborative work management platform for accounting firms. Being a SaaS company, we obviously don’t fall into that category, yet the entire team still uses Karbon extensively every single day. We’ve come to rely on it as much as any other app in this list, and use it for everything related to email, internal communication and managing projects across different teams. I recently wrote about some of the specific ways we use Karbon internally.

Contentful: In terms of our CMS, we went from Sitefinity to WordPress to SilverStripe, and now we’re using Contentful. It allows us to separate the data from the presentation for localization purposes. We’ve moved most of our website onto this platform already, and so far, it’s going well.

Google Apps: We’re still using this for our email, calendar, etc. Although, integrating Gmail with Karbon means that email is actually managed inside of our own product.

Dropbox: Last time I updated our tech stack, we were waiting to see if Google Drive could catch up in terms of pricing and syncing abilities — but Dropbox still proves useful for our digital storage needs.

Zoom: When we first switched from Highfive to Zoom, I wrote that it “changed our lives.” We’re still using this video conferencing service regularly. It’s extremely reliable and almost always works without technical difficulties (including for cross-Pacific calls). If you find yourself regularly making video calls for work, this intuitive and reliable platform is a must.

Wistia: At Karbon, we produce a massive amount of high-quality video content. Wistia hosts that video content on our website while also allowing us to track the attributes of our viewers. This one ties pretty tightly into Pardot as well as a few other essential platforms, and we use it extensively.

Invision: We’re still using Invision quite a lot for digital product design, both inside and outside the team. Figma is a similar platform that’s starting to make waves in the design industry, and I’d be open to a potential switch, but we’ll see what happens. There’s no rush at the moment.

Oktopost: This social media management platform helps us with campaign management, editorial scheduling, and automation for our marketers. Last time, I said, “I feel there’s more to be had from what is a reasonably comprehensive platform,” and while we’re moderately happy with it, I still don’t think it’s reached its full potential.

Expensify: Our employees use this service to track their business expenses. We’ve known David and his team since the early days, and the product continues to improve.

Okta: Almost every application we use has a login via Okta. This access management platform is still great, and it makes life easier for everyone at the company.

My team accuses me of having an app addiction, but at the end of the day, it’s all about leverage. When you can utilize automated systems and processes to do the work for you, you’re saving yourself cost and effort — and finding the right combination of those systems is key.

Since tech startups are ever-changing entities, I’ve learned that you have to change your tactics along with them. If we consistently monitor what’s working and what’s not, we can ensure that we’ve got the best possible tech stack to maximize productivity and capital.

Stuart McLeod
CEO & Co-Founder, Karbon

Stuart started his first business 11 years ago and has had many successful ventures, including Paycycle, founded in 2009, which he sold to Xero in 2011. He then built the global Xero Payroll team that delivers payroll software across the US, AU, UK and NZ markets. Stuart is now paving the way for smarter tools to improve how knowledge workers collaborate with their colleagues and look after their clients.

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