JournalNov 2014

Investing in tools is a no-brainer. Here’s how much we’re spending.

In a minute, I’ll list exactly what we’re using right now, and how much we’re paying for it. But first a little backstory…

Back when we were a little bit smaller, we were (rightly) more conservative about how much we spent on tools because we were figuring out how to improve our profitability and survive in the early years of our business. We still spent money on the best tools we could afford then–we simply had a bit less money to make that happen.

Fortunately, we’ve now made it to a point where we understand a lot more about how to make our business work and in doing so, we have slightly less financial pressure. That’s a good thing because it allows us to properly invest in our tools, and get even more of an advantage from doing so.

Let’s take hardware as an example

We hired a new shipmate and found that in his previous job, he was using a 4 year-old Macbook Pro and grappling with frequent kernel panics. On top of that, everything on his machine ran a little slower and he just learned to work around the inefficiency and put up with it (restarting frequently!).

Let’s say you’re spending £50,000 on a team member’s salary for a year. Conservatively, we can budget 15% tax on top of this for payroll and similar expenses, and that gives us a very rough figure of £57,500 per year to hire that developer (I’m deliberately overlooking a lot of other expenses here just to keep things simple).

Apple’s current top of the line 15″ Macbook Pro costs us £1,665 to buy (we can claim back the VAT). If we give that a relatively ‘short’ life expectancy of 2 years, that means it’ll cost us £832.50 per year. That’s about 1.5% of the cost of that developer’s £57,500 yearly payroll cost.

And this is 1.5% going towards the most important tool they need to do their job well–a tool which will lead to productivity gains, reduced stress, and a boost in job satisfaction. Wouldn’t it seem crazy to try and compromise on this?

We’re not alone

For us, better code means better results and a greater likelihood of profitability. We’re not the first team to realise this, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth repeating.

Joel Spolsky’s Joel Test says something very similar (“9. Do you use the best tools money can buy?”). And here’s a great quote from the team at GoSquared:

“We have developed our internal tooling considerably over the years. Initially we spent far too little time on internal tooling thinking it wasn’t important – customers never see your internal tools so why spend time on them? It turns out internal tools are just as important as your core product. Without great internal tools, the whole team are handicapped in their abilities to understand and delight our customers.”

I think that’s even more critical when you consider that the type of work we do at Hanno falls under ‘consulting’ with a lot of startups and businesses. We jump on board with our client’s team for a few weeks or months, and while we’re working on their project, we need to be able to be extremely productive. The vast majority of my day-to-day nowadays revolves around finding ways to make the team more efficient and productive and remove roadblocks or hurdles which would slow them down.

The more we can remove avoidable stress and frustration from our daily routines, the better the work we’ll be able to deliver. A piece of failed or buggy hardware or software can’t be allowed to derail that.

It’s not easy to reach this point, but that’s a big part of the reason clients pay us to work with them: because they’re reducing their own risk and avoiding having to deal with these problems.

So, how much do we spend on software and what do we use it for?

Our ever-evolving list of tools is a pretty long one. It includes:

  • 7Geese for tracking our OKRs and team objectives. £38
  • Adobe Creative Cloud is still hard to avoid spending on. It just makes the team that little bit more productive than trying to work around and use other apps, so it’s worth the expense. £213
  • Asana is probably the best value tool we use. It’s phenomenal and makes us vastly more productive. £30
  • AWS is used to run a couple of VPNs for the team to access (in Ireland, the US and Singapore) and gives us a bit more security. Since all of our traffic goes over these VPNs, we upgraded from the free tier, paying significantly more because otherwise everything we do would be a little bit slower. £180
  • Basecamp is something we use to smooth or ‘touch-up’ client communication. £31
  • BitBucket is used less now that we’ve started using GitHub more, but we still maintain an account here and host a few repositories on it. £6
  • Browserstack helps save time and hassle to fire up dedicated testing machines (though we still do this on occasion). It makes it quicker to test sites. £19
  • BugHerd is a relatively costly little tool, but we’ve not found anything better than this for gathering quick bug reports and feedback while we’re building prototypes. This alone justifies the cost. £58
  • CodeShip gives us a very simple continuous deployment setup and reduces the time we need to spend deploying sites and tracking issues. It also lets us compile Sass prior to deployment, which makes the team happier and reduces the number of git merge conflicts we get. £30
  • Dial9 powers our SIP phone technology and lets us receive calls to our ‘landline’ number regardless of where we are in the world. £15
  • DigitalOcean is where we host the site. We have very simple server requirements and the site doesn’t have high infrastructure demands. DO stays up, is easy to scale, handles backups automatically and requires very little management. £25
  • DNSimple is used for managing a couple of domain services and SSL certificates. £5
  • is what we use to deploy Simple and hassle-free. £10
  • Forecast helps us plan and schedule client sprints and manage resources. It simplifies what was previously a very complicated process. £20
  • GitHub is now the main place for code storage. We used to use BitBucket more, but better GitHub integrations and the better open-source community swayed us. £33
  • Google Apps is what we owe a vast amount of our productivity to. Pretty much everything we do in our team starts off in Apps. From blogs, to financial planning, to project briefs and discussions. £23
  • Harvest was used more heavily before, but since we moved away from hourly billing, it now sees a lot less use. It’s a great product, but we’re looking forward to phasing it out entirely sometime soon. £36
  • HelloSign is a product we found far easier to use than EchoSign, which was our old pick. Clear and simple, it makes signing contracts with the team and clients a breeze. £25
  • Heroku powers a few internal tools of ours, one of which uses SSL, hence the price tag. A great service and far more effective than managing this kind of infrastructure ourselves. £12
  • Invision is another recent switch (we used Notable previously). Not cheap, but it’s a powerful way to get design feedback, and very valuable to us when working remotely. £63
  • Screenhero made us celebrate as soon as we found it. Again, it’s an essential tool if you’re a remote team. £33
  • Slack replaced HipChat for us a few months ago. Great product, fun to use and perfect for keeping the whole team connected. £34
  • Sqwiggle has become a bit part of our daily routines since we first started using it. Although it’s intimidating at first, it’s fantastic for breaking down barriers and staving off remote loneliness. £33
  • Twilio powers a couple of fun internal automations, including pinging our Slack rooms when money lands in our bank account. £10
  • WeekDone is where we track our weekly PPPs (check out our Logbook for more details) and share our progress with the team. £18
  • Wufoo powers a couple of business forms which we’ve not yet migrated over to Google Apps. £9
  • Zapier saves me hours every week by automating a large number of routine tasks and hooking tools together. £30

The total of all of this is £1001 per month. And sure, that figure seems like a big one when taken by itself. That’s over £12k per year solely on software expenses before we pay for team salaries.

But when you consider that as an investment in team happiness, productivity, saved time, and boosted efficiency, all of which enable us to achieve a lot more and to do so sustainably over the long-term, I’d say it’s a no-brainer.

Image credit florianric: on flickr.

Posted by
Jon Lay

Jon is a Partner at Hanno. He wears many hats, but his primary focus is on leading our engineering and technical operations.