Our Microsoft startup software tools

by Hans Baumhardt 01 May 2016

We are happily developing legal industry software solutions with Microsoft Office 365 and Azure platforms from the corporate man. Wanting be an inclusive and right-on gen Z friendly startup, we are trying diverse tools to establish a pluralist environment.

Commercial

software toolsI’m sticking with Microsoft Office for business and commercial documents, since we are actually developing solutions for that platform. Nice that Microsoft subsidises O365 subscriptions with the ISV partner action pack.

Contracts and legal are all completed with DocuSign digital signatures, a technology solution that has transformed my commercial life and I shall never wet ink sign and scan a document again. Ever. Excepting my will. And title deeds.

Xero is replacing finely tuned spreadsheets and shouting for accounts. Happy summer days with automatic payroll and VAT submissions are inbound. Seems good if you like that sort of thing, plus we appreciate that they are from NZ.

S&M stuff

Avant Garde Gothic LetrasetFor sales & marketing our front end presence is a Microsoft Azure webapp with MySQL driving WordPress. Simple and effective with landing pages for inbound content marketing and such. Saving up for the ITC Avant Garde web font to make our blogs appear more classy.

Google analytics will do for leading indicators on awareness, we would like a marketing automation platform such as Hubspot to manage inbound and nurture, but it gets expensive fast, so later. We don’t plan to do interruptive (shouty propaganda) outbound marketing, but do have Mailchimp on standby for subscriber updates.  We have started with MS-CRM online a because, well, its free(ish) to Microsoft partners and it works fine. Having used Siebel I know what not to wear.

For demo videos and recordings Screencast-O-Matic does the job at a tiny cost for syndication on  a YouTube channel. We use join.me for online presentations and webinars as it traverses corporate firewalls for solidarity with our comrades and counter-parties under corporate lock down. The subscription includes a dial in voice bridge for folks who can’t talk at their computers which is good value, as UK standalone conference bridges are rate-per-minute robbery.

Drinking coffee and beer in real life is naturally our principle networking and syndication channel, but LinkedIn is a fast follower. A fantastic way to start new engagements warmed by introduction or referral, avoiding that cold unsolicited spam.

Product management

Slack_Mark_WebbezierAs an early stage startup we wear many hats, so acting as product manager I’m using Slack for principle team communication and coordination. WE LOVE SLACK, it is simple and just works. Rare to simplify like that,  we aspire to do the same with our product.

Wunderlist is used for shared feature lists (it is Satya’s favourite app) which feeds  the backlog – progress – built – validated Kanban board in Trello. That reminds us old lags of MicroLogic Tornado notes from 1986.

June 2016 update – BIG MISTAKE on Wunderlist. It’s a one way trap door with no way to get information out to sort and filter, a CSV export has been requested since 2012, so time to move on. Interesting to see Microsoft now has a Trello competitor called Planner, can that export ?

Doing the front end UI wireframes, we looked at tools like moqups and balsamiq, but happy with pptx and paint.net. As a Bézier and vector type I struggle with bitmap driven Photoshop, and continue to punish Adobe for their UI by not using Illustrator.

Software Development

this bit is by Keith Drew

All of my development experience has been in corporate or commercial contract environments on Microsoft platforms, so I anticipated some challenges adopting start-up behaviours. Like hyphenating startup.

Microsoft provides some good support including the free BizSpark programme for Visual Studio, MSDN and Azure credits and the heavily subsidised ISV partner action pack for Office 365, more Visual Studio and more Azure credits.

As we are building a product in Microsoft Azure that uses Office 365 SharePoint online and Exchange online, the subsidised platform access is appreciated. Developing against on premises platforms then migrating the results to cloud services doesn’t feel robust or authentic.

cloud development toolsPrincipal development is in Visual Studio (C#, .NET, MFC, Java, HTML, CSS) and we enjoy Visual Studio Code for editing. JSFiddle for quick and dirty Javascript prototypes, GitHub for source control,   StyleCop and FxCop static analysis keeps us honest.

The UI is plain HTML, CSS and Javascript with JQuery, JTree and JQuery UI.  We looked at tools such as Telerik and Dev Express for prototyping, but decided to hand crank for flexibility as our initial build-measure-learn feedback loops provided enough validation.

Dev testing uses Nunit for C# Code, along with Moq as lightweight object mocking tool.  Selenium and Specflow for full end to end testing.

Build and Deploy is a mixed bag on Azure and Office 365 including MS Build, Powershell, Visual Studio build and release management. This assortment will totally benefit from a proper platform solution.

I believe that with a clear purpose and disciplined approach, there is no problem transitioning from mainstream to startup whilst maintaining velocity and quality. Absolutely no need for muesli-knitting make-do-and-mend behaviours.