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The 11 Best Collaboration Tools (That You’re Not Already Using)

Collaboration is the lifeblood of every startup. Whether you’re logging onto Skype each day to talk to your remote team or piling into a conference room to catch up with your staff, there’s no way you’d be successful if that magical exchange of ideas, advice, inspiration, and guidance didn’t take place.

And, of course, the right tools will make your collaboration even more effective. We’re sharing our 11 favorite collaboration tools that you’re not already using—because, well, we know you’ve heard of Slack.

1. Quip

Does your team use one app to work on shared spreadsheets, another for notes, another for checklists, and yet another for regular docs? If so, check out Quip.

Quip keeps all your files in one place, so you never have to remember who saved what and where. You can also stop relying on email chains: there’s a chat thread within every document, so you can make decisions without leaving the app. And to make things a little more fun, Quip offers emojis and memes.

Owen Thomas, the editor-in-chief of ReadWrite, says, “Because Quip has a great app that’s usable on virtually every platform, they don’t have any merging issues.”

2. Zeplin

Designers and developers have been warring for as long as, well, there’ve been products to design and develop! But now, with the introduction of Zeplin, they can finally lay down their weapons.

Here’s how this collaboration tool works: first, UI designers upload their designs and instantly turn them into specs and guidelines. Then, front-end developers can log in, examine the assets layer by layer and export code snippets.

“Zeplin is the ultimate collaboration tool between designers and developers,” says design+code creator Meng To. “It cuts meetings in half and ensures that designs are implemented perfectly, however complex.”

3. Hackpad

If you work at a startup, you’re probably familiar with information overload. It crops up when you’ve got tons of people creating and sharing new data all the time—flooding your brain with more than it could ever compute.

Hackpad is the answer, according to The Muse CEO Kathryn Minshew. She explains, “We have started using Hackpad for documentation, and it works well for internal knowledge management.”

Although on the surface, Hackpad looks like Google Docs, it distinguishes itself by offering media embeds, better version tracking, and a handy Dropbox integration.

Give it a try, and stop drowning in information.

4. WeTransfer

You’re working with a client, and you need to send her a huge file. But you don’t want to make her a user on your platform—and you also don’t want to spend precious time transferring the file to a new platform. What do you do?

Well, you could use WeTransfer. This app lets you send large files instantly, without setting up an account. (That’s why Jurnid founder Andrew Quarrie likes it.) However, if you do make an account, you can create branded views for people to see when they download your files.

“It’s nice visual icing on the cake,” says Helen Todd, co-founder and CEO of Sociality Squared.

5. Flowdock

With Flowdock, a team chat tool, you can collaborate in both public discussions and one-on-one-messages. Which, yes, probably sounds familiar. “It’s essentially like Slack,” explains AdStage CEO and co-founder Sahil Jain.

But there’s one major difference, Jain says. “We like Flowdock’s inline threads, which Slack doesn’t have. It’s an extremely valuable feature.” Inline threads let you start sub-conversations within larger ones. Imagine your entire team is discussing when your next hack day should be, and your boss writes, “Let’s do the end of the month, since we’ll have just wrapped up our sprint.” You can respond directly to your boss with a comment that’s really only relevant to you two—if other people want to read your thread, they can, but their feed won’t be clogged up by your discussion.

Flowdock is still flying under the radar, but we definitely recommend checking it out!

6. Active Collab

Choosing a project management app is tough. You’ve got a ton of choices, and they each seem a little different. Well, if you’re stuck between Asana and a hard place, we’ve got a third suggestion: Active Collab. This tool provides task management, collaboration, time-tracking, reporting, and invoicing features, so you can centralize most (if not all) of your work.

Plus, it’s dynamic. If you’re drawn to Trello’s board set-up, then turn on Active Collab’s Kanban view of your projects. Do you like Asana’s dashboard? Active Collab’s inbox feels very similar. Maybe you’re a fan of Jira’s Gantt charts—Active Collab offers those, too.

7. Leankit

Like Active Collab, LeanKit helps you visualize your project status and task breakdown. But Leankit does so in a completely different way.

Each project is sliced and diced into columns and rows. Your tasks are represented by little squares and can be dragged from column to column to indicate their relative progression. Rows show parallel processes, which is helpful when you’ve got two or more people working on similar tasks (for example, three team members each fixing separate code bugs, or two freelancers each creating graphics for your web site.)

As you can tell by the name, Leankit is designed for lean teams. That’s why Andrew Kemendo, founder and CEO of Visidraft, likes it. “Between myself and our CTO, we develop things that need to be done and assign them to either ourselves or individual contractors,” he adds. Small, scrappy startups: Go check out Leankit. You heard it here first!

8. RealtimeBoard

Whiteboards are wonderful for letting you visually sketch out your ideas, progress, and plans—but they have a couple weaknesses. Not only are they temporary, but they only display the latest version of your work. Plus, you can’t use a whiteboard with any client, coworker, or consultant who’s not actually with you.

By digitizing the whiteboard, RealtimeBoard has solved all of those issues. Use its flexible blank canvases to create anything you’d like—from user story maps and timelines to mood boards and project workflows. Each canvas updates in real time, so you can collaborate with whomever you’d like.

9. Roadmunk

Product teams can plan and collaborate better with Roadmunk, which lets you create elegant, readable roadmaps.

And, with multiple ways to share your roadmaps, collaborating and gathering feedback is painless. Send your roadmaps in “reviewer mode” to clients to get their comments (without letting them make changes), publish them as password-protected webpages, or export them to PowerPoint. Like with Google Docs, you can delegate individual team members as viewers, editors, or owners.

Roadmunk even lets you create multiple roadmaps from the same data set. With this feature, you can show different versions of your project to different stakeholders (investors, customers, advisors, colleagues, etc.).One last feature worth mentioning: the app integrates with Jira, so you can easily bring in your issue data.

10. Breather

Remember the days when meetings only took place face-to-face? We love remote collaboration just as much as the next startup, but sometimes, it’s really great to be in the same room as the people you’re working with.Enter: Breather.

“You can use Breather to rent conference rooms by the hour,” says Brian Frumberg, founder of VentureOut. “It’s really awesome.”

Each Breather space is designed to be comfortable, quiet, and private, so your team can get down to business without worrying about being overheard or fighting to be heard. Can you say that about a coffee shop or your open office?

11. InVision

You might be wondering if InVision, a project management tool for design collaboration, really belongs on this list. After all, as Kinnek co-founder Karthik Sridharan says, “A lot of designers swear by InVision.”

It’s true this app has left its days of relative anonymity behind. However, we’re including it for the features you might not know about, like Workflow 2.0 and Boards.

Let’s start with the new Workflow. Now, along with viewing and organizing each project’s screens, you can assign specific screens to individual collaborators. Gone are the days of, “Wait, that was my job?” In addition, there’s now an “activity tab” that shows what’s changed on a project since you last checked.

Boards, InVision’s second recently updated feature, lets you copy your boards, work with your team mates in real time, and zoom out to get a bird’s-eye view of what you’re creating.

– Aja Frost

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