In the tradition of the chicken and the egg debacle or ‘catch-22’; it takes software to make software. Our clients often ask us 'what software does a software company use?'. I’m sure it won’t surprise you to know that the short answer to this question is; ‘a tonne of it’.We need to use a variety of software for a lot of different jobs; all our departments have their own software tools – but there are some trends to note. For starters, our office runs almost exclusively on the cloud – and we couldn’t imagine it any other way. Having all our software and data available on the ‘net means our office can run just about anywhere, and quickly too.Secondly, we strongly favour software with a solid API. APIs allow us to sew programs together and automate workflows.Last, but certainly not least, we like our programs to be reasonably pretty. Go ahead and call us shallow, but there’s nothing better than a sexy UI.So without further ado, we’re going to run through the most important programs we use. Hopefully you’ll get some ideas for your own office – trust us, there’s some pretty cool software out there to make the most of (some of it's even free).(It's probably worth mentioning that none of the providers mentioned below have been contacted prior to writing this. We aren’t getting any money, muffin baskets or brownie points for this post).
What software does a software company use?
For every Rex employee, the day begins by logging into Harvest, (usually with Chrome). Harvest is cloud based, time-tracking software that we use to log our hours. It’s more than just a fancy egg timer; we can break the day up into different categories, so the boss can see not just how long we’ve worked overall, but how much time we’ve put into individual tasks.Once we’ve punched in, we check Asana: cloud-based, task management software (it’s like one giant, super high-tech to-do list for our office). We can create ‘projects’ with ‘tasks’ and ‘sub-tasks’ and assign them to ourselves, or others on our team. We can include due dates, comments, share documents or other files and generally keep ourselves up to speed on everything that’s happening. It’s an incredible organisational tool.We use Slack for our in-office communication. Slack, yet another cloud based piece of software (are you seeing a trend here?) lets us send one-on-one messages to one another or create group chats where teams can all discuss specific projects. We can send files and documents quickly and easily, keeps all our messages organised and accessible, and even allows for integrations with other cloud software like Asana, (there’s that API we’re so fond of). We used to use Hipchat: a similar program by Atlassian. It worked well but the mobile app wasn’t nearly as good as Slack’s, (plus it wasn’t as pretty).The best thing about Slack? It’s free to use for as long as, and for as many people as, you like. There’s a premium version that you can pay to use if you need it - though the free version is pretty generous. If you haven’t already, we recommend you try it out within your real estate agency.Gmail has always served us very well for our usual, garden-variety emails – but because we’ve fallen head over heels for Slack, we don’t really use it for much more than external communications anymore. All the same, Google give you 15GB of free storage; ample enough for a lifetime of emails.Google Drive is another great app by Google that we put to good use. Drive, like Dropbox, is a cloud storage service. You get an initial 15GB of space free, but that can be upgraded for a nominal fee. We share a lot of stuff on Drive; design things, developer things, e-books, client files for back up, the list goes on. It all goes into Drive where we can be sure it’s safe.We also use a well-known piece of cloud-based accounting software; Xero. Xero lets us view our payslips and manage our leave. It also allows our accountant to manage invoices, purchases and sales, generate financial reports and more. Xero does just about every accounting-related – but what we love the most about it is it’s API, which we’ll explain a little further on. We’ve been using Xero for five years now, and it just keeps getting better and better. We seriously recommend it for every business; CRM software company, real estate agency, butcher, baker, candlestick maker.The last bit of software we all have in common is a little different to the rest. As you probably know if you work in an office, the eerie silence broken only by the tap-tap-tap of someone’s keyboard and the click-click-click of a mouse is no way to live a third of your life. This is precisely why we use Spotify.Spotify is like an online jukebox with every single song ever. As they say on their website; ‘Spotify is all the music you’ll ever need’ – which is true. Our CTO Alex is known for listening to a lot of pretty obscure stuff from all corners of the globe and Spotify are yet to fail him. The Rex iPad is connected at either end to our office Spotify account and our enormous office speaker, taking away the dreary quiet, and slowly our hearing.
The support team manage our users queries and questions, as well as training like the webinars and help videos. As such, they’ve got their own little collection of programs.If you’ve ever been to one of our webinars, they’re also run by the software GoToWebinar. This allows us to host private webinars live online, viewers to register and watch them, and support to answer your questions while you’re viewing. When it comes to actually making the webinars (and help videos), they use something called Screen Flow, which records everything on your screen for you.GoToAssist is screen-sharing software that they’ll occasionally use that allows a client’s entire screen to be shared with support (with their permission) so they can diagnose issues that can’t be described in a simple email.But foremost, support uses a particularly clever program called Zendesk to manage tickets.Every time a support ticket is emailed in or submitted via the Rex Help Centre, it goes straight into the Zendesk backlog. From here, they can assign them to the most qualified person to answer the query. Zendesk comes with a whole lot of nifty features, such as macros (so they can quickly and easily reply to the most common issues) and tags (to keep everything organised).
Our sales team work mostly with curly-corded, rotary-dialed telephones under a cat-o-nine tails. They do things with grit – but they do have some special software tools to make things slightly easier.They’re currently using Salesforce as their CRM – but we’re in the process of moving over to Rex, (we know it’s designed for Real Estate, but we’re not keen on Salesforce’s interface – it’s not nearly sexy enough). Rex is easier for our sales staff to use and has much more comprehensive functionality – plus, using it every day ourselves will give us better insight for future changes. If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you have a pretty good idea of what Rex does, so I won’t elaborate any further.For email tracking, (that’s right, you heard me) they use Yesware, allowing them to see (among other things) if their emails have been opened or not. We would have recommended you use this - but it was such a fine piece of functionality we built our own equivalent directly into Rex instead.Finally, they use the screen sharing and online meeting tool Join Me for presentations of Rex to people interested in a demonstration of the product.Please note: since posting this post, our sales team have moved over to a modified version of Rex. You can check out our post on Eating our own dog food for details.
Operations use a lot of previously mentioned software – as a matter of fact, since they’re at the office helm, they need to use just about all of it: JIRA to talk to development, Zendesk to manage support and so on.But, they do have a few bits and pieces all of their own. Mailchimp, for example, allows them to send better emails out to our clients. EchoSign manages e-signatures, so they don’t get any melanomas from standing in front of the scanner all day long, and they use something called Braintree, in conjunction with Xero and Chargify (here’s that awesome API stuff I mentioned earlier).Braintree manages online payments (accepting just about any currency known to man). The magic here is we have it integrated with Xero and Chargify (which runs recurring payments) to automate our payment process. When a subscription fee is paid through Chargify, it’s sent to Braintree to be processed, and then forwarded to Xero to be recorded and invoiced. It’s all done automatically – our software works like three buddies chatting to one another.We told you clever APIs were the bee’s knees.
I know you keep yourself up at night wondering how our design team could possibly make such schmick illustrations, so we’ll let you in on the secret.Design is very much powered by Adobe. The designers use Adobe Illustrator to make vector images. These are the illustrations that you see on the website, Rex itself, blog posts and email headers. They’ve all been drawn with a mouse in Illustrator.When putting together mock-ups for new additions to Rex they’ll use Adobe Photoshop. Conversely to Illustrator, Photoshop allows us to work with raster images – photographs, screen shots and pictures in general. This means they can get a good feel for how the new feature will look when it’s finished.But designing the perfect user interface requires more than just Photoshop. This is why they switch over to Sketch to lay down the foundations of a new feature. Sketch is much better for layouts and wire framing - so it’s best to build the skeleton there before touching it up with Photoshop later.Lastly, they use Litmus to test emails before they’re sent. Litmus allows them to test email designs on over thirty different email clients and devices, so they can be sure the designs they’ve just slaved over will still look their best in everyone’s inboxes.
Our developers need to use their very own tools to build and maintain Rex. First and foremost, building software requires something called an ‘Integrated Development Environment’ (IDE). These are those strange black screens that developers write gibberish into. You’ve probably seen them on ‘The Matrix’, or ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’. There’s quite a variety of different IDEs available, but all of our developers choose to use PhpStorm, Atom and Sublime.Come to think of it, these are just about the only programs they use that aren’t A) cloud-based or B) made by Atlassian. (If you haven’t noticed already, we love Atlassian).JIRA (Atlassian), is used for ticket management, and works with Agile principles. JIRA incorporates prioritising and sprint planning so the developers can organise their workload and get the most important stuff out as soon as possible.The developers need their own space for organising their odds and ends, otherwise there’d be conversations, documentation, designs, media notes and god knows what else scattered all over the place. New developers would have absolutely no idea where to even begin and existing developers would be forever searching for stuff. Thus, they use Confluence (Atlassian) - a personal Intranet – to pull everything into the one place and keep it orderly.Finally, to share code within the team, they use Github and Bitbucket (what do you know, Atlassian again). These are online repositories for code; a form of version control. Everyone can see what changes have been made, when and by whom. This stops any conflicting edits from being pushed live and ruining everything – even with a whole bunch of coders working on it at once. Bitbucket makes it possible to keep track of the turbulent sea of ones and zeros that they’re tinkering with day in and day out.
Finally, I know you’ve all been hanging out to know what I use to write the content, so I’ve saved the best till last. I use a pretty esoteric piece of software known as Microsoft Word, which allows me to write words with all 26 letters of the alphabet, and make incredible word art like this:
It’s probably worth mentioning Grammarly too. It’s kind of like a turbo-charged, online spellcheck. Not only will Grammarly catch any spelling and grammar mistakes you might have read over, but it also detects plagiarism – which, if you’re currently studying – is extremely useful. It’s cheap and easy to use, and if you’re publishing blogs, sending lengthy emails, or just not that confident with your writing – it’s definitely a good investment.
I’ve covered pretty much all of the programs that are critical to our day-to-day operations – there are still plenty more, but if I were to cover absolutely everything we’d be here for weeks. Take the above as a catalogue of Rex’s recommended programs.Now, I know you’re probably not going to rush off an buy PhpStorm or GoToAssist – they wouldn’t have a lot of value to your agency - but there are a lot of mentioned programs that could be of enormous benefit. (Some of which are even free).Slack, Xero and Asana would have to be our first recommendations to try. Get out there and give them a go for us. (Slack and Asana have free versions, so you’ve got nothing to lose).We love to see our client’s making the most out of the magic of software. Feel free to get in touch if you have some amazing, whizz-bang program to recommend - we’d love to hear what other tools you have in your arsenals and what you think of them.