In a now-legendary article, Dave Girouard, CEO of personal finance startup Upstart and former president of Google Enterprise Apps, wrote:
All else being equal, the fastest company in any market will win. Speed is a defining characteristic—if not the defining characteristic—of the leader in virtually every industry you look at.
Speed is how you beat incumbents. Speed is how you fuel iteration. Speed is how you overcome inertia and hit hockey stick growth. Reaching escape velocity, however, isn’t merely a matter of moving faster—it requires building a better engine. And that’s where internal tools come in.
With the right internal tools, high-growth startups move faster and more efficiently, enabling them to outpace the competition and succeed in tough markets. Here's how five category-leading startups—Avo, LeadGenius, Doordash, Neo4j, and Descript—used internal tools to accelerate growth.
1. Avo gave every team access to the right data
Avo is a data analytics startup that helps customers build reliable and clean product metrics.
As their team and product grew, they wanted to keep engineers focused on product, but they also needed to empower non-technical teams to manage a fast-growing customer base.
Initially, customer data access was limited to engineers. So tasks like updating a feature flag or customizing product setups fell on engineers. On the best of days, engineers had to shift from customer-facing work to internal work; on the worst of days, update requests could get lost in PR review.
To give more teams access, Avo used Retool to build an internal customer dashboard that enabled employees to securely view, edit, and configure customer workspaces.
The internal customer dashboard lets non-engineers make database changes but limits the kinds of changes those employees can make. That way, Avo can have security and accessibility without sacrificing either.
Avo is now able to save hundreds of engineering hours that were previously spent triaging these kinds of requests, meaning engineers can focus on customer-facing features instead of internal work.
2. LeadGenius saved $1M in technical debt
LeadGenius is a startup that helps customers find and personalize lead data. In the early days, home-grown internal tooling had helped the team move from 0 to 1.
But as time went on, they realized ongoing maintenance and technical debt were making it hard for the same tools to help them scale moving forward.
The major challenge were growing data silos, as their product database and Salesforce were becoming more difficult to wrangle into clean data for analysis as they scaled.
That's when LeadGenius turned to Retool and ultimately saved $1 million worth in efficiency gains. Using Retool, they were able to build on top and around their existing internal databases and tools to add new functionality that every team desperately needed (without adding more technical debt).
Here are 3 tools that together led to the a $1M speed up:
User Profile Editor: Lets users view, clean, and organize customer account data. Before Retool, LeadGenius’s database structure made database hygiene hard to maintain. With User Profile Editor, users can clean and maintain user data without involving engineers.
Community Costs: Users can track contractor cost metrics and view real-time reports on revenue. Before Retool, LeadGenius manually gathered data from time sheets and tracked costs in a spreadsheet–a process that often took five days to finish (meaning payouts took five days to complete).
With the Community Costs dashboard, LeadGenius can track where costs are coming from and validate them, giving them a bigger-picture view in much less time.
Project Manager Dashboard: Allows project managers to organize data campaign workflows. The Project Manager Dashboard has become essential to LeadGenius because it’s now their single source of truth for users who need visibility into the SFDC but don’t work in it.
Before this dashboard, project managers organized data campaign requests from customers using spreadsheets. With Retool, LeadGenius developed an internal tool that was more scalable and enabled project managers to get a wide-angle view of all their campaigns.
Together, these internal tools made an already fast-moving startup even more able to adapt and scale with ease.
3. DoorDash automated its rewards program
DoorDash is a platform where customers can order food and groceries from various businesses and Dashers (contracted delivery people) can make a living fulfilling those deliveries.
As an operationally-intensive company, any efficiency gains can make a huge difference for their business. So DoorDash decided to use Retool to speed up key manual processes.
For example, DoorDash runs a loyalty program to reward Dashers for engagement and activity. But maintaining the program required internal teams to manually fill giant spreadsheets that engineers would use to run scripts. The process was slow, prone to errors, and wasted valuable engineering time.
Doordash used Retool to build an internal app that runs scripts, fills out the spreadsheets, and keeps the loyalty program humming with many less dedicated resources. Their internal operations teams can now focus on new initiatives, and Dashers continue to redeem rewards for their work.
4. Neo4j made data visible and available in one place
Neo4j is a startup that provides graph database management systems. Like in many hyper-growth startups, the Neo4j renewals team needed to:
- Forecast revenue
- Generate reports
- Predict trends
- View all accounts
- Customize data collection
And ideally, none of these steps would involve engineers.
The renewals team initially hacked together a solution using Google Sheets and Salesforce. But they quickly realized that they needed more visibility into renewals and more customization for the actions they wanted to take.
When they built out a solution in Retool, however, things were different. Neo4j built their Renews Control Center to help the renewals team manage the hundreds of renewals that happen each quarter.
With this internal app, Neo4j can track renewal contracts and filter by renewal representative, all while getting a big-picture view of the work their team is doing and where priorities need to shift.
5. Descript gave non-technical teams control of their workflows
As important as internal tools are, our research shows that engineers end up spending close to 40% of their time on building and maintaining them.
Descript is a collaborative editor for audio and video that lets users transcribe, screen-record, publish, and edit.
As their company grew, early home-grown internal tools started to become frustratingly manual, and a growing roster of non-technical employees couldn’t build the workflows they needed—workflows engineers were often too busy to tackle.
This inefficiency meant Descript either couldn’t continuously improve its internal processes or had to monopolize engineers who would have been better allocated to customer-facing challenges. Either way, a big problem for a high-growth startup.
That’s why Descript turned to Retool. The Descript team used Retool to enable non-technical employees to build any tool they wanted. There was no longer a trade-off between internal tool development and external feature development; non-technical employees could handle the former while engineers could handle the latter.
Move fast and build things
The secret to speed is building a better engine—not pressing on the gas pedal harder. These five high-growth startups used internal tools to remove barriers to speed and build functions that enabled them to move faster.
Not only do their teams operate better, they also see company-wide impacts in time to value and execution—critical ingredients to win the market. If your growing pains are becoming major bottlenecks, start building a better way to work with Retool today.