Over the past 20 years, the trend in software has shifted from big, monolithic, on-premise software to a multitude of specialized cloud applications. A typical company today will have one CRM, one help desk, one financial system, one internal messaging system, etc, etc. On average, companies each use 7 cloud applications (source).
This has been great overall. Companies have a great variety of software to choose from for each vertical, and they don’t need to pay expensive setup costs or take care of server maintenance.
However, this has caused the following well-known problems:
Those problems are particularly acute in startups & SMBs since their resources are more limited than in bigger companies.
Fortunately, a new category of software has emerged to solve those problems. The most famous vendor in this category is probably Zapier. Some other noteworthy softwares address these problems with various approaches: some have a different user experience than Zapier, some are just cheaper, others aim at more complex use cases.
On top of Zapier, we’ve reviewed 9 alternatives here. As the title of this article suggests, we’ve focused on tools for startups and SMBs. We've excluded all tools that are not self-service, that require setup costs or whose cheapest plan is over $300. That’s why we excluded Tray.io and Workato, for example, whose cheapest plans are respectively $495 and $1499/month, as we think such a price is prohibitive for most startups and SMBs.
If you started a company or work at a startup, these tools can be extremely useful to you, help you to save days and weeks worth of manual work and make you a workplace hero.
There are various ways each tool differentiates itself from the competition. In the process of assessing each solution, we’ve considered the following criteria:
The number of integrations is very important; if you can only use the service/tool for only half of the tools you use in your company, this "comprehensive" automation tool is not longer comprehensive and so it loses value to you.
Second, most companies still have important data in their sql database, so it's important to have support for those databases.
2/ Possible data operations:
Being able to filter, manipulate, and transform your data can be key to handling complex use cases. (While Zapier, for example, has not historically focused on those, this is changing as they recently introduced Paths by Zapier, enabling the user to use an if / else logic in their workflows. That's why we have given you a list keener options to choose from)
3/ Event customization:
For each app, lots of these tools have a list of standard triggers. For example, for a MySQL database, you’ll have the following triggers available: New or Updated Row, New Row (Custom Query), New Row, New Column, New Table.
But for example, if you’d want to trigger a workflow when the revenue per client per week decreases, some of the platforms allow you to do this extra step while others do not . Some other data integration tools enable that kind of use case through customization of the triggering event.
4/ User experience
Before diving into each solution, let’s compare all of them across some objective dimensions.
Number of integrations for each solution
We’ve considered 6 critical operations that we think are important. Here’s how each tool fares:
It’s interesting to note that the number of integrations and the number of critical operations are kind of inversely correlated. Look at this graph:
For any solution, a buyer will try to understand how the cost of each solution compares to other options. It’s not an easy task in this case because each solution has different pricing structures and costs can depend on various dimensions (number of workflows, users, executions, tasks created, connected applications, etc).
Still, to try to compare them I calculated the average price of a workflow across the various paid plans for each solution. For example, actiondesk has 3 paid plans ($147 for 10 workflows. $347 for 30 workflows, $1,497 for 150 workflows), so the calculation will be (147/10 + 347/30 + 1497/150)/3 which gives $12.10/workflow.
Before we dive in, here’s is each tool described with at most 3 tags. If you don’t want to read the details for each solution, this might help you choose what you want to read or just give you an overview of each of them.
Parabola distinguishes sources (apps you can pull data from) and destinations (apps you can push data to). They have 29 sources (including MySQL and PostgreSQL) and 10 destinations, plus a few custom destinations (ie., those not attached to a specific app) such as API export, CSV export, email and PDF export. You can expect Parabola to add many more sources and destinations in the future.
Parabola really distinguishes themselves with a wide variety of operations you can perform on your data. A few interesting ones are:
You can see the full list here.
Parabola is pretty straightforward to use, even though you do need to spend more time to understand how it works than you do with Zapier. They have an intuitive drag and drop interface. One very nice thing is that you can actually see the data you are manipulating and see immediately the result of the operations you perform on your data. You will need to spend a bit of time to understand what each operation does (for example, the difference between pivot and group by is not super clear to me).
Parabola is a powerful and flexible tool, and as such can be used for widely different use cases. One interesting use case they mention on the their website is sending email interaction data from Mailchimp to Salesforce. Of course, it could be another email automation tool and another CRM.
Thanks to Parabola, you can import email interaction data from Mailchimp, manipulate your data to get the date of the last opened email of your prospect and then feed that data to Salesforce.
This data can be very useful for the sales representative the next time they call that prospect.
Parabola doesn’t have the usual plan system. You will pay a certain price per flow. This price will depend on the maximum number of rows you will need in each workflow and how frequently you want your workflows to execute. For example, if you need 10,000 rows (the minimum), and want to execute your flows every 10 minutes, you will pay $58 per flow. For 10,000 rows and daily execution, it will be $18 per flow.
Parabola has a pricing page that will tell you your per flow cost depending on your needs.
Thanks to its capacity to manipulate and retreat data, to use past data, and to customize triggering events, Parabola can address use cases (like the one above) that Zapier could not handle.
However, their catalogue of apps is still quite small.
Disclaimer: The author of the article is the CEO of actiondesk.
Actiondesk is currently in private beta and is integrated with twenty apps. They’re increasing the number of integrations quickly and can build integrations on demand in a few days. They do support MySQL and PostgreSQL.
Actiondesk’s main value proposition is to enable users to manipulate their data end customize the event that will trigger the workflow. As such, they offer a wide variety of operations. Most operations you can do in Excel or Google Sheets are available in actiondesk:
actiondesk is still in private beta, and you might need a bit of time to get up to speed on the interface. However, if you already use a spreadsheet software (Excel, Google sheets), you should quickly get the hang of it, as most operations work exactly the same way. If you’re not used to spreadsheet software, understanding how actiondesk works will take you more time.
One powerful thing is that you always have your data in the screen, so whatever operation you do, you can see the result immediately and easily iterate on your workflow.
actiondesk is a flexible tool that enables users to build very customized workflows matching their needs. A few examples:
actiondesk has a free plan with 1 workflow and where the only output is Slack messages. If you want to be able to push data to other software, you’ll have to pay at least $147 for 10 workflows. Then, it will be $347 for 30 workflows or $1,497 for 150 workflows.
Zapier and actiondesk can be used together. Zapier is probably best for straightforward “if this then that” workflows. Actiondesk lets users build more complex and customized workflows that you couldn’t build with Zapier. If you like using functions you use in Excel and visualizing the results of your operations in real time, you might like actiondesk.
Integromat is integrated with close to 250 apps. Unfortunately, even though they list MySQL as a supported app, I was not able to connect my database and there doesn’t seem to be any available triggers for MySQL. This is the same situation for PostgreSQL. They also have a HTTP module which can enable you to retrieve data from any API but you’ll need to have an understanding of how an HTTP request works and how API work.
Integromat has the following interesting operations:
When it comes to data combination, via the search functions, Integromat enables you to take one trigger and combine the data coming from that trigger with another app.
For example, if one of your existing customers fills out a typeform or google form, then you can look them up in your CRM and update whatever new data they gave you.
One caveat to this: as I understand it, Integromat doesn’t allow you to combine data using any field. If I take Hubspot CRM as an example, if you want to combine some records in a Google Sheet to your companies in Hubspot, you will have to join the data using the name of the company. If you don’t have the name and wanted to join using another field (address, ID, etc.), that won’t be possible.
To summarize this point, Integromat does enable you to combine data but not in as flexible a way as other apps (Parabola, actiondesk).
Integromat has a rather intuitive drag and drop interface. I tested a simple workflow to send information about my received emails in a Google Sheets. This is pretty easy to do.
I do find the interface a bit too cluttered, which can leave you sometimes a bit lost (see on the left).
Interesting use cases powered by Integromat’s mobile app
One unique thing I haven’t mentioned yet about Integromat is that they have a mobile app. This enables some mobile-related use cases.
One interesting use case Integromat’s CEO and co-founder Ondrej Gazda mentioned is that one of their clients offers phone consultations to their customers, which they charge for depending on the time of the calls.
Rather than manually tracking the time of those calls - which can become very messy -, thanks to Integromat’s mobile app, the company automatically tracks the times, feeds this data to their CRM and automatically generates an invoice at the end of each month.
This is pretty neat.
Integromat is quite cheap overall. You can already have fun with the free plan (1,000 operations), and then they have plans at $9, $29, $99, $299.
See their pricing page for full details.
Integromat has a lot of interesting features which Zapier does not have, including:
The user experience is not as intuitive and straightforward as Zapier but there is usually always a trade off between ease of use and how powerful a tool is.
Stamplay is integrated with close to 150 apps. Although Mysql is listed in the list of apps they’re integrated with, there is no trigger available. PostgreSQL is not in their list. However, if you’re willing to write some code, you’re able to define triggers on your database.
If there’s an app you need which is not listed, they can build it on demand and publish it within 48h.
With Stamplay, you can:
I didn’t find a feature to combine data from different sources nor to aggregate data.
I tried a simple use case with Stamplay, feeding typeform entries to a google sheet. Overall, it’s pretty easy to set up. You go through a sequence of simple steps, a bit like Zapier, although I didn’t find it quite as intuitive.
For example, when setting up the first step (typeform), once you connect your account and choose the form, they ask you to submit one entry before continuing to build the workflow. This is a bit frustrating and takes some time.
One strong differentiator of Stamplay is that they have various AI-related functions such as sentiment analysis, Optical Character Recognition, Image recognition, IBM Watson services and others.
Here are two interesting use cases that Stamplay’s CEO Giuliano Iacobelli mentioned to me:
The pricing is a bit steep compared to most other solutions. The cheapest plan is $149 / month for 5 workflows, and they also have a plan at $499 / month for 10 workflows.
Stamplay allows you to build much more complex and powerful workflows than Zapier. Specifically, if you need to add some AI in your workflows without having to code, Stamplay is a great solution!
Piesync supports close to 150 apps.
Pisync is very useful when you want to keep two (or more) systems synced. For example, you might want to sync different information on one client, some coming from your CRM, some coming from your help desk.
Piesync is really a sync tool so you can’t transform your data. However, you can add conditions to decide when something should be synced or not.
Piesync is very easy to use. I set up a two-way sync between Zendesk and Hubspot in 2 minutes.
Piesync is quite cheap for a low number of contacts to sync: between $9 and $99 depending on the kind of support you need. For only $19, you can set up an unlimited number of rules. The pricing goes up as your number of contacts increases. For examples, for 40,000 contacts, you’ll have to pay between $129 and $349.
See their pricing page for more details.
Piesync actually has a whole page dedicated to explaining how they differ from Zapier. Piesync does a two-way sync. You could that with Zapier with several workflows, but that could get tricky:
In the end, piesync handles a specific use case but handles it quite well.
Automate.io supports around 80 apps. They don’t support databases.
Automate.io is really for straightforward “if this then that” use cases, you can’t do transformations on your data. As Zapier before, you cannot do an if / else scenario. That being said, you can implement filters. So if you really need an if / else logic, you will be able to do it using two (or more) workflows. Depending on the complexity of the workflows you want to implement, this can quickly become painful.
Like Zapier and Integromat, you can combine data to some extent thanks to some search functions:
Setting up a workflow with automate.io is very straightforward. I quite liked that to map fields between apps, you can just drag and drop them (whereas in Zapier, you have to select them in a dropdown)
My understanding is that pricing is the main differentiator for automate.io (see here for their opinion on the matter). For example, for $50 per month, you’ll get 50 workflows and 10,000 actions. With Zapier, you’d have 50 workflows as well but only 3,000 actions. So, the price per workflow is pretty much the same but you can have workflows triggering around 3 times more tasks with Automate than with Zapier for the same price.
Go here for the full pricing details of automate.io
Automate.io claims that their interface is easier to use than Zapier. I wouldn’t necessarily agree even though it’s definitely very straightforward. That being said, on a per task basis they are cheaper and run workflows at a higher frequency than Zapier (5 minutes for the most basic plans and 1 minute for the most expensive ones, vs. 15 minutes for Zapier), which can come in handy.
I counted a bit more than 200 apps integrated with Azuqua. Full list here. Both Mysql and PostgreSQL are listed there but no triggers are listed; you can, however, perform actions on your database. Support for database triggers might be added in the future as Dan Kogan, Azuqua’s CMO told me.
Azuqua has an extensive number of operations you can perform on your data, among which:
When it comes to combining data, Azuqua offers some pretty deep search functions. I tested for Hubspot, you can search for companies, contacts, deals.
If you want to search for companies, you can search in any field of companies, as shown in the below screenshot, which is not the case with most other apps with a search function (Zapier, Integromat).
As for aggregation, Dan told me it is possible but it involves complex steps (multiple steps, handling json objects, etc). They are looking at offering a simple step to do aggregation.
It took me a bit of time to get the hang of Azuqua. The interface is quite cluttered, especially if you’re used to more simple interfaces like Zapier. Using operations can be particularly confusing. One thing that doesn’t help is that after doing an operation, you don’t visualize the result of it. Thus you don’t really know if the result is what you expected or not. But after a little while, you get used to it and it becomes pretty easy to build a workflow.
It’s important to note that Azuqua is a flexible tool and offers many possibilities, it’s normal that there is a learning curve at the beginning. Also, Azuqua has a lot of training material and you can schedule calls or meeting with an actual person to help you build your workflows.
As you can see in the screenshot above, Azuqua has a system of cards, each representing an app import or an operation. I quite liked the fact that you can add a note to a card, which can be very useful, especially for complex workflows.
Azuqua is a flexible tool and can enable all kind of workflows. One interesting workflow mentioned here is for Net Promoter Score. NPS is a simple calculation based on a survey sent to customers asking one simple question “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend?”.
With Azuqua, you can make NPS actionable:
Azuqua’s pricing structure is different than most other tools. You’ll pay $50/month for one flow, then $50 additional per flow with the individual plan.
The Team plan is $550 / month plus $50 / month for each flow, enabling you to have more users and more rows per workflow.
Powerful workflows and flexibility
Azuqua, thanks to its wide catalogue of operations, enables its users to build more complex workflows than Zapier. Given its pricing, it seems they’re also targeting bigger customers than Zapier.
Built.io has a bit more than 180 integrations. They do support MySQL but you cannot use data coming from your MySQL database to trigger a workflow, you can only execute custom queries as an action.
Built.io has the following operations:
Built’s interface is quite neat. It’s a drag and drop graphic interface that looks like this:
As you can see, it’s quite minimalist (not that many options) which makes it easy to use. They have some useful shortcuts that can help you build workflows faster if you build a lot of them. Building a workflow is effortless although there are a few things that are not quite as intuitive.
For example, when you map Typeform fields to Google Sheets field, you have to drag and drop from the right end of the below screen. To toggle between the answers of your Typeform, you have to change the value of the dropdown on the right (circled in yellow). This took me a while to figure out.
The cheapest plan is at $125 / month (cheaper if you commit for one year), and you'll have 5 workflows and 1,000 tasks for this price; then it’s $749 for 10 workflows and 25,000 tasks, and $1,875 for 25 workflows and 100,000 tasks.
You can try built.io for free for 30 days (no credit card required). See full details here.
Built.io is actually more expensive than Zapier. The UX is different and pretty neat. Now that Zapier added paths (if / else logic), built.io and Zapier have pretty much the same set of operations available, so built.io will be relevant really if you prefer their interface.
Microsoft is integrated with more than 200 apps. As you can imagine, they’re integrated with all the Microsoft apps: Sharepoint, Office, Onedrive, Outlook, etc. And this is probably the main value proposition of Microsoft Flow. Even Zapier, which has by far the biggest catalogue of integrations, is not integrated with Sharepoint, Outlook or Power BI.
They are supposed to support MySQL, but when trying to connect my MySQL database, I was asked to fill in a field called “gateway”. If I understand correctly the information on this link, it means one can connect to Microsoft flow only databases that are on premise, and it requires some set up work.
Flow doesn’t have a extensive catalogue of operations. That being said, you are able to use an if / else logic, as well as looping through your data.
The basis of Flow’s UX is quite classic with a sequence of simple forms to fill. I did find the UX overall very confusing and not as good as that of the other competitors.
A few examples gathered while building the usual typeform => google sheets workflow.
When choosing your form in typeform, you are asked to give a name to that specific form (second question). First of all, I’m not sure why this is necessary; after all, they have the unique id of the form.
Then in the action part, after you’ve connected your Google account, you have to choose the spreadsheet to which you want to send the data.
In most other tools, you have a search bar (a typical user has dozens if not hundreds of spreadsheets). With Microsoft Flow, you can’t search, you have to go through the whole folder tree of your Google Drive to find the right sheet (I didn’t even know which folder my sheet was in). This is frustrating for the user.
And last but not least, the workflow didn’t work.
The expected result was:
This is what I got with Flow:
I’m sure I did something wrong but couldn’t figure out what. I’ve asked Microsoft Flow’s support but never received an answer.
It’s the only tool where I was not able to make that simple workflow work easily.
Beyond the usual classic use cases, I found one interesting use case. Thanks to the Power BI integration, you can build metric-driven workflows. In Power BI, you can define metrics and alerts if those are above or below a certain threshold. Thanks to Microsoft Flow, you can then launch a specific workflow triggering a Slack message, a Salesforce task or anything you think relevant.
Of course, those are things you could directly do in Parabola or actiondesk, but if you’re already a Power BI user and have metrics already calculated, this can be very interesting.
Microsoft Flow has a per user per pricing, it will cost you between $5 and $15 per month per user to use it.
You can benefit from a 90-day free trial. See full details here.
As already noted, the main value-add of Microsoft Flow is the depth of integrations with the whole Microsoft suite. If your company runs on Microsoft apps, then Microsoft Flow should be quite useful to you.
Zapier supports more than 1,000 apps. They support both MySQL and PostgreSQL and for both have the following triggers and actions:
Via the search function, Zapier enables you to take one trigger and combine the data coming from that trigger with another app.
For example, if one of your existing customers fills in a Typeform or Google form, then you can look them up in your CRM and update whatever new data she gave you. If the lookup doesn’t find anyone, it means this customer doesn’t exist yet in your CRM in which case you can create the record.
One caveat to this: Zapier doesn’t allow you to combine data using any field. If I take Hubspot CRM as an example, if you want to combine some records in a Google Sheet to your companies in Hubspot, you will have to join the data using the name of the company. If you don’t have the name and wanted to pair using another field (address, ID, etc.), that won’t be possible.
To summarize this point, Zapier does enable you to combine data but not in such a flexible way as other apps (Parabola, actiondesk).
Before very recently and the introduction of Paths, you couldn’t have an if / else logic in one workflow. You’d have to build as many workflows as the number of conditions you’d have.
Zapier also enables some simple formatting of data (number, dates) or retreating (append, pick from list, etc).
Zapier doesn’t allow you to use past data, your workflows will only trigger for new events. For example, if you trigger a workflow with a new contact (for example, to feed a Google Sheet), you won’t be able to trigger that workflow for all the contacts that were created before you set up your workflow.
Finally, Zapier doesn’t enable the user to customize the triggering event, it has to be one event in their catalogue.
In my opinion, the user experience is a big part of Zapier’s success. It’s very simple to create a basic workflow, and you don’t have to have any skills. Zapier’s interface has definitely inspired many of its competitors.
It’s a sequence of simple forms to fill in. Each step is quite fast, so you really feel you’re making progress.
For simple “if this then that” use cases, Zapier has the best UX. When it comes to more advanced options, such as search or data transformation, I do find the UX a bit less intuitive, and it will take you a bit of time before you understand what to do.
With Zapier, you can run 5 workflows (what they call zaps) for free. Then they have the following 4 plans:
For simple workflows, I think Zapier is the best solution. When potential prospects ask me about simple workflows, I usually recommend that they use Zapier. If you feel you’re limited with Zapier and you’d like to do more, I would highly recommend checking out the other solutions presented here!
I would love to hear from you! If you’ve tried one of those tools and have feedback, please let me know. If there’s one tool you think should be in this benchmark, please let me know as well!