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A Cheat Sheet for Startup Infrastructure

August 17, 2020
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If this is your first time launching a company or running a small business, you’ve probably felt  overwhelmed by all the things you just found out you didn’t know.

Overnight, you’ve become the HR, IT, Tax, Benefits, Compliance, Finance, Accounting and Marketing departments all in one. All that, and you still need to build an amazing product, sell investors on your dream and recruit a stellar team to bring your vision to life.

Since starting Cluster in 2018, we’ve been through all of this and then some. To save you time and help you avoid mistakes, we've compiled a list of our favorite tools to help you quickly build an infrastructure that’s efficient, easy to manage and will take a massive burden (and a lot of liability) off your shoulders.

Payroll and benefits

Gusto

We use Gusto to manage our payroll. They make it very simple to set up recurring payroll for employees and send payments to contractors. The platform is also useful for making employee reimbursements which is useful for companies that don’t incur enough expenses to warrant a dedicated expense management platform like Expensify or Abacus. 

We also use Gusto to administer our benefits (health, dental, vision). Gusto automatically enrolls and manages contribution amounts when we add new folks to the team. As a startup, all insurance brokers are going to give you the same rates. You might as well utilize Gusto as your broker to seamlessly integrate benefits with payroll. Also, their customer support is some of the best I’ve ever encountered. 

Rippling

Rippling is an all-in-one platform that handles your company’s payroll and IT needs. In addition to payroll and benefits, the company is a one-stop shop for laptops and cloud apps (Slack, Zoom, Google Docs). They’ll ship pre-configured equipment to employees, with remote access management already setup so new employees can get right to work. The best part, their equipment packages are billed as a monthly fee so you’re not shelling out the full price of new computers up front.

Legal issues

Orrick

Selecting a law firm that regularly works with startups will save you a lot of time and money. They can help you understand current market deal terms and rates. They will also have legal document templates to help you navigate common startup issues found across your business. Many also offer deferred payment plans until you’ve hit certain funding thresholds. We’ve been very happy with our firm Orrick. They’re not cheap, but when it comes to attorneys, you get what you pay for.

HR help

Need on-demand HR help? Bambee gives small and medium-sized businesses access to an HR manager for just $99 a month. You will be surprised by the number of HR-related questions that you’ll have as you build your team. Bambee won’t just save you time, it also helps you mitigate risk down the line. It’s worth it. 

Banking and credit cards

Brex Card and Brex Cash

As a startup, Brex is one of the few companies that will issue you a credit card without requiring a personal guarantee. Their credit card rewards program is generous and their travel portal is great. Damn, I miss traveling (it's 2020).

We were an early customer of their banking product, Brex Cash, which combines checking and savings into a single high-yield account (back when interest rates were above 0). It also provides free domestic and international wire and ACH transfers. Their website experience blows other banks out of the water, and customer support has been excellent. The downside: they’re a virtual bank that doesn’t issue checks or allow you to deposit cash.

Also, check out Mercury, another bank focused on startup banking and payments. 

Accounting and taxes

Xero and Quickbooks are both excellent options for accounting. But beware, you’re going to have to configure the platform, add integrations and maintain the ledgers. 

The next level up is a company like Bench which will take care of bookkeeping for you. They’ll categorize and correctly apply expenses and revenue across your ledger, saving you a lot of time and pain brushing up on corporate accounting rules. 

If you’re ready to step up to a full-service accounting firm, there are a growing number of them that focus on emerging startups. Prices aren’t cheap, typically starting near $1k per month plus extra fees for tax filings and other services. However, they will handle everything, including monthly accounting, taxes, IRS and state agency filings, R&D tax credits and more. Many employ former controllers and CFOs which allows you to scale at a fraction of a cost of building out an internal finance team. We use Kruze Consulting and they’ve been great. We’ve also had strong recommendations for Countsy, Basis365, and Full Stack Finance

Many startups qualify for special R&D tax breaks for new businesses developing technology. Check out Clarus R+D, a firm that specializes in helping companies apply for and receive these benefits. They can unlock substantial tax savings for your company.

Communication and collaboration

Slack

I’m finally coming around on this thing. Not that I don’t believe in messaging tools, but I didn’t really think Slack was any better than its predecessors like HipChat, Yammer or AIM (I’m a senior millennial). But Slack’s exhaustive list of integrations is so good that I’ve hopped on the bandwagon. 

Slack’s value comes from three key areas. 

First, notifications make Slack a real-time status tool for literally anything in the business: job posts, leads, applicants, site goes down, expense charges, Twitter mentions, GitHub pushes, Google Calendar, whatevs. Also, the experience interacting with some of these third-party integrated products is even better on Slack than via their own interfaces. 

Second, teammates posting links, ideas and conversations in public spaces is the best way to disseminate information at a company. 

Third, it kills internal email, which is great.

Notion

If you’re a remote company or just want to get team collaboration started on the right foot, check out Notion. It’s an integrated Wiki, project management, spreadsheet, and document tool all in one. Currently, they’re running a $1,000 free credit special for startups.

Automate your life

Zapier / Integromat / IFTT / Parabola

Never do another repetitive task again. These tools integrate with just about everything you use on a daily basis to automate tasks, such as transferring and transforming data between a form on your website and Google Sheets, and notifying you via email or Slack. They are very easy to use and immediately gratifying. Must have freemium plans to get you going.

Internet services

The Google

The amount of tools you get for $12/month per user from GSuite (email, video chat, cloud storage, Sheets/Docs/Slides, etc) is exceptionally good, and the offerings have only gotten better over the last few years, I’ve enjoyed how well things are integrated across their platform. For example, Google DataStudio is an included tool that enables you to build dashboards from multiple sources including Sheets, Google Analytics and custom queries run in BigQuery.

Marketing website

Webflow

There are a number of easy-to-use tools for building a basic website, but our favorite has been Webflow. If you have a little knowledge of CSS or HTML, you’ll find it to be the best platform for building a website without having to learn code. The video tutorials are excellent, extensive and entertaining. The forums are full of useful answers to difficult questions often incorporating JavaScript and other hacks that go beyond the core platform. This is a great option for your marketing website, as Webflow’s content management system makes it easy to launch your blog or other content. 

A Database for Humans

Airtable

Airtable makes creating and organizing a database as easy as using basic spreadsheets. It is visual and configurable for non-technical folks for maximum ease of use. Airtable incorporates great tools such as Kanban views for project management and forms that can be integrated into your website to capture data. We’ve used it to build a template (free to download) for an applicant tracking system that’s tailored to help you simplify your recruiting efforts.

We’ll continually update this document as we come across more solutions and tools that startups should leverage while getting their business off the ground. If you have any suggestions, send them to me at Justin at my @clusterinc.com email (sorry scrapers).

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