From bank accounts and credit cards to accounting and bookkeeping software, bill pay and invoicing, payroll and benefits, and beyond, there is no shortage of finance tools and services aimed at startups and small businesses.
While there are always exceptions to the rule, we tapped the Zeni Finance team's 100+ years of collective experience and best practices working with technology startups and companies of all sizes — from early-stage startups to public companies like Apple and Whatsapp — to build our ideal finance stack for startups.
From the longstanding, tried-and-true providers to new upstarts, here are the finance and accounting tools we are using (and loving) on a day-to-day basis.
Note: All of these recommendations have (at least) one thing in common.
At Zeni, we live for creating simple solutions to complex problems. It's literally why we exist.
So, as you read this, know each of the tools and service providers we include below offer intelligent integrations and/or APIs that make tracking and maintaining financial records, keeping accounting software up-to-date, and moving money from one place to another as simple and straightforward as possible.
Bookkeeping & Accounting Software: Quickbooks Online
Bookkeeping and accounting software is the foundation of a startup's finance stack. Startups need to leverage an agile bookkeeping and accounting system that offers flexibility to grow with their business.
We conducted an extensive comparison of the best accounting software solutions for startups to determine Quickbooks Online (QBO) was the best overall startup and small business accounting software for a number of reasons:
- Ease of use. While it's not foolproof, QBO is one of the more user-friendly accounting solutions with a complete suite of customer support options. Because it is online accounting software, it's accessible virtually anywhere.
- Countless integrations. QBO supports integrations with virtually every bank, credit card, payroll provider, accounts receivables and payables service, etc. typically used by startups, making the data retrieval experience less painful and thus helping the bookkeeping aspect of your accounting along.
- Cost-effective. With multiple pricing plans (free trials and regular money-savings promotions offered), startups can nap a QBO package that is as affordable as it is impactful.
Banking: Silicon Valley Bank
Selecting a banking partner for your startup is not as straightforward as it may sound. Unlike the familiar process of opening a personal banking account at your local Chase or Wells Fargo branch, business accounts have different requirements for eligibility. And, depending on the type of business you have, finding a banking partner that is willing to work with you can be challenging.
Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) is the leading banking solution for startups today, claiming that 50% of tech and life science startups bank with SVB in the U.S. With more than 35 years of experience working with small and large businesses of (nearly) every stage and type, SVB provides a range of financial services built specifically with tech founders and entrepreneurs in mind, including:
- Banking products designed for startups. Whether you're just starting out or actively pursuing major financial milestones (or somewhere in between), SVB structures its products based on company stages and goals.
- One stop for all of your banking needs. SVB offers business checking, money market and credit card accounts to startups; it also offers private banking, and private equity and venture capital services.
- Access to an extensive (and impressive) network. SVB customers have access to an ever-growing treasure trove of extra features, insights, resources and connections; think introductions to potential investors, workshops and events, discounts on popular software, plus much more.
- Deep expertise. Because SVB has been 100% focused on business banking for over 35 years, with an emphasis on tech startups out of Silicon Valley. They've seen pretty much all there is to see, and maintain a deep bench of long-time banking partners and employees who bring context of their first-hand and shared experiences to their business practices daily.
Alternative Solution: Mercury Bank
If you're looking for a light-weight business banking solution still tailored to the needs of startup founders, Mercury Bank is a popular choice.
A startup in its own right, Mercury Bank launched in 2019 and is hyper-focused on product design and user experience. The online-only banking option offers an easy-to-use platform, quick sign-up process and a suite of free or low-cost services for its customers.
- Instant access. Mercury Bank is 100% digital, founders sign up and instantly have access to a business checking and/or money market account(s).
- Total pricing transparency. To open and manage an account with Mercury Bank is completely free; the only fees are for money transfers: $5 for domestic transfers, and $20 for international.
- Access to startup-minded rewards. Users who qualify for access to the "Mercury Tea Room" unlock a suite of partner rewards and services (yes, this includes free tea).
Payroll & Benefits: Gusto
Payroll and benefits can be complicated and easy to mess up, especially when you're managing a mix of full-time employees and contractors in the earliest days of building your business.
We find Gusto to be a great full-service payroll solution with a competitive benefits offering for startups with up to 50 employees. Gusto has become the go-to payroll and benefits for hundreds of startups, for good reasons:
- Incredibly simple. Gusto's service (and UI) is simple, straight-forward and requires very little time/energy from the founder to get it right.
- Expert support. Gusto's basic support provides proactive reminders to do things like run payroll and capture important documentation for employees. Beyond this, Gusto offers advanced features via its Concierge service starting at $149/month to give startups access to certified HR experts and a dedicated support team, and helping to essentially outsource the HR function for your business.
- Seamless employee onboarding. From sending offer letters to signing up for company benefits and completing government compliance paperwork, Gusto manages every aspect of the employee onboarding process on its customer's behalf, helping startups welcome new team members in an organized fashion.
Advanced Payroll & Benefits Solution: Trinet
For businesses of 50+ employees, or as you have more complex needs (e.g. employees/contractors across multiple states or operating multiple entities), we find Trinet to be a solid advanced payroll and benefits solution for startups.
Trinet is a leading Professional Employer Organization (PEO) for payroll and benefits, which allows small companies to offer robust payroll and competitive benefit packages to employees at a more affordable price-point. Beyond competitive benefit packages, Trinet brings a wealth of time- and money-saving value to the table for startups:
- Easily manage a distributed workforce, or hire employees in multiple states. Employer taxes are filed under the PEO's tax ID, eliminating the need to setup employer accounts in multiple states.
- Streamline employee tax reporting. Using a PEO like Trinet eliminates quarterly and/or annual employer-specific reporting requirements by state.
- Human resource services. Keep your headcount down while maintaining HR compliance with unlimited access to HR resources through Trinet.
- Perks network on tap. From discounts on car rentals to subsidized gym fees, Trinet offers a network of turn-key perks to all of your employees, helping smaller businesses compete with larger enterprises in this arena.
Credit Card: Brex
Startup founders and small business owners are often required to take on personal risk via personal guarantees or security deposits in order to open a corporate credit card — but not with Brex. Brex was created to remove common hurdles and offer startups access to robust corporate credit card services instantly, using the Mastercard network.
Brex sets your spending limit based on your current bank balance, and in most cases requires payment in full on a monthly basis. These are a few of many reasons startups have flocked to using Brex corporate credit cards:
- Get approved and start spending instantly. With instant approval and digital card access, founders can start setting up the services and accounts they need to keep their business moving.
- Manage employee spending. Distribute corporate cards to employees instantly, set spending limits and capture receipts as transactions take place across your entire workforce.
- Deploy secure virtual credit card for online purchases. Assign online purchases or ongoing subscriptions to separate virtual credit cards to help track spending and immediately shut down compromised cards.
- Rewards for common startup expenses. Brex users earn unlimited extra points on things like rideshare services, software subscriptions, flights and hotels, and more; plus, discounts on services for the startups ecosystem like AWS, Google Ads and WeWork.
Alternative Solution: SVB Innovators Card
The SVB Innovators Card is another good choice of credit card where founders benefit from no personal liability, and is designed to meet the specific needs of startups.
Part of Silicon Valley Bank's suite of products designed with startups in mind, the SVB Innovators Card operates similarly to Brex, setting your spending limit based on your cash balance and requiring month-end payments, on the Mastercard network. The SVB Innovator card also offers startup founders:
- Unlimited card users with no fees. Employers can roll out corporate cards to anyone in their business, with no annual or incremental fees.
- Integrated payment platform. Activate multiple payment options — across both physical and virtual cards — to help fit the way your company wants to pay.
- Deeper insights into your company’s overall spend. Understand and analyze spend behaviors across your organization, including top spend categories, highest expenditures and most utilized vendors.
Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable: Plooto
Collecting and processing payments is one of the most common and (frustratingly) complex finance management functions; so much so that many bookkeepers and accounting service providers opt out of providing this as part of its services.
Plooto's modern, easy-to-use platform automates bill payments, approvals and invoices, allowing businesses to streamline and fully digitize their accounts payable (AP) and accounts receivables (AR) functions. Growing in popularity due to its sleek UI, simple online invoicing and competitive pricing, founders are turning to Plooto more frequently for key features including:
- One process for every type of payment. Whether you are making domestic payments, international payments, collecting online payments, or using a credit card, you can use Plooto in the same way.
- Custom payment approval configuration. Plooto makes it simple to set up and customize your payment approval process. Add employees from across your organization (and global locations) to approve payments quickly and easily with the click of a button.
- Global capabilities and audit trails come standard. With Plooto, you can securely send and receive funds online across 30+ countries. Electronic audit trails ensure payment records are tracked for compliance purposes.
Employee Expenses: Expensify
As your company grows, staying on top of expenditures from across your organization becomes more and more complex, and capturing receipts for purchases of $75 or greater is critical for future audit purposes.
Expensify helps automate the entire receipt and expense management process from one simplified platform. While Expensify has recently expanded its offering to include an expense tracking-optimized bank card (we're not so familiar with this offering yet, and will update in the future if/when we have more to share), founders like Expensify for its core services done-right:
- One-click receipt scanning and report building. Using its mobile app and basic plan, employees take a picture of their receipt and Expensify automatically adds the information into an expense report for the employee making it incredibly simple to track expenses.
- Customize rules based on your organization's expense policy. Configure Expensify to work for your expense policy; Expensify can flag big-ticket expenses that require manager review, or automatically approve small expenses, like a $3 coffee.
- Next-day reimbursement. As soon as reports are approved, rapid reimbursement delivers the money right into the employee's bank account within 24 hours via ACH direct deposit.
Equity Management: Carta
Managing equity can be a confusing, overwhelming task for founders unfamiliar with the various processes, paperwork and filings involved. It's equally daunting as it is important, so using a knowledgable, trusted service provider is key.
Carta is more or less the industry standard when it comes to equity management platform for startups, helping companies manage their cap tables, valuations, investments and equity plans — all digitally. Founders routinely turn to Carta to help manage every aspect of equity management, standout reasons include:
- Tiered levels of service. Starting with basic cap table management for seed-stage companies, through custom plans for IPO readiness, Carta offers varying levels of services for companies at different inflection points.
- One-stop, easy-to-use solution. Manage your company’s cap table and corporate governance, get 409A valuations, and conduct compliance reviews all in one place. As your company's needs change, Carta can scale and adjust to meet them.
- Built-in compliance. Carta helps companies stay compliant when issuing equity and getting 409A valuations. Its platform becomes the source of truth for your company's equity.
Finance Management: Zeni
We'd be remiss to not include our own services in the overview of the ultimate finance stack for startups. Startups run into all kinds of challenges with their bookkeeping, accounting and business finances — in fact, we dig into some of the various challenges and startup bookkeeping mistakes in a blog post here.
At Zeni, we offer startups a team of finance experts working seamlessly with powerful artificial intelligence dedicated to managing every financial function for your business with speed and accuracy. Our best-in-class financial management service includes:
- Seamless integrations with your existing finance stack. Zeni features out-of-box integrations with several finance softwares and services including bank accounts, credit cards, accounting/bookkeeping software, payroll systems, payment processors, and expense management services.
- One platform to automatically manage everything. Zeni offers one platform, the Zeni Dashboard, to easily access, search and manage all of your company's finance functions in one place. Designed for intuitive, real-time visibility into your company's finances, this one-stop solution shows you total balance across all bank accounts and credit cards, top monthly and recurring expenses, cash flows, operating expenses and more directly from the Zeni Dashboard (on your mobile device or computer).
- Real-time financial insights. Zeni uses AI to automate time-consuming and manual bookkeeping functions, enabling our team to provide insights and visibility into your daily financial transactions. Because of this, we are able to deliver key financial insights in real-time, so business leaders can address issues with budgets, cash flow, etc. as it happens — not once your books are closed 15+ days post month's end.
- Financial reports based on your business needs. Raising a found of funding? Board meeting prep? Weighing some important business decisions? Or simply looking for your latest financial statements, balance sheet, or profit and loss statement? The Zeni Finance Team is always an email away to pull and share whatever financial information you're looking for.
- Unbeatable pricing. Zeni charges a set monthly fee based on your company's total monthly expenses. Our fees are typically 2-5x less expensive than that of a typical finance firm. No hourly billing, no surprises.
- ... and so much more. Learn more about Zeni, and sign up for a demo here.
Disclosure: Zeni has partnerships with a number of the service providers included in this list, and we pass savings along to our customers who use the services with our discounted rates.