Software as a Service for Startups

How to Build Your Admin Tech Stack

Chris Millard
Operation Entrepreneur
8 min readOct 19, 2021


August 20th marked the 10-year anniversary of Marc Andreesen’s famous proclamation that “software is eating the world.”

According to a 2020 report from Blissfully, the average company now uses 137 unique Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, and overall SaaS spend is up 50% from 2018–2020. A different survey from Statista pegs the unique number of apps per company at 80, but both analyses show a 10x increase in unique app usage since 2015.

Unique SaaS application usage and company spend is increasing exponentially

Blissfully found that the average small company (defined as 1–100 employees) had 35 employees, 102 unique apps, and spent $202K a year ($5.7k per employee) on SaaS applications.

While that may seem like a lot of money when you’re starting your own business, the truth is that $202k in SaaS spend is likely covering what used to take dozens and dozens of people to accomplish.

Building your admin tech stack

Salesforce blazed the trail for SaaS companies with their sales & customer service offerings, but only in the past five years has Andreesen’s 2011 prediction truly started to come to fruition. There is now a myriad of applications available for companies to reduce the time and money it takes to get a business off the ground. These tools significantly expedite, or in some cases fully automate, a huge number of back-office processes in areas of Finance, HR, IT, Legal, Marketing, Sales, and Customer support.

If you’re starting a business, or preparing to scale up, it’s likely you will depend heavily on many of the following applications. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, rather a collection of the most common and valuable tools for small teams with extremely limited resources. For each software solution listed there are usually numerous competitors; I’ve limited this list to software that I’ve used personally. Davit Davitian, a friend who has worked in startups and VC has a great philosophy:

“Start with the most minimalistic option first. Once you have a better understanding of what your long-term workflow and pain points will be, use that to guide your search for more robust tools.”


QuickBooks Online | $7 — $180 / month

The gold standard of accounting software for startups and small business. Most users underestimate the automation features that Intuit has invested in like receipt capture, bank, PayPal, Venmo, and Square synching, auto-categorization, management reports, and more. Wave, Xero, and Freshbooks are the small business competitors, but ultimately lack the functionality needed for scaling businesses.

Expensify | Free — $18 / user

A convenient smartphone application made for receipt collection, employee reimbursements, and spend control. Integrates with QuickBooks online.

LTSE Suite | Free — $550

Founded by the famous Eric Ries, LTSE has an ever-growing suite of tools such as cash flow planning, key hire planning, fast 409A valuations, and cap table management. In particular, their cash flow runway tool is “created by founders for founders” and is “designed for entrepreneurs not accountants.”

Airbase | Free — “Enterprise Pricing”

A new player on the block, Airbase is aiming to be the one tool to manage all approval / spend management workflows, bill pay, employee reimbursements, and accounting automation. Currently they integrate with QuickBooks online and NetSuite. Though young, they are making the unglamorous world of operations and accounting as delightful and as exciting as it can be.

Brex | Free — $49/ month

Brex is a cash management application (with credit cards, virtual cards, and a cash account) aimed at high-growth startups. The cards have no fees, but must be paid off in full each month. Rewards are incredibly high and no personal credit is needed, however you must have $100K cash to start an account. From an operations perspective, one of the best parts about Brex is the easy-to-use interface, simple categorization / spend tracking features, spend management tools, and QuickBooks online integration.


Carta | Free — “Enterprise”

A simple, straightforward cap table management platform. Carta makes fundraising, stock option distribution, and general cap table management a breeze. An annual 409A valuation is included with subscription, which traditionally runs ~$2K. A must-have for any startup raising capital.

Clerky | $400 — $800+

Clerky is a software platform where you can quickly and cost-effectively create all the legal documents need to incorporate your startup. In addition to company formation, other products include fundraising documents, offer letters, contractor agreements, equity agreements, NDAs, and board documents such as charter amendments and board consents.

HR / Recruiting

JazzHR | $39 — $339 / month
A centralized, user-friendly, applicant tracking system that scales with your hiring needs. With proven, built-in workflows and the ability to post to 20 job boards at once, it’s ready to go out-of-the-box for your first hire. Once you master the basics you can create custom workflows, automate emails to candidates at each hiring stage and access analytics and reporting. You’re also able to assign role-based access to all stakeholders involved in the process to create a centralized communication channel for progress and action items.

Gusto | $39 / month + $6 / employee — $149 / month + $12 / employee
One-stop shop for employee onboarding, payroll, time tracking, and insurance and benefits management. Send offer letters and create a custom onboarding task list to welcome new employees to your team. Run payroll and integrate directly with your accounting software. Most importantly, Gusto provides compliance guidance so Employee I-9s and W-2s don’t go unsigned and you stay on top of changing tax laws.

Marketing and Design

HubSpot | Free — $5,600 / month

HubSpot is the everything platform, the functionality is broad and deep and can fit the needs of 1 person startup or a giant enterprise organization. It’s broken into 3 “hubs:” Marketing, Sales, and Service. Most new companies can get away with the free version initially and the mid-tier plans which have deeper functionality are palatable at $45 / month. From sales pipelines and dashboards, to customer tracking and engagement, to marketing analytics and workflow automation this is a must have tool for any new org.

Adobe Creative Cloud | $54 / month / user

The gold standard of design products: Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Premier, Acrobat and more. It costs an arm and a leg but people pay for it because it’s the best. A handy tool for graphic design work, video editing, PDF creation / editing, and more. Competitors have sprung up in recent years, but Adobe dominates the market.

Canva | Free — ~$5 / user / month

Low cost graphic design alternative to Adobe Photoshop / InDesign. Easy-to-use interface and powerful tools make it an appealing choice.

Wix | $14 — $39 / month

The battle for WYSIWYG website builders seems never ending. The past 10 years have seen Wix, Squarespace, WordPress, Weebly, and a handful of other companies jockeying for position. As of the time of this writing Wix (IMO) has the lead based on price and ease-of-use. It’s come a long way in the past 5 years. It’s not as robust as WordPress, and if you’re looking for an ecommerce site, I’d recommend Shopify, however for someone who needs a basic website up and running quickly that looks decent, Wix is a great option.

Wordpress + | $8-$30 / month

My personal preference for website creation is the WordPress platform, hosted on BlueHost with the plugin. Elementor is an easy-to-use drag-and-drop design tool that makes building new pages and updating / adding content easy. WordPress has a huge library of design themes and pre-built plugins for free or cheap that make design more about choosing the right colors and photos, rather than building actual page structure.


Shopify | $29-$299 / month + transaction fees

Easily the gold standard in ecommerce, Shopify is a must have for any small business owner selling products online. New credit card processing hardware and multi-channel PoS system allows business owners to manage all of their sales in one place, regardless if it’s a brick and mortar store, an event, or an ecommerce sale. A large library of app integrations that are free or cheap has made the platform even more powerful in recent years.

Square | 2.6% + $0.10 transaction fee

The OG small business PoS system, square pricing remains free apart from transaction fees, including a free ecommerce website. Additional items such as payroll, contractor payments, and email marketing are available for monthly costs.

Productivity, Communications, and General IT

Notion | Free — $8/user / month

Aptly branded as the “All-in-one workspace” and “Your Startup’s Operating System” Notion has gained huge traction in the past two years, partially aided by the pandemic and the need for better collaboration with remote work. There is almost nothing you can’t do with Notion. Top use cases include: company wikis, web pages, CRM systems, Project Management, Product Roadmaps, Marketing, and more.

DocHub | Free— $5 / month

A freemium PDF editor that also allows for easy eSignatures, DocHub combines the functionality of DocuSign and Adobe Acrobat for a fraction of the cost.

Airtable | Free — $24/user / month

Airtable is the “power of a database with the flexibility of a spreadsheet.” A simple interface similar to Excel or Google Sheets masks an incredibly powerful tool capable of immense data capture and automation. Easy integrations with common applications makes Airtable valuable to Marketing, Operations, Sales, Engineering, and Product teams for use causes like: product roadmaps, CRM solutions, sales pipelines, user research, executive dashboards and more.

ClickUp vs. Asana vs. Trello vs. Jira

I’m a project management junkie, and I love all of the above platforms. All have their own pros and cons which I don’t have space to discuss here. Regardless, each will help keep you organized and on track without breaking the bank.

DocSend | $10 — $150 / month

Like Google Analytics for pitch decks, DocSend allows startups to track who is reading what part of their pitch decks. It also provides a suite of tools designed for the fundraising process. They also made one of my favorite presentations about the fundraising process ever.

Slack | Free — $15 / user / month

The number one communication tool of the base decade. Instant messaging helpful to reduce email inbox, good culture tool, feel connected even when remote. Especially for the generation that grew up on AOL Instant Messenger.

Google Workspace | $6-$18 / user / month vs. Office 365 | $5 — $20 / user / month

Google and Microsoft are both vying to be the one-stop-shop of business software across: email, database storage, instant messaging, video conferencing, collaboration on spreadsheets, documents, presentations, and a litany of other tools. Each company clearly leads in a few tools, but your decision ultimately comes down to personal preference more than any one technical advantage. One piece of advice: pick a tool and stick with it. The worst thing you can end up doing is paying for both sets of tools and not having cohesion among your workforce, and/or having to migrate 5–10 years of data.

The next 10 years

Just as these software tools have drastically improved speed, efficiency, and overall output over the past 10 years, we are likely to see similar, if not exponentially greater, impacts from AI and Machine learning tools over the next decade as we continue to find ways to automate and reduce human error.

Love a tool that isn’t on here? Reach out at let me know!