Startup SaaS stack for people and processes

April 21, 2021 · 24 minute read

Tommy Dang

Engineering

TLDR

A startup’s SaaS (software-as-a-service) stack can be a game changer in improving and optimizing day-to-day operations. While every company’s needs are different, there are foundational pieces that are critical for long term success and growth within your company.

To help other startups get ahead, we are sharing what software we currently use at Mage (tech related SaaS such as AWS, Datadog, Effx, etc. will be shared in a future article).

Here are the categories of SaaS we cover in this edition:

  • Coding

  • Design

  • IT/Security

  • Communication

  • Documentation

  • Project management

  • CRM

  • HR & payroll

  • Legal services

  • Finance & accounting

  • Stocks & compensation

Coding

How society will look once every startup finds the right coding tools

Using the right text editor software can drastically increase productivity by catching errors in your code, increasing automation, keyboard shortcuts, and more.

What we use

:

VSCode

,

Sublime

,

PyCharm

Alternatives

:

Atom

,

Eclipse

We use Sublime as one of our text editors. Drawn to it for its “fuzzy search” which allows for a quick recovery of files based on a few letters or words, Sublime integrates well with our functions. Another feature we utilize is the package manager which allows us to install community created modules that add functionality and a customized look and feel. Sublime is also more lightweight than other software and thus loads much faster.

Another staple coding tool we use is VSCode. VSCode has several out-of-the-box features that set it apart from other tools: searching code across several directories, built-in git features, plethora of extensions, and integrated terminals. It provides a great interface and shortcuts that are familiar to our programmers. A huge pro of VSCode is that its open source; meaning anyone can add new improvements to software that benefits every user.

PyCharm’s IDEs (integrated development environments) are extremely beneficial to the developer: superfast code navigation and indexing, automatic code linting and reformatting, intuitive git integration, powerful refactoring capabilities and import optimization, great error catching, and support for third party plugins. PyCharm’s IDE works well in tandem with Python’s type hints as it unlocks a new layer of error catching and information to present. When using a debugger, PyCharm is powerful, a joy to use, and has helped to avoid countless difficult to track bugs and problems.

Design

Delivering magical experiences (one of our core virtues) to customers through an intuitive and simple product should be the main objective of any product team. This is done in large part by using the right design tool. We believe that collaboration produces the best result (that’s why Mage is a collaborative AI tool for developers), and thus sought out a design tool that can deliver that need.

What we use

:

Figma

Alternatives

:

Sketch

,

Affinity Designer

For our design processes, we use the cloud-based design tool Figma. We use Figma to draw low-fidelity wireframes and product flows in the early stages of ideation. Towards the later stages, we do high-fidelity screen designs, prototyping, and lots of pixel pushing. At every stage of the process, we get feedback from our stakeholders. Once our designs are agreed upon, our developers can get the specs they need. This streamlined workflow saves time and effort for every person involved in the process. With Figma, there are no downloads needed; making it easy to share with anyone involved. Using Figma in this way is a great way to include non-design partners in the design process.

IT/Security

Cloud-based IT software can be used for password protection, data security, and compliance solutions. Integrating a SaaS security solution into a startup increases IT’s efficiency by providing up-to-date software to protect against cybersecurity threats.

Password manager

What we use

:

Last Password

,

1Password

Alternatives

:

aWallet

,

Bitwarden

Last Password is the number one password manager tool and works well for our needs. By logging into your accounts on their software, Last Password will secure your passwords in one safe and easy to access platform. Last Password also generates strong passwords, has a sharing feature, and alerts customers when personal information is at risk. 1Password uses similar features and technology that keep passwords safe while allowing team members access to these passwords.

Single sign-on

What we use

:

Okta

Alternatives

:

OneLogin

Okta’s cloud-based software helps companies guarantee proper user authentication when logging into accounts. It also allows developers to build identity controls into applications and web services. Okta’s interface is easy to navigate, and its popularity makes it familiar to most team members and customers.

2FA (aka two factor authentication)

Alternatives

:

Duo

Google Authenticator is an easy-to-use, straightforward two-step verification service.

Mobile Device Management

Alternatives

:

Hexnode

,

Kandji

Jamf provides a free and straightforward setup to effectively manage all Apple devices. We use this in tandem with Apple Business Manager and Apple’s automated device enrollment program.

Compliance

What we use

:

SecureFrame

,

VGS

,

Kolide

Alternatives

:

CyberOne

Kolide can help to communicate your security guidelines to employees, integrated with Slack, and recommends clear and easy to resolve action items.

SOC 2 is an auditing process designed to protect the privacy of an organization and clients. It’s an eventual requirement for SaaS companies who store customer data. Using software can help your company to navigate the important information and requirements needed for a successful audit.

For our SOC 2 process, we are choosing between SecureFrame and VGS. VGS’s security foundations are free and helpful in getting started with the SOC 2 process. Secureframe offers great customer support to get our certification complete from end-to-end. They also provide a lot of automation during the process to reduce the amount of time our developers need to spend working on SOC 2 compliance.

Communication

Stay productive while working away from coworkers

With most teams working remotely, it becomes essential for businesses to implement communication software that can help facilitate the brainstorming and the exchange of ideas that comes naturally with spontaneous workplace communication.

Internal Collaboration

What we use

:

Slack

,

Tandem

,

Vowel

We use Slack for its depth of features: file sharing, messaging, and customer integration which provides our team with an easy-to-use, well-managed communication software that is the solution to long email chains. Slack integrates well with other apps. Our team pairs Slack with GitHub which increases productivity by displaying our development work alongside the team’s communication channel.

For voice calls, small video chats, and real time collaboration, we found Tandem to be the best on the market. Its desktop integration allows teams to talk and collaborate without links and meeting rooms. It also allows the team to share what they’re working on and when they’re available to talk and collaborate. We found this to be the closest thing to working in an office.

Finally, we use Vowel for our large team meetings. Vowel not only provides video meetings, but a meeting management service. Its features and integrations: automatic transcription, assigning action items, and setting agendas allow for a much more productive and efficient way of running meetings and recalling discussion notes.

External Communication

What we use

:

Zoom

We found Zoom to be the best service to hold customer meetings. Zoom’s superior video quality and audio was reason enough for us to choose it over other video conference software such as Google Meet or Skype. The depth of Zoom exclusive features: recording, waiting room, and participant interaction allows us to conduct the most professional and productive meetings possible with our customers. Zoom isn’t perfect though, it has many flaws such as complicated default settings such as not allowing other participants to share their screen without changing a setting in Zoom.

Email

What we use

:

Gmail

Alternatives

:

Outlook

,

Spark

,

Superhuman

Having quick email communication is one of the easiest ways to boost customer support satisfaction. Using a software that can help organize your inbox and track conversations with teammates, customers, and investors will result in better team organization, communication, and efficiency.

For its widespread availability, easy to use interface, and multitude of features, we use Gmail for our email correspondence. Gmail makes sorting your inbox extremely easy to do by creating categories based on keywords or senders. The cloud-based software allows for email access on any device and nearly unlimited free storage. Gmail’s streamline interface and wide range of features integrated best into our company.

Documentation

Don’t bury yourself in paperwork or get lost in file cabinets

Choosing the right document management software is key to streamlining workflows, scaling the team, and properly organizing business materials. We sought out a document sharing software that could foster collaboration amongst team-members.

What we use

:

Notion

,

Google Docs

Alternatives

:

Slab

,

Coda

,

OneDrive

We are currently using a combination of Google Docs and Notion. Google Doc’s straight-forward, easy to use approach to editing and collaborating on content is top-notch. One downside to Google Docs is that it’s hard to find documents. We use Notion for its ease in browsing and discovering documents that you may not know existed. While we are still testing out Notion, we found the app difficult to copy and paste large sections and to tab list type sections on mobile devices; such as numbered or bullet lists.

Project management

Poor project management blocks progress

Effectively managing projects and their processes aids in shipping valuable features to your customers. Using a project management software can lead to better team collaboration to increase the quality of the product and decrease time it takes to create it.

What we use

:

Airtable

Airtable is a necessary part of our weekly business operations. As straightforward as a Google Sheet, Airtable goes further by offering a better interface, flexible database, and many more features: ability to create multiple tables, sorting different types of data, linking records together. Its integration with Kanban boards and storage in different columns provides helpful information when tracking projects. Read more on how we use Airtable by reading “

How we organize our software development process

”.

CRM (customer relationship management)

Tim Cook looking at all the loyal Apple customers in his CRM

Productively using a CRM (customer relationship management) tool can give your company insight on customer behavior and information that will aid in creating and adapting products best suited to customer needs.

What we use

:

Clay

Alternatives

:

Salesforce

,

Hubspot

We use Clay because it’s very flexible and we can configure it to our specific needs. It’s as flexible as a Google Sheets but has a superior user experience. One of the biggest pros of using Clay is how programmable it is. You can utilize its vast capabilities right out of the box. However, they provide many no-code and low-code functions that allow you to fetch data from various sources and map that data to your columns. Furthermore, you can have different functions’ output be the input into another function. For example, we have a function that looks up a company website URL based on the company name. Then, using the inferred website URL, we have another function to look up more details about that company which are derived from their website and other related sources.

Community management

Build a strong product through connecting with your community

It’s through the use of a community management tool that we are able to understand the needs of our customers and build the most useful products. Without the right community management software, you will fall out of touch with your users and build the wrong product.

What we use

:

Discord

,

Yen

Alternatives

:

Orbit

,

Open Social

We use Discord as our primary community management software. Discord servers can accommodate hundreds of users in one company’s channel at no additional cost to the company. We can use this service to host webinars and tutorials on our software to better grow our brand and build up our community.

While not currently available for public access, we plan to use Yen as soon as it launches out of stealth. Yen allows for potential users, team members, and your community a way to engage with one another without leaving your website. This integration allows for a better user experience as no additional app needs to be downloaded and all community feedback, engagement, and reviews can be easily accessed through your website.

HR & payrol

Equipping your HR team with the right tools for success is essential in hiring the right talent and implementing practices that will make your startup run smoothly. Using a SaaS-based HR program allows businesses the power to manage all the classic HR functions and use them to evolve with advancing technology.

What we use

:

Gusto

Alternatives

:

Rippling

,

Quickbooks

Gusto is our preferred choice as it offers the most all-encompassing functions: manage payroll, benefits, new team member on-boarding, project tracking, team directory and surveys, company policies, and more. The platform is user-friendly and comes with a very helpful and responsive customer service team, unlike other platforms we tested. Gusto had the most transparent pricing with no additional or hidden fees and since we used Brex for our banking, we received 50% off for the first 12 months of Gusto.

Legal services

Don’t let your scales get out of balance

With any startup comes lots of legal paperwork and documentation. Learning how to navigate, read, and write such paperwork can be extremely time-consuming and riddled with errors. We use legal assistance software to increase efficiency, saving ourselves time and money.

What we use

:

Clerky

Alternatives

:

Rocket Lawyer

,

LegalShield

We found Clerky to be the best fit for our functions. Their interface is easy to navigate and read even for those not equipped with a legal background. Clerky’s team provides responsive customer support who will answer your questions and flag paperwork issues. The platform offers legal assistance for formation, fundraising, and hiring.

Note: Clerky is great to get started quickly. However, if you start raising money and your company grows, you’ll want a team of great corporate lawyers by your side. We use Cooley because they have very smart people who feel like part of our team.

Finance & accounting

Protect your assets

Banking

SaaS financial services help to keep your cash safe, monitor and pay bills, and accumulate corporate credit card rewards. For online platforms, it’d be very difficult to facilitate any of these transactions without the proper software.

What we use

:

Brex

,

SVB

,

NorthOne

Alternatives

:

Mercury

,

Rho

For our financials we use a combination of Brex and SVB. Brex offers an easy to use mobile app and website interface making it easy to access and view funds. Their platform is very affordable for startups as it offers free transactions, no wire fees, and no minimum balance requirement.

SVB’s customer service is top of the line and their vast experience working with startups has made them experts in startup banking. Banking with SVB is ideal for startups because of its three-year period of no/low fees, unlimited transactions, as well as access to networking events and webinars. Putting money away with SVB gives customers a 1% interest rate. SVB falls short in that their online interface feels dated and functions like opening an account, can be confusing to navigate and could take a few days to complete.

We just learned about NorthOne and applied to become a member. Their automatic categorization of purchases, reporting, team sub-accounts, mobile app, instant customer support, and focus on smaller companies is a huge need for us.

Credit Cards

What we use

:

Ramp

For credit card purchases, we use Ramp. Ramp offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases, and its intuitive software keeps spending reports well organized. This helps us better monitor our spending and more easily create reports for financial planning and analysis.

Accounting

Accounting services are used to track financial statements, monitor and reconcile bank accounts, facilitate purchase orders, and cash flow. Keeping an organized track record of these reports is essential to the business process.

What we use

:

Xero

Alternatives

:

Quickbooks

,

Freshbooks

While Quickbooks is the most popular software on the market, we found Xero to be best fit for our needs. Xero’s user-friendly interface makes it easy to pay bills, manage inventory, and account for assets. While Xero lacks a payroll service, it integrates well with Gusto. At a more affordable price point, Xero doesn’t sacrifice any of the features its competitors offer.

Stocks & compensation

Take your stocks to the moon by managing them with the right SaaS tool

Equity Management/Stocks

Going at equity management alone by using spreadsheets is error-prone and can hold back the daily functioning and success of a business. Equity management software allows startups a medium to manage their cap tables, valuations, and equity plans which can then be shared with investors and the team.

What we use

:

Carta

Alternatives

:

Ledgy

,

Certent

Carta offers us an equity management tool that simplifies the way we manage our shares. Carta’s well constructed user interface allows for non-experts to read, construct, and share cap tables in an intuitive and informative way. Carta beats out its competitors by offering an extensive list of features which cover all the equity management assistance a startup needs.

Compensation

To attract and onboard new talent, a well-thought-out compensation package is needed to create and reflect a new hire’s experience as well as the size of company, industry, and location. Using SaaS tools to create compensation packages can create the most accurate package, while saving your company time and money.

What we use

:

Pequity

,

Levels

, data from investors

Alternatives

:

Glassdoor

,

Indeed

We use Pequity because it acts as your in-house talent organization. The software helps create salaries that fit the needs of the company at every stage of growth. Additionally, they provide us a tool for equity compensation for each level and function; they even break it down by geography (helpful for remote companies). With a great user experience and responsive customer support, we highly recommend Pequity.

As additional tools, we use

Levels.fyi

and leverage our investors’ data and their equity packages to determine the most beneficial compensation packages to offer our top talent.

Tech stack coming soon

In a follow-up article next month (May 2021), we’ll be sharing what SaaS tools we use in our tech stack. Stay tuned!

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