Best SaaS Stack for Startups
Right now, it is literally possible to run a business purely on software that is located in the cloud – without ever having to worry about owning a server or having to pay for premium software licenses. With a well-researched selection of low-risk software subscriptions, any business – big or small – can operate without the overhead of previous generations, and without an IT department to support it.
What is a SaaS stack?
Software that is delivered remotely through the cloud is today referred to as software-as-a-service or SaaS for short. Typically, you subscribe to it through an internet browser. In many cases, you download an app and access it as you wish.
A SaaS stack is a collection of software solutions that is run and managed by remote service providers. These providers deliver the selections of software based on their consumers’ needs. In other words, SaaS can be thought of as being leased software solutions that are maintained by service providers and are not hosted on the subscribing clients’ premises, but in the cloud.
The modern cloud architecture – where data and software solutions are hosted on remote servers run by SaaS service providers and accessed over the Internet – has been found to be preferable over out-of-the-box applications that run on business’ own servers. They have, in fact, been found to perform arguably better than them.
In a typical stack formation, a business’ day-to-day activities, including everything from data storage to business processing, and even on to their customers’ outreach via sales and marketing solutions, is done using technology that is located remotely.
What advantages can a startup except from a SaaS stack?
Small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) can expect many advantages by implementing SaaS stacks, including:
The price – many of the applications that startups and small businesses use in their SaaS stacks are free while those that they need to pay for come at a fraction of the price of corresponding premium applications
No overhead cost – with no servers to care for and no software to administer, startups can save substantial amounts of money on their day-to-day running costs
Implementation time – setting up a SaaS stack takes almost no time; once the subscription formalities are complete, all that is left is to fire up a browser and start using the applications eliminating the time that is normally wasted in implementing on-site software solutions
24/7 Help – the SaaS provider will support the startup from Day 1 which means their clients won’t have to face technical issues on their own
Updated versions of software solutions – with SaaS providers handling their data storage, startups stops being security risks due to skipped patches or forgotten updates and ensures they always works with the latest version of a software solution
Ease-of-use – the amount of training and educational material that comes with online applications is immense as the creators (and SaaS service providers) make sure they don’t lose users due to their inability to make proper use of their products
Scalability – cloud software solutions, like SaaS stacks can be easily scaled up to meet the rising demands of a growing business; this ensures a business’ continuity well into the foreseeable future
Greater productivity – when all the systems integrate to create one big oiled machine, colleagues can work together with ease as collaboration, communication, and data flow is at its best thus increasing a business’ overall productivity and success
Competitive edge – with the right SaaS stacks in place, startups can challenge, and stand up to, the bigger players on equal footing
Meeting customers’ demands – with the ability to add SaaS solutions to its stack, a business can rise up to meet all the challenges and the demands of its customers, which will make them happy consumers
What does the SaaS stack look like for successful business owners in 2019?
We took a survey that included numerous successful small business owners and found out what SaaS stacks they were using. The results of the survey showed what software solutions helped them create and efficiently run their businesses – which ranged from web development agencies to marketing and car rental services.
While it was almost expected to see many of them agree on using some of the more popular cloud applications like G Suite and OneDrive, there were a couple of surprises that managed to pop up here and there.
Below, we find the names of the business owners and founders along with the SaaS applications they currently have in their stacks. But, before we jump right into it, it should be noted that although these are the popular SaaS stacks being used in 2019 it doesn’t mean you have to choose them.
As a matter of fact, it just means that now that you have seen how SaaS stacks are built it is up to you to design one that meets your business’ specific needs.
And so, without further ado, the SaaS stacks that successful business owners use in 2019 are:
1. Data storage
Online database and reporting services
Top contenders: Kohezion
Notable mentions: OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox
One thing that many of the startups liked about Kohezion was the ease with which they could transform their less-efficient spreadsheets into robust databases that could then be drawn upon for more efficient reporting and analysis.
Anouk Pélissou is the Senior Director of her accounting firm, Pélissou & Associé. They use Kohezion for their online data storage which, she says, has saved them about $25,000 in fees that would have otherwise gone into buying an out-of-the-box data storage system. And, that is not including the $18,000 per year, she estimates, that would have gone to paying for support staff had they chosen a local database solution.
Pélissou says she is happy with her choice of online database and reporting service because of Kohezion’s “ability to give me new features on a regular interval. We can create automated reports when we need them. We have very specific needs and it doesn’t take a week to create them – it is very responsive.”
Many of the other contributing businesses agreed that OneDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox – the leaders in the cloud document storage business – were the best choices to go for. This also served as proof that they were, indeed, good at what they did and, among them, offered everything a startup could need by way of keeping their documents easily accessible and highly secure at the same time.
2. Office Management Software
Accounting and Billing Software
Top contenders: Bench, HelloBonsai, Square
Noteworthy mentions: QuickBooks, Bill.com, Xero, Expensify, Run powered by ADP
Many of the businesses we surveyed had the highest praises for two software solutions they used to keep track of their expenses, invoices, and other financial transactions: Bench and HelloBonsai.
“Bench is an online-only, cloud-based accounting solution. They take care of your books and prepare you for your taxes,” says JP Wallhorn, Founder and CEO of Syntx, a software development startup.
He adds, “HelloBonsai is our favorite platform when it comes to tracking times, expenses, sending out contracts and proposals, as well as invoices. It’s an all-in-one solution. It even offers various payment integrations.”
Meanwhile, Mariya Bentz, Founder and Creator at MBM Agency, says that “as the founder of a marketing agency, I spent this year using a few different invoice options for clients. I ended up using Square [Invoices] and I love it because I can easily send recurring invoices to my clients and can automatically charge them monthly. This saves me a good amount of time since I don’t have to take a day to write and send invoices every month.”
She adds, “The automatic payments is a huge plus as well since, now, I don’t have to wait on the clients to pay every month.”
Bryan Lin, co-founder of tech consulting company Aloa, meanwhile, also chooses Bench because he says it “provides professional accounting services with a simple and easy-to-understand web interface,” and that he never needs to worry about his company’s accounting process ever again.
Top contenders: Google Calendar, Calendly.
Noteworthy mentions: Outlook
Keeping track of appointments and schedules is important in planning a business’ activities and contributes to streamlining its growth. In our survey, we found that two applications were the schedule-keepers of choice: Google Calendar and Calendly.
“Calendly is HUGE!” says Wallhorn. “No more back and forth; just send out pre-defined times and meeting information and the customer can pick from any available spot you define.”
3. Document Management Software
Top contenders: OneDrive, Google Drive and G Suite, Google for Business,
Noteworthy mentions: Office 365, Airtable, Adobe Sign
It didn’t come as too much of a surprise that the surveyed startups mostly chose to work with solutions that came from two of the biggest players in the tech industry: Microsoft (OneDrive) and Google (Google Drive).
At Syntx, Wallhorn said they “leverage OneDrive or Google Drive to share and work on documents. It allows you to easily share documents, work on them together, and avoids having to send out versions 1,2,3,4,5 etc.”
Meanwhile, over at Aloa, it is G Suite that is the office application suite of choice.
“Email, document collaboration, larger files – you can’t go wrong with Google Suite and the admin tools it offers you,” Lin says.
4. Project Management Software
Top contenders: Airtable, Slate
Noteworthy mentions: Trello, Basecamp, Asana
Although Trello and Asana are two of the better-known project management software solutions out there, Airtable – a relative newcomer that is taking the tech industry by storm – was the most-praised and utilized solution among the startups included in our survey.
“Airtable is like Excel on steroids,” Lin says. “You can invite people to be guests of a table and make edits. It also has webhooks into Slack to ping a channel when a table is updated so everyone stays in the loop.”
Being a software company, Aloa, needed a way to keep track of the software code they were sharing with their clients. They also needed a way to efficiently generate the documentation that was required to record the progress that was being made.
That is why they use Slate which is an “open source API documentation generator. If you are creating an API for your company and for your clients, this is a great tool. It uses Markdown, which is easy to learn, and provides out-of-the-box syntax highlighting for 100 programming languages. You can use Github to host your docs and set up Slate to pull from your repository.”
5. Communication and collaboration
Top contenders: Slack
When it came to collaboration, Slack was the application of choice – in fact, it was the only one. The businesses that had a need for an internal collaboration software solution all opted for this “Little Software That Could.”
“Slack is the #1 communication tool when it comes to collaboration. It gives quick and easy access to other employees,” Wallhorn says, adding that it had “various integrations to notify your team about the latest support tickets, leads, and various other inquiries or updates.”
Calling it a “no-brainer” choice, Aloa’s Lin says, that they use Slack for “communication, instant messaging, and small file sharing. It’s absolutely essential to our workflow, and most major decisions are made in Slack channels.”
He also notes that since Slack is so integral to their business’ workflow, many of the decisions they make on what software to use heavily depended on whether or not it offered Slack webhook integration. This is because, Lin added, “The best tools for our team can hook into a Slack channel to ping us for important notifications.”
Top contenders: Google Hangouts, Google Meet, Zoom, UberConference, Zoom Video Conferencing
Noteworthy mentions: Skype, Open Phone, Liscio
Google Inc. was the undisputed champion in the web conferencing category with both Google Hangouts and Google Meet being the hands-down favorites. Their light digital footprint but high communication capabilities – text, audio, and video – and delivery seems to have helped them corner the market.
The other popular application in this category was Zoom. Its endearing features included its easy setup and configuration, ability to handle conferences in HD (voice and video), compartmentalization in “rooms” for multiple meetings to be held at once, its price – which is free (without the multiple-meetings-at-once features included) – and much more.
“Zoom allows for large groups of participants and provides the ability to record your conferences so you can send VODs to people who missed the conference,” Lin says. “We use Zoom all the time when we’re working remotely to make sure everyone’s in the loop.”
Aloa also uses Open Phone “which is cheap, has a simple pricing plan, and clean and minimalistic Android and iOS apps with the ability to do both calls and SMS, and also because you can choose the area code you want. Open Phone is great for when you want a company phone number to be shared between your members,” according to Lin.
Darren Root is the CEO of RootWorks LLC, a company that “helps nearly 600 CPA firms nationwide think through their digital tools in an ever-changing environment.”
He says, “Email was not designed for secure communications for professional service businesses and their customers. Messaging back and forth with customers is insecure and siloed. Client Portals have also been a problem for customers, they are not easy to use, as the customers’ information – across all their service providers – is not simple and easy to access in one place. Liscio makes communications secure and documents easy to find across all of our customers’ professional service providers.”
Robbie Sherrard, Founder and Web Developer at RobbiesDevShop.com, says that he prefers Google Hangouts to confer with his clients and colleagues. Meanwhile, Alex Levin, the founding partner at L+R – a professional service business with offices in Brooklyn, L.A., and Barcelona says that they use Google Meet for the conferencing needs.
Over at QuartzClinical, a cloud-based healthcare analytics company, they opt for UberConference among their SaaS stack applications, which they say has “translated into a high level of customer engagement, driving record growth in B2B and B2C sales… and also a higher customer satisfaction rate.”
And, at RootWorks LLC, the conference tool of choice is Zoom Video Conferencing.
Top contenders: Polymail
Noteworthy mentions: Gmail
Contention in this category was almost negligible because the two email applications of choice, Polymail and Gmail, were equally popular. The only separating factor was the fact that Polymail was used by macOS and iOS users while Gmail had a more mixed user base.
Lin says Aloa uses Polymail because of “it’s clean interface, email tracking, follow up reminders, scheduled emails, teams feature that allows you to collaborate with your team and share emails, multiple email accounts in one app (for macOS and iOS).”
He adds, “I use it not only for business emails, but also for personal emails, it has all the features I need in an easy-to-navigate interface.”
6. HR, Payroll, and Staff Management
Top contenders: Justworks, Zoho People, Orange HRM, Gusto
Noteworthy mentions: Kohezion
Here too, there was no surprise that the biggest players in the HR management field – Justworks and Zoho People – would be the applications of choice. But, it was Kohezion, the easy-to-build online database and custom apps platform that gave us an indication there was a rise in the technical contributions of citizen developers among the startups’ tech staff.
When asked about which cloud application they chose to handle their HR, payroll, benefits, and other personnel administration related issues, the answers were varied:
- At L+R, Levin said they chose Justworks
- According to its Founder, Vatsal Shah, Pragmatic, an Indian management consultancy company, uses both Zoho People and Orange HRM
- Lin, at Aloa, says they chose to go with Gusto because it offered automatic tax payment and filing, and also makes compliance with regulations easy. It also “works for all 50 states and handles W2s and 1099s, so you don’t have to worry about them.”
- Oriana House uses a custom-made database through Kohezion to manage their employee training data and skills proficiency data for their community corrections service programs.
7. Customer Relations Management (CRM)
Top contenders: Salesforce, Pipedrive
Noteworthy mentions: HubSpot
Salesforce is a widely popular CRM solution and was proven to be so in our survey too. It was praised for its ability to run on any device – PCs, laptops, and even smartphones. But, Pipedrive came in a not-too-distant second.
Wallhorn says they use Salesforce at Syntx for many reasons but most importantly because it’s flexible.
“You can fully customize it towards your needs. There are various license options that make it not only very affordable but also scalable at the same time. It can integrate with other applications out of the box and has a setup-automation with its no-code approach,” he says.
8. Email marketing software
Top contenders: Drip, Mailshake, MailChimp, Constant Contact, Drift, ActiveCampaign
Noteworthy mentions: Hubspot
While there were many candidates in this category, Drip took gold simply because it covered email marketing from start to end and was very light on resource utilization. Even a relatively new user of this marketing solution would be able to launch successful email campaigns. Close, in second, is Mailshake which was highly praised for its ability to integrate with other marketing and management software solutions.
“Get a tool such as Drip that allows drip email campaigns and customize it towards your custom segments. Personalize your emails to make them even better and more relevant,” Wallhorn advises.
He adds, “Mailshake makes cold email outreach easy and painless. Upload your leads, scan the email addresses prior to sending out and define a cold outreach campaign. You can decide how many emails, in what time frame, and during what time blocks your email gets delivered.”
SaaS marketing consultant Alecia O’Brien has seen a significant increase in clients preferring Drip for their early stages of email marketing, purely for its cost effectiveness and ease of use. “Small companies who are just getting their feet wet with email marketing and funnel creation are apprehensive to invest in a big platform like Hubspot or Sharpspring. It allows them to experiment, and gives them to time to ramp up people on the idea of automation.”
Aloa goes on to say that they also use Mailshake which has a “low learning curve,” and that the “key features are A/B testing and their ‘Lead Catcher’ that groups all your leads together and allows you to respond to them in one place. Mailshake has single-handedly boosted our response and conversion rates.”
The Aloa SaaS stack also has Hubspot in it because it is “easy to learn, pretty simplistic in terms of features but provides a BCC address and a forwarding address that you can include in your emails to automatically log emails and conversations.”
9. Payment Gateways
Top contenders: TransferWise, Stripe
Noteworthy mentions: Western Union Edge
TransferWise has managed to rise to the top of the payment gateway pyramid because of the transparency of its transaction costs which is one of the lowest (if not the lowest) in the industry. Meanwhile, Stripe was the gateway of choice for the more tech-inclined startups who knew how to configure and use it better to their advantage.
TransferWise is the payment gateway they use in the Aloa SaaS stack. Lin said it “guaranteed rates, was transparent about fees, and had a quick turnaround.”
He goes on to add that although the gateway did have Android and iOS apps, he thought they needed “some improvements.” And yet, Aloa still finds it to be “the best software for paying our international vendors, and most of the vendors we work with were already using TransferWise so everyone’s happy.”
Another payment gateway Aloa was looking into adopting into its stack is Western Union.
“We’ve recently been looking at WU Edge since they supposedly have the best rates and the lowest fees. Great for paying international and domestic vendors, but it takes a couple weeks to get started since you have to apply to their platform,” he said.
Talking about Stripe, a second gateway they used, he says it is “easy to set up, very developer-friendly with extensive documentation and tutorials.”
He goes on to add that Stripe was “made for developers, by developers” but that “even if you’re not a developer, you should have no trouble following their tutorials for getting started.