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Pilot Guide: Recommended Financial Stack for Startups

Pilot Guide: Recommended Financial Stack for Startups

Written by 
Waseem Daher
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Published: 
December 1, 2023
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Pilot Guide: Recommended Financial Stack for Startups

At Pilot, we do bookkeeping, tax prep, and fractional CFO work for literally thousands of startups, so we’ve learned a lot about what systems work well and what don’t. This is the back-office stack we’d strongly encourage you to use—battle-tested by our customers and us.

Why you should trust us

In addition to being the CEO of Pilot.com, the largest startup-focused accounting firm in the US, I’m also a three-time startup founder, with previous companies acquired by Oracle and Dropbox.

More importantly, this guide reflects how our customers are voting with their feet. Every top-ranked pick here is top-ranked because it’s the most popular choice in our customer base as of December 2023, and every recommendation in this guide is used by at least 100 of our customers.

This is a great place to rely on the wisdom of the crowds. This isn’t really an area you want to innovate—you want to go with something proven and known-good, and this guide can help you do that.

Our top priority is providing you with the best recommendations, but because we work with all of these providers so frequently, we have business relationships with many of them. These business relationships generally let us get you better rates, but please see our disclosure for the full details.

Best bank

Who needs this and what you should know: Every startup needs a bank account to store its company’s funds, so we recommend opening one immediately. Some of the options listed here are not technically banks, but we think they’re all reputable places to store your startup’s funds.

Separately: if you’ve raised a substantial amount of money, you should also check out our guide to getting a competitive interest rate on your startup capital.

Most Popular in Pilot's customer base

Mercury

A very popular choice

Mercury is very popular among our customer base, and its customers love its user-friendliness.

Another great option

Brex Cash

Another very good option

Especially if you’re also using their corporate card.

Best credit card

Who needs this and what you should know: “Back in the day,” it was basically impossible for startups to get corporate cards without having the founders personally guarantee them. That all changed in 2017 with the emergence of a new crop of corporate cards for startups.

Now that you can get a corporate card without a personal guarantee, we strongly recommend signing up with one of these services ASAP. Putting your expenses on your corporate card means you and your cofounders don’t need to deal with painful expense reimbursement workflows—and plus, you earn rewards points.

(Note that, technically, these are charge cards, not credit cards—you can’t carry a balance on any of them.)

Most popular in Pilot’s customer base

Brex

A very popular corporate card for startups

Brex reignited interest in corporate cards for startups when they came on the scene in 2017 and remains an extremely popular choice.

Another great option

Ramp

Another popular option

Ramp originally targeted larger startups but has now found a robust following with early-stage startups as well.

Best payroll service

Who needs this and what you should know: If you have employees, you really need to pay them through a payroll system. Simply writing them a check will get you in hot water with the IRS. Save yourself time and trouble, and set up a payroll system as soon as you want to employ someone. As a bonus, you can also use these systems to pay contractors.

Most Popular in Pilot's customer base

Gusto

The original startup payroll solution

Gusto has been synonymous with “payroll for startups” for a decade. If you’re a Pilot customer, please use the link below (it’ll automatically grant us access):

Another great option

Rippling

HR + IT together

Rippling is another very popular choice for startups and is giving Gusto a bit of a run for its money.

Most popular option for international payroll:

Deel

Most popular for international payroll

If you need to employ people in other countries, there are a slew of “EOR” (Employer of Record) services that will hire them on your behalf. Deel is the most popularly-used one among our customer base.

Best cap table management software

Who needs this and what you should know: A capitalization table (or cap table) is essentially a record of ownership: who owns what shares in your company. In the olden days, this was maintained in an Excel sheet, typically by your lawyer, though there are now robust software products to do this instead.

Most Popular in Pilot's customer base

Carta

The incumbent

The most popular option, and quite feature-filled. Some customers have expressed concern about its price (and price scaling), but your lawyer is likely already familiar with it.

Another option

Pulley

An up-and-coming alternative

While not at feature-parity with Carta, Pulley has found traction among YC startups and other companies disillusioned by Carta’s rates.

Best accounting solution

Who needs this and what you should know: Every business needs to do accounting. It’s required both so that you have a handle on the financial health of the business, but also so that you can do your corporate taxes. You have two options: hire a reputable provider to help take care of this for you, or try to DIY.

We think that DIY here is a mistake, for a variety of reasons—your scarcest resource is founder time, and you’re much better-served having this handled by experts. Our team of experts does the accounting for literally thousands of startups, from pre-seed to Series D and beyond, so you’re in good hands.

Our recommended accounting firm

Pilot.com

The largest startup-focused accounting firm in the US

Working with thousands of startups, our team of experts understands your unique challenges. Our accountants, fractional CFOs, and tax specialists are dedicated to building a strong finance foundation for your business.

Our recommended accounting software:

Accounting software is not a replacement for your accounting firm. It’s a tool that they (or you) use to maintain your books. It’s important that your books are stored in an industry-standard tool because lots of people end up wanting to access them: your accountant, your tax preparer, and your future in-house accounting team, as an example. If the books are already in a tool they know how to use, the whole process is made more efficient.

Pilot only supports QuickBooks Online, and there’s a reason for that: it’s the industry standard in the United States.

Our recommended accounting software

QuickBooks Online

Industry standard general ledger tool

While clunky at times, QuickBooks’s biggest selling point is its dominant market share, and all the benefits that come with that.

Best expense reporting software

Who needs this and what you should know: If your employees regularly purchase things and need to be reimbursed, you should use expense reporting software. The paper trail and confidence that you aren’t double-reimbursing a given expense will far outweigh the cost of the tool.

Having said that, our preferred tool is… no tool at all. If you’re comfortable issuing your employees corporate cards, your employees don’t need to front the cash, and you don’t need to worry about reimbursement workflows.

Most Popular in Pilot's customer base

Expensify

The best of a pretty mundane category

If you need a standalone expense reimbursement tool, this is the best in the game.

Another option

Ramp

If you’re already using its card product

If you already use Ramp, it has basic expense reporting functionality built-in, which you could also consider using.

Best Accounts Payable automation software

Who needs this and what you should know: We generally recommend you defer this one by putting as many of your expenses on your corporate card as possible. But if you have significant numbers of bills that you’re paying (or you’re trying to coordinate with a third party to get them paid), it’s time to put into place something more structured.

Most Popular in Pilot's customer base

Bill.com

Popular, if a bit old-school

Like QuickBooks Online, Bill.com has become something of an industry standard, with a payment network of other vendors, etc. The web interface could use some love, but there is real value in the network effects.

Another option

Ramp

If you’re already using its card product

If you’re already using Ramp’s corporate cards, you may also want to consider its AP solution, which has seen reasonable adoption in our customer base.

Worth keeping an eye on: Corporate card providers are beginning to add bill pay functionality into their products, which might be an interesting opportunity to explore, depending on your needs.

Disclosure

We have business relationships with many of the service providers above. Our top priority is helping companies set up great systems that serve them well, and we wouldn’t have pursued these business relationships or chosen to recommend these providers if we didn’t think they were great.

In particular: the founders of Gusto, Stripe, and Carta are investors in Pilot. We participate in partner programs offered by Expensify and Bill.com that allow us to provide discounts on these products to our customers. We participate in partner programs offered by Gusto, Rippling, Brex, Ramp, and Intuit that (1) allow us to provide better support to our customers who use these providers and (2) provide incentives to us for referring companies to these providers. If you sign up with Gusto via our referral link, we will get bookkeeper access to your Gusto account. We participate in an Intuit partner program which we use to pay for Quickbooks Online for customers that purchase it through us.

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