4 SAAS Solutions for Running Finance at Your Startup

Business by on August 18, 2011 at 9:46 pm

I’ve received a bunch of questions from friends starting companies recently about the tools that I’d recommend for running a business. Hopefully this will help others in the future.

My general bias is for web-based solutions for everything admin, so I never considered desktop solutions. Once you have a finance department at your company your needs will be different. My objective is to build our business as large as I can without needing a finance department (or person). SAAS-only solutions make it a ton easier to engage accountants, bookkeepers, etc. helping further delay the need for a finance person (overhead).

Paycycle (now Intuit Payroll) for payroll
I can’t recommend Paycycle enough. In fact I would make any this service the central component of your accounting decisions. While I was initially lukewarm on the service, I have rapidly grown to consider it essential.

Maybe ADP compares, I haven’t looked at it and their pricing isn’t on the web. But, I’ve rarely seen an offline company offer a better online solution than an online-only company.

Few first-time entrepreneurs really understand the web of tax and payroll issues that they need to deal with when starting a company. There are monthly payroll filings and tax payments to the IRS. There are 2-3 quarterly payments likely required by the state, often to different agencies (payroll tax, unemployment tax and maybe workers compensation). And there is a whole slate of annual payments.

Paycycle files and pays nearly all of those taxes. If they can’t pay and file, the calculate the numbers for you. Deductions, vacation, bonuses, holidays, commissions … handled.

Expensify for expense reports
While a corporate business card is the single best way to handle all expenses at a super-early stage company, invariably you end up needing to pay cash for cab rides, etc. Once you begin adding employees, you’ll need to handle their expenses as well.

Expense reports suck and Expensify makes them way more streamlined. Creation, submission, approval and payment of reports is super-easy, and smart phone apps let you easily upload photos of receipts. Not to mention the benefit of having digital records of all of this.

On the downside, the Expensify UI can be a little clunky. While it is way better than most business services I’ve used, it feels disjointed at times and I’d like to see them focus more on raw usability. Exporting the data isn’t as smooth as I’d like, but my gut tells me we can improve on our setup (and writing this tells me that I should make sure we investigate that ASAP). With that being said, I haven’t found a better solution.

QuickBooks Online for accounting
Sigh. QuickBooks is the swiss army knife of accounting solutions. It can just as easily support construction businesses, retail storefronts, condo associations and your startup. But it is really heavy, bulky and slow. The web version attempts to emulate a desktop app, and breaks nearly all web usability guidelines. I find it takes me way too long to pull out standardized reports, as well as do things that feel that they should be simple.

Still, a stunning 71% of startups use QuickBooks according to this BestVendor infographic. That is a higher market share than every other service including stalwarts like Salesforce, Google Apps, Google Analytics, etc. That 71% is compared to 5% who use Excel and 4% who use Xero.


Every third party financial service integrates with Quickbooks. One of the most time consuming aspects of accounting is getting data into the system so integration with every other service you use is critical. Even new services like Xero try to integrate with files exported specifically for QuickBooks (and do a poor job at it).

Not to mention that many of the competitors have lame limitations that severely impact their utility. For example, Freshbooks won’t email invoices (they’ll email links to invoices, but not the actual invoice).

We’re starting to reach the limits of what QuickBooks Online can do (deal with foreign currencies), and I’m definitely worried about the additional overhead we will inherit when we switch providers.

EarthClassMail for handling checks
If you are selling to enterprises, you will likely have to accept payments by check. Dealing with checks is another hassle that I’d prefer not to have to deal with. Among other annoyances, it requires the mailing and/or depositing of checks along with a paper trail to record the transaction history. Not to mention the hassle if they just get lost along the way.

EarthClassMail is a great solution to this problem. They provide a lockbox-like service that automates the receipt, scanning and deposit of checks. Just provide your customers a different billing address and checks hit your bank account faster than you could manually do yourself. The scans of checks and their related payment information also creates a perfect digital paper trail.

Nearly all banks provide lockbox services, but my experience with the ‘analysis checking’ services provided by banks has been universally miserable - they just have terrible UI. I can’t speak for all banks, so maybe there is a gem out there.

What solutions do you use? I’d love to improve on what we have.


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