Startup back-office launch guide: Incorporation, banking, and equity

Published on Apr 30, 2024

Startup back-office launch guide: Incorporation, banking, and equity

Congratulations! You've made the leap and are starting a company. Have you considered different types of incorporation (like C corp vs. S corp)? Do you know anything about accounting for startups? 

Assembling the back-office stack is hardly the most invigorating part of building a company, but honestly, you’ll survive only if you have a solid foundation.

In this four-part guide, we offer expert tips and best practices for building a lasting company and what software can help efficiently in the early stages. Here’s a quick breakdown of the steps to set up your initial business stack:

Getting started

  • Incorporation
  • Banking
  • Credit card
  • Equity management

Startup finances

  • Bookkeeping
  • Accounting
  • Accounts payable
  • Accounts receivable
  • Expense management

Paying your team

  • Payroll/HRIS
  • HR compliance
  • Benefits
  • Insurance broker/provider

The best startup back-office software

In this post we’ll cover “Getting started”: we’ll look at the essential enterprise SaaS tools you need and then dig into the best strategies for getting your company off the ground.

Our picks for zero to one

At SignalFire, we've worked with hundreds of startups and keep our finger on the pulse of best-in-class tools (plus which tools work best together). Following is a quick-start guide* of what we'd recommend as the initial back-office stack for ~90% of startups:


  • Stripe Atlas: Incorporate with Stripe Atlas for ~$500 and in about a week.


  • No clear winner: There are lots of great options. Pick yours based on incentives offered and compatibility with the rest of your stack. We have a few recommendations listed below depending on your specific needs.

Equity Management

  • Carta*: Set up a cap table with Carta.

Credit card and accounts payable

  • Ramp*: Ramp is a corporate card company that’s built for startups and gives you 1.5% cash back.


  • QuickBooks: Use Quickbooks for all of your accounting needs.


  • Pilot*: Use Pilot as your outsourced bookkeeper.

Benefits, compliance, payroll/HRIS

  • Gusto: Get Gusto to manage payroll, benefits, and HR from day one.


Incorporating is when everything starts getting real—don’t mess with the Delaware C corp standard.

When to incorporate

When you're ready to get serious about your startup idea, it's time to set up the legal entity for your new company. Make sure to incorporate before you take any money—from anyone. 

Pro tip: If you find yourself ready to incorporate at the end of the year, wait until January. You'll avoid paying fees twice in a short period.

Screenshot of an example Stripe Atlas user
Stripe Atlas

Types of incorporation

There are many types of incorporation, but if you plan on raising venture funding, you should incorporate as a Delaware C corp, full stop. Anything else may hurt your ability to raise external capital. Other types of incorporation include:

  • LLC (Limited Liability Company): Primarily for sole-proprietorships or partnerships that will not take venture money
  • S corp: Significantly more complicated than LLCs but aren't subject to self-employment taxes; not recommended for venture-backed startups
  • B corp: Benefit corporation that is legally required to consider impact on community and environment (though they can still be for-profit)
  • C corp: Taxable entity that allows multiple types of stock and is a requirement for an IPO

Incorporation suggested vendors

Stripe Atlas (our pick): For $500 and in about a week, they will set up a Delaware c corp. They also provide additional tools and templates.

Clerky: A simple, cheap, and fast solution. For less than $1,000 and in less than a week, you can get your company incorporated.


Banks badly want your business, so make them compete for you.

When choosing a bank, it's important to consider your financial goals, objectives, and basic needs. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you need a checking account or line of credit? Or are you also looking for a strategic partner?
  • How much cash flow will be moving in and out?
  • Are you actually a business yet?
  • Do you have the minimum deposit amount?
  • Do you need to pay employees?
  • Why do you need to raise capital?
  • Does your accounting software integrate with the bank?

While you need to find the right bank for you and your business, we have a few suggestions below. If you have no special needs, just get an account open and you can always find another partner bank later. 

When to choose a bank

We've identified a few appropriate signals that you need to pick a bank for your business: 

  1. You're depositing money your business made.
  2. You're fundraising.
  3. You have payroll for employees.

Pro tips

  • Choosing a banking team that can be there for you when you have liquidity or credit needs can be a make-or-break relationship as you scale.
  • Set up an Insured Cash Sweep account or yield-generating money market account to protect more than the FDIC $250K account limit and generate some yield on cash balances. 
  • Banking teams have many partnerships and incentives. It's an excellent place to start, setting up a banking relationship to leverage and access many discounts on everything from bookkeeping to incorporation. Citizens, JPM, and SVB have start-up banking programs.

Screenshot of an example Mercury Bank user
Mercury Bank

Banking suggested vendors

Citizens Bank: This is where more than 200 bankers fled after the JP Morgan takeover of First Republic Bank to rebuild a banking practice for funds and startups. The team knows their stuff and will help you with a toolkit of solutions, including targeted credits for software you need to start a business, one year of free banking, and a dedicated banker. If you have a direct connection with someone at SignalFire, reach out for a warm introduction to their team.

JP Morgan Innovation Banking: JP Morgan purchased First Republic Bank, which had been leading a charge into banking for venture funds and their portfolio investments. Beyond banking, they provide a variety of added-value services. Notable offers: Free three-year banking, cap table management software, credit card, AP software, and regular events. If you have a direct connection with someone at SignalFire, reach out for a warm introduction to their team.

Silicon Valley Bank*: If you've raised your first million and want dedicated service to help you grow, this is your bank. They have an entrepreneurial ethos and want to help you grow from the garage into a multibillion-dollar company. It still operates like a traditional bank and has support systems for entrepreneurs similar to those that Citizens Bank offers its customers. They’re back in business with a new owner after a well-known failure in 2023, still offering many services that made them special.

Mercury Bank: Mercury is a startup-focused challenger bank that launched in mid-2019. They provide an FDIC-insured checking account, debit card, and savings accounts (earning 1–2%) with a sub-10 minute application usually approved within a few hours. They also help with cash flow analytics, programmatic payments, instant runway estimates, and more. Currently, there is a Standard account that has no minimum requirements and savings that earn 0.75%, and a Tea Room account that earns 1.45% savings and gives you access to partner rewards. 

Credit card

Pick one with perks, no founder liability, and the right payback plan.

Choosing a credit card is similar to selecting a bank; you’ll have plenty of options, all with different advantages and disadvantages. You must do your due diligence to ensure you sign up for the card that suits you best. 

Be aware that newcomers to the credit card market offer the same things as other cards, only free and perhaps with fewer insurance add-ons. We also recommend avoiding any cards that force personal liability.

When to sign up for a credit card

The best time to get a card is before you need it. Cash flow is crucial, and a credit card can buffer you during tough times. Credit history is one of the most important factors for increasing credit limits. 

If you plan on buying dinners, flying around, or ride-sharing to appointments, you might as well rack up cash back. A credit card will also help keep your expenses separate from personal accounts.

Which type of card is best

Figure out the most essential needs for your business, then decide on a card based on your available options. Here are a few crucial factors to consider: 

  • Are you going to get an interest or charge card? In other words: will you hold a balance that accrues interest, or will you pay the bill at the end of each month? 
  • Do you want cash back or loyalty points? You might only have a few options depending on your credit score or your business’s revenue.

Screenshot of an example Ramp user

‎Credit card suggested vendors

Ramp (our pick): Ramp is a corporate card company that’s built for startups and gives you 1.5% cash back on everything, as opposed to being points-based. They also offer no founder liability, higher credit limits, and focus a lot more on savings than competitors. They also offer bill pay and employee reimbursement services. 

Brex: Brex is a corporate card that requires no personal guarantee (meaning it isn't impacted by and doesn't impact your personal credit). They provide uncapped travel and rewards points and claim to offer higher credit limits than Amex or other cards. They’ve pivoted away from being card-only and are starting to look indistinguishable from Ramp.

American Express Business Card: Amex is the classic business credit card. It's only ~$50 per card per year, so you won't break the bank. They provide excellent support, along with unique perks. But the tech needs to catch up to the pack, and they don’t offer any of the reporting integrations to accounting, requiring you to add an expense reporting tool to the mix, and pay for it.

Your bank: Depending on your banking partner, they might offer choices for a card to support your business and integrate with the bank accounts and accounting you’ve already set up. 

Equity management

Keep your cap table straight so you always know where you stand.

So you've built or are building your team and are trying to figure out how to divide all that stock. Our first tip? Don't wait too long once you have employees or a co-founder.

When to make an equity plan

Once you bring on a team, bring on an investor, or find a co-founder—you’ll need to build out the equity grants to back up ownership splits promised in these transactions. 

What is equity management?

Equity management (also known as cap table management) is the system for managing ownership stakes, types of shares, and option pools. Founders, investors, or employees can have ownership, including equity dilution and the total value of equity. A cap table helps understand who owns what at each stage of the business. Most startups create a voting agreement for common and preferred shares—which determines who needs to vote on company decisions—and set up vesting schedules for founders so no one can walk away with half the company without putting in the time.

Carta is the leader in the equity management space, with a slightly cheaper solution being Pulley. Both companies will fully manage your cap table, send certificates to investors, help you issue options to employees, run annual 409A valuations, and model scenarios.

Screenshot of an example Carta user

‎Equity management suggested vendors

Carta (our pick): Manage your partners’, employees’, and investors' cap tables, valuations, investments, and equity plans. This creates a single source of truth for accepting electronic securities, exercising options without paperwork, tracking vesting schedules, pulling tax forms, and expense accounting, and also includes 409A valuation services. Carta Launch was created for early-stage companies with less than 25 stakeholders and 500K in funding at no cost to you through your law firm.

Pulley: Pulley is a cloud-based cap table management tool that replaces Excel and email for creating and sharing cap tables. It offers founders quick, guided creation, easy sharing and grant verification features, and powerful visual round and exit modeling. This product has a free version and then jumps to paid. Pulley Seed also offers a free plan for those with fewer than 25 stakeholders. 

SignalFire’s legal and finance experts can help

We know these choices can be daunting, and every company is different. That’s why SignalFire portfolio companies have access to our full-time in-house experts on finance, legal, talent, and company culture-building. Those include former Netflix Chief Talent Officer Tawni Cranz, who helped write its famous culture handbook, former Webflow VP of People Heather Doshay, and multi-exited founder and former Stripe CMO Jim Stoneham.

With the proper legal and banking foundation based on the recommendations above, you’re ready to choose your finance tools. In our next guide, we’ll cover bookkeeping, accounting, accounts payable, accounts receivable, and expense management.

* We have established partnerships with these companies to provide deals and benefits to our portfolio.

*Portfolio company founders listed above have not received any compensation for this feedback and did not invest in a SignalFire fund. Please refer to our disclosures page for additional disclosures.

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