The Lean Startup Stack: Free Software Products for Bootstrapping Startups
After starting multiple startups, I learned that I can almost always accomplish what I want for free or dirt cheap. Following the lean startup methodology and bootstrapping are crucial while my projects are in the pre-Seed stage when expenses are coming directly out of my pocket. Trimming unnecessary expenses is especially important right now for many early-stage startups as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc.
The Lean Startup Stack came together throughout the past two months, as my clients at Shiny responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by cutting as many costs as they could. The resources in the Stack are able to directly replace many expensive software options and have freed-up thousands of dollars in my clients’ budgets.
I received so much feedback from this article that I expanded on it and turned it into its own guide! Check it out at leanstartupstack.com.
What is a Lean Startup?
The Lean Startup methodology is outlined in Eric Ries’ book and explains how a new project can be built, tested, and iterated on to create a successful business in a fast, inexpensive, and effective way. The Lean Startup Stack can be utilized by startup founders that want to follow the lean startup methodology.
The Lean Startup Stack
The Stack includes legal, operations, tech, design, marketing, and financial software products and resources. The best part, other than most of the Stack being free, is that you don’t have to sacrifice quality, security, or even brand name when using the Lean Startup Stack. Many of the products listed here are made, and used, by multi-billion dollar companies.
With so many great software products and resources out there for startups, I struggled to make the Stack itself as lean as possible. If you are a power user of free or low-cost software, check out the Appendix at the bottom for more resources for your lean startup.
- PandaDoc — Free unlimited document signatures and sends.
- Cooley Go—Free legal document templates.
- LegalShield ($39/mo)— Legal advice and much more.
- Trello, Asana, or Todoist — Free task management software.
- Jira — Free (10 users) project management software.
- Slack or Discord — Free team communication software.
- GSuite ($6/mo/user) or Zoho Mail (Free) — Hosted business emails.*
- Calendly or Setmore — Free automatic scheduling tool.
- LastPass — Free password manager.
- GitLab — Free alternative to GitHub, coding collaboration software.
- AWS, Google Cloud, or Azure — Free hosting credits.**
- Firebase or Vercel— Free hosting for straightforward apps and sites.
- Cloudflare—Free DDoS attack protection.
- Figma or Canva — Free graphic and UI design platforms.
- Unsplash — Free images and pictures.
- The Noun Project and Flat Icon— Royalty-free icons.
- Graphic Burger — Free vectors, icons, UIs, and more.
- Envato Elements ($16.50/mo) — Millions of creative assets: graphics, video, audio, fonts, WordPress templates, and more.
- Mailchimp or SendGrid — Free email marketing platforms.
- HubSpot or Bitrix24 — Free CRM platforms.
- Google Forms — Free survey tool.
- Google Analytics — Free website analytics.
- Mixpanel — Free (1k users/mo) user behavior analytics platform.
- Segment — Free (1k visitors/mo) customer data platform.
- Branch — Free (10k users/mo) deep-linking and attribution reporting.
- QuickBooks ($12/mo) or Wave (Free) — Accounting software.***
- Everlance — Free receipt and mileage tracking software.
- Chase ACH Payment Services ($25/mo)—Next-day domestic ACHs.
*A Note on GSuite
My Lean Startup Stack includes paying for GSuite. I believe it’s worth the $6 per month per user to have your business email on GSuite and all of your document collaboration internal to your organization.
The one free solution I am still looking for is an alternative to Google Voice. They recently started charging an extra $10/m for people to use Voice, and I have yet to find a free alternative. Shoot me an email if you find one!
**A Note on AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure
These three options for hosting are virtually the same. I recommend going with AWS because that is the service for which most Accelerators give out thousands of dollars worth of credits.
***A Note on QuickBooks and Wave
It is amazing that most people still use QuickBooks Online and pay up to $40 per month for what they can get for free with Wave Apps. Personally, I prefer QBO and most of my clients at Shiny prefer it too, but I believe this will slowly change over the next couple of years because of Wave’s substantial free offering.
Lean Startup Stack Add-ons
More free and inexpensive software products and resources for startups trying to stay lean.
- Notion—Free workspace/organization tool.
- Toggl ($10/mo/user) or Clockify (Free) — Time tracking software.
- Airtable or Google Sheets — So versatile that you can use these for your CRM, bookkeeping, task management, and much more, but with a lot more set up work required.
- Free HR software— For employee information management and more.
- Team Gantt — Free gantt chart builder.
- Bootstrap Templates —Free themes for simple websites.
- Woorank — Free website SEO analysis tool.
- Google Keyword Planner — Free keyword research tool.
- Google Search Console — Free SEO tool.
- Hotjar — Free website heatmaps and recordings tool.
- Freshdesk— Free help desk software.
- Hootsuite or Buffer — Free social media management tools.
- Hunter — Free (50 requests/mo) email address finder and verification.
I have, and will, NOT be compensated in any form for referencing or linking to the products and resources in The Lean Startup Stack.