Lean Startup Stack

By Jacob Sheldon and siliconCFO

A list of free and cheap resources for bootstrapping startup founders.

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 for many early-stage startups as they are proving their concept and getting their first customers.

The Lean Startup Stack came together throughout early 2020, as my clients at siliconCFO 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.

Although I originally published the Stack when the pandemic hit, it was unknowingly in the works for years as I have strived to run my and my clients’ startups in the leanest ways possible. I’ve now migrated it from Medium and my blog to this little website, and I’ve greatly expanded upon it along the way. Enjoy!

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 and I highly recommend giving it a read. It currently sits on my bookshelf next to Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis.

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, you can find more resources in the Other Software section to see what I couldn't fit into the main Stack.

Operations Stack

Trello, Asana, or Todoist

Free task management software.

All three of these software solutions for task management have great free versions that I recommend you check out. The one you choose will mainly come down to personal preference.



Free (10 users) project management software.

Especially handy for tech teams, Jira has lots of integrations as well as cool ways to visualize and track your project status.


Slack or Discord

Free team communication software.

Both are solid options for communicating with your team or community, but I default to Slack since I am already in so many different Slack groups.


GSuite or Zoho Mail

Hosted business emails.*

I think it is worth it to pay $6/mo for a GSuite email, but, if you are on a tight budget you can get 5 free company emails with Zoho Mail. Read more about my thoughts on this in the Appendix.

$6/user/mo or Free

Calendly or Setmore

Free automatic scheduling tool.

Calendar scheduling software is basically a requirement for everyone in the startup world nowadays. Calendly is the most popular, but there are lots of other solid options you can consider.



Free password manager.

LastPass’ free version may not be the BEST password management solution for teams, but it works well and is easy to use across devices.


Tech Stack

GitHub or GitLab

Free coding collaboration software.

GutHub now has a free version and is my top choice. For you anti-Microsoft people, GitLab is a great choice for your code repos.


AWS, Google Cloud, or Azure

Free hosting credits.**

These three solutions are nearly the same but have key differences. Most of the time, the choice comes down to which one you can get the most credits for. Read about finding hosting credits in the Appendix.


Firebase or Vercel

Free hosting for straightforward apps and sites.

For simple websites and apps, I’m a Firebase type of person. In fact, this website is hosted on Firebase!



Free DDoS attack protection.

It is good to have DDoS protection for your website or web app, especially if any downtime could hurt your startup or brand image.


Paragon or Zapier

Low-code product integrations software.

Both Zapier and Paragon have decent free plans that allow you to integrate products. I use both of them to run siliconCFO’s workflows.


Design Stack

Figma or Canva

Free graphic and UI design platforms.

I’m surprised by how much you can do with Figma’s free interface design tool. I recommend it to anyone creating UI designs.



Free images and pictures.

A classic resource for content creators, Unsplash has a large and free catalog of images. Be sure to give credit to the photographer!


The Noun Project and Flat Icon

Royalty-free icons.

These are two solid options for website icons. I’ve used both of them over various projects.



Free vectors, icons, UIs, and more.

Another great resource for free graphics, website templates, and much more.


Envato Elements

Millions of creative assets: graphics, video, audio, fonts, WordPress templates, and more.

If you do a lot of designing, I recommend subscribing to Envato Elements to access their massive database of creative assets.


Marketing Stack

Mailchimp or SendGrid

Free email marketing platforms.

I’m a Mailchimp person and continue to utilize their free plan. I love how, even without paying, you can set up automations and send emails to hundreds of people.


HubSpot or Bitrix24

Free CRM platforms.

HubSpot is always running in the background on my computer, allowing me to track my pipeline and conversations. They have recently expanded their Marketing functionality too.


Google Forms

Free survey tool.

Definitely an underrated tool, Google Forms is a great way to gather information from users, partners, employees, and more. Pair it with Zapier and Mailchimp to create easy and free automated systems for your website.


Google Analytics

Free website analytics.

Google Analytics is another standard tool for startup founders to track website traffic. For more comprehensive options, keep reading...



Free user behavior analytics platform.

I love using Mixpanel to create funnels and track user flows on my website. For web and mobile apps, it can be useful to pair this with Segment. For simple websites, Facebook’s Analytics tool is easier than Mixpanel but much more comprehensive than Google Analytics.

Free (1k users/mo)


Free customer data platform.

Segment lets you track user data and events, then send it out to multiple different endpoints such as Mixpanel, Google Analytics, Facebook, and HubSpot.

Free (1k visitors/mo)

Finance Stack

QuickBooks or Wave

Accounting software.***

Although I prefer using QuickBooks Online for bookkeeping, Wave is a solid alternative if you absolutely need a free option. Either way, I absolutely recommend you start tracking your revenue and expenses from day one. So, use whatever is best for you, even if it is simply Excel.

$12/mo or Free


Free receipt and mileage tracking software.

If you find yourself handling too many receipts, check out some of the options for receipt management. Everlance has a free plan that lets you enter an unlimited number of receipts.


Chase ACH Payment Services

Next-day domestic ACHs.

There are countless options to pay vendors via ACH but I am most impressed with Chase’s business banking product. ACH Payment Services is an inexpensive and easy way to send next-day ACHs to vendors.


Lean Startup Stack Add-ons

More free and inexpensive software products and resources for startups trying to stay lean.


Free workspace/organization tool.

Toggl ($10/mo/user) or Clockify (Free)

Time tracking software.

Airtable or Google Sheets

Both of these are so versatile that you can use them for your CRM, bookkeeping, task management, and much more.

Free HR Software

For employee information management and more.

Team Gantt

Free gantt chart builder.

Bootstrap Templates

Free themes for simple websites like this one!


Free website SEO analysis tool.

Google Keyword Planner

Free keyword research tool.


Free keyword research Chrome extension.

Google Search Console

Free SEO tool and tracker for websites.


Free website heatmaps and recordings tool.


Free help desk software.

Hootsuite or Buffer

Free social media management tools.


Free (50 requests/mo) email address finder and verification.

Behind the Lean Startup Stack

Jacob Sheldon

Startup nerd.

My entire career has been in startups. I ran an equity crowdfunding platform, took care of accounting for many startups, consulted on growth, designed websites’ UX, handled legal compliance, and more. I also love to cycle long distances, watch Tottenham Hotspur, try new technologies, and ride my motorcycle. Follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Silicon CFO

Matching startups with Freelance CFOs.

I run siliconCFO, matching startups with the right financial professionals for their needs. It’s a free way for startup founders to get introductions to Part-time CFOs, financial analysts, and other amazing finance people. If you need any finance-related help at your startup, feel free to reach out to us and we’ll help you find the right solution.

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*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 siliconCFO prefer it too, but I believe this will slowly change over the next couple of years because of Wave’s substantial free offering.

I have, and will, NOT be compensated in any form for referencing or linking to the products and resources in The Lean Startup Stack.

Brought to you by Jacob Sheldon and siliconCFO.