Startup Handbook in the US

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An operation note about how to run a startup company in the US

After several years of Giftpack’s startup journey in the United States and the current business expansion in Taiwan, Japan, China, and South Korea, I found many information gaps between countries that cause unnecessary expenses in setting up and running a U.S. company.

A few months ago, I was invited by several government divisions to give lectures on how to establish and run the operation of a U.S. startup company, and that inspired me to write this article helping more founders to bridge the gap, save money, and run your business more smartly while staying lean by embracing this well-established technology ecosystem.

I want to thank all my friends, governments, and my fiancé, Caroline, for their support in making this real.

This article will focus on startup business setups rather than companies going public.


Giftpack’s virtual office

I outlined the following questions to facilitate quick answers for companies that have a preliminary understanding or already have incorporated in the United States:

  • Why do you need a company in the U.S.?
  • Cayman Islands v.s. the United States
  • Misconceptions about maintenance costs
  • Incorporation Hacks
  • Office vs. Remote-working
  • Corporate Banking Options
  • Maximizing Cash Flow and Credit Card Benefits
  • Accounting and Legal
  • Recruiting and Human Resources Management
  • Phone System and Customer Service Center
  • Equity and Financing Management
  • Money-saving Hacks

1. Why do you need a company in the U.S.?

Before exploring the practical practices, clarifying the purpose of setting up a company in the U.S. will be critical to determine the succeeding investment and operational direction. Therefore, please refrain from following the trend but focus on your real conditions.

There are three common reasons:

  • Your clients are in the U.S.

This object is common for most companies that want to enter the U.S. market to sell their products. We know many companies deal with it through agents, but the pros and cons are quite different depending on the industry, and I won’t go into details here. There is only one principle:

If you want to do well in the U.S. market, it is always recommended to have a local entity.
  • For Fundraising

“We heard that Delaware C-Corp is the best place to be invested.”

Regarding fundraising purposes without too many operational components, most readers are familiar with Delaware C-Corp regarding the flexible tax laws and openness. However, please keep in mind that if there is a need for VC financing, it is recommended not to start with an LLC, mainly because of the way the investor does the tax calculation.

In short, C-Corp’s taxation method for investors is based on the actual profit received by the individual, while LLC’s taxation is based on the shareholding percentage; even if the company does not distribute the surplus, it will still be taxed. We can see it could be more reasonable for investors. Many other reasons, such as tax filing or transfer of ownership, are relatively easy.

  • International expansion or going public on the Nasdaq. (I’m not going to discuss this in this article. I will visit it in Chapter 2)

2. Cayman Islands v.s. the United States

This is the most frequently asked question from everywhere. Before we go into details, please ensure you have answered the key question: Am I going to do business in the U.S.?

Why Giftpack started with a U.S. entity as our launch point:

  • Ultimately, you must set up a local corporation to do business there. It’s not a question of whether you can sell; it’s a question of whether people will buy, just like the New York-based companies are usually more willing to do business with entities in New York.
  • The annual maintenance cost of a Cayman company may not be affordable for a startup company in the early days when you have no funding support, while the maintenance cost of a U.S. corporation can be down to several hundred dollars per year.
  • The speed of setting up Cayman is measured in months while establishing a U.S. corporation is a matter of two or three days, and to quote the core spirit of a new venture, “We should have started selling products yesterday.”
  • The great thing about Cayman is that you will not be taxed on revenue generated outside of Cayman, nor is it taxed on profit distribution (but beneficiaries will be taxed according to their country’s laws), making it a very suitable location for a holding company. Giftpack also plans to move the holding company from Delaware to Cayman as revenue grows.

3. Misconceptions about maintenance costs

As a Taiwanese, I have to admit that when I was still on the island, all the lawyers, accountants, and marketers gave me this wrong impression of the expensive cost of running a company in the U.S. Then I realized it was so misleading when I first landed in San Francisco. It proves the reason why the country can become the fast-growing place in the world to start innovation.

The cost of incorporating and maintaining a company in the United States is better than you think. Giftpack was founded when I was an international student while paying for my tuition and bills, and this situation reflects its flexibility.

4. Incorporation Hacks

This section will focus on the most cost-effective way to maintain operations and extend the structure to subsequent fundraising.

At the time, Giftpack had only one principle:

I had to know what I was doing, see it every step of the way and understand it, and leave the execution to the professionals while covering the follow-on operations (talent acquisition, sales and supply chain partnerships, and any objects that the investors would want).

and here are our picks —

Clerky is a super startup-friendly one-stop-shop service that covers company formation, fundraising, commercialization, human capital, and long-term operations. Recommended by Y Combinator.

One of the programs under the umbrella of Stripe, a leading payment company, allows for a one-stop shop for the standard Delaware C-Corp structure at a low cost while enjoying the benefits of Stripe’s services.

You can register a Delaware entity at a very low cost and with free mail forwarding service. This option is ideal for a business that has prepared legal documents related to commercialization, capital raising, or human resources. DRA only works on the registration and maintains the profile.

5. Office vs. Remote-working

In this remote era, the office is no longer a necessary expense in many industries. The companies that applied in the previous section have valid addresses and mail forwarding services, so you don’t have to worry about not receiving physical mail or necessarily needing an office. This section provides some solutions for the real essentials of an office and the practical handling of Giftpack for your reference.

  • Economic Development Corporation (EDC)/Small Business Development Centers (SBDC)

The government runs each city's free and landing consultation programs. In addition, they will provide advice from the government’s point of view so that you can match the right space according to your requirements.

The shared space with beautiful decoration and flexibility is familiar to most of the founders, but it is not easy to think about it from a global management point of view. It is not only troublesome to find a place in every city or country but also difficult to manage when you have employees everywhere. Therefore, services like Upflex and WeWork All Access, which can enter the office at any time around the world, can give partners from all over the world the flexibility to enter and leave the office freely and can fully connect with many popular shared spaces or luxury offices such as JustCo, WeWork, The Executive Centre, or The CEO Suite with full office functionality. Giftpack picked it for our global management too.

6. Corporate Banking Options

From the perspective of a multinational start-up, this suffered Giftpack back in the early days. Let’s list the daily situations that most international companies might encounter:

  • The hassle of handling and remittance fees wastes time and lowers your gross profit. Moreover, in many countries, cross-border remittances also have to personally run to the bank to remit and solve the money, such an uncivilized move in ancient times.
  • As people travel around the world, the sophistication of Internet banking becomes a key point of choice.
  • The choice of the parent bank with the paired network and resource-sharing strategy is also a consideration.

Therefore, please don’t ask me why I don’t list all banks here. It’s just because they may not be competitive at a given stage:

Mercury is an online-only bank friendly to startup entrepreneurs, with a great quality online banking apps and websites. It comes with worldwide ACH and wire with zero fees, and you can guarantee that payments transferred from the U.S. are all free.

Founders can get an account without a high credit score. International founders love it.

You will also have a physical card and unlimited virtual cards to structure your financial management. They launched an IO Credit credit card recently. In addition to the beautiful metal physical card also inherits the mechanism of unlimited virtual credit cards. You must have at least $50,000 in the bank to apply for a corporate credit card.

I must mention the Mercury Treasury service from the financial management standpoint. Usually, if the financing goes smoothly, there will be a certain amount of cash that cannot be used immediately (idle cash), and we have to find more channels to increase its value instead of leaving it in the bank to rot. Mercury Treasury should be the best choice in the market today with a 4.68% APY.

Brex provides a comprehensive banking solution with online banking, virtual credit cards (more information in the next section), and an expense management tool. In addition, it charges zero international transaction fees as many other virtual credit card providers. The only minor drawback is that it always takes longer than expected to transfer funds from outside to Brex. While other banks take about one to three days to arrive, Brex often takes up to 5–7 days.

Chase is one of the strongest banks in the U.S., with advanced online banking, great customer service, and the Unlimited Reward (UR) system, which most people recommend.

It’s difficult for a small startup to open a Chase Premium account to unlock the full benefits when you have low or no credits.

After your account reaches an entry-level (starting with at least $100,000 in the bank), there are no fees for 500 wires per month (and more benefits), and it can also be linked to local payment applications such as Zelle so that everything can be done online.

The downside is that it’s a big old bank, so it doesn’t support virtual credit card systems at the moment, and there is no financial management or analysis tool embedded too.

There are substantial startup support resources and programs, but there is a limit of at least $1 million in revenue a year to join the club. Early-stage support can be referred to programs like Morgan Stanley Ventures Lab (including investment opportunities).

One more thing worth mentioning about the credit card reputation. When you need to make international transactions online or onsite in other countries, Chase never fails me when all the other credits are rejected.

Wise is the world’s most convenient cross-border money transfer platform. You will pay a reasonable fee for smaller amounts then your recipients can get the piece that matches their local currency, i.e., even if the remitter wires in US dollars, the person can directly specify the final amount in Japanese yen.

The speed of arrival is usually within seconds. Some countries will take a little longer (one day) for the first time, but once opened, all subsequent payments will arrive immediately without incident.

Only a few countries in the world do not support this.

It’s weird to see Amex in the banking area, while people usually recognize them as one of the best global credit card providers. The business checking service is relatively new compared to other big banks, but it’s worth knowing that they provide a 1.3% APY for your first $500,000. If you don’t trust Mercury, here might be a choice too.

QuickBooks is a good all-in-one solution for business banking. A 1.75% APY is also not a bad choice for your first $250,000. The bookkeeping service is very well integrated too (more information in the following section).

About the risk management

When things are going smoothly, both banks and businesses are usually happy. But when things go wrong, it challenges if banks can be the great backers of the company.

After the pandemic outbreak, the U.S. government quickly provided many relief programs, but banks usually serve larger customers first, and new businesses are generally not being helped in the first place.

When the first wave of U.S. bailout money came out, Chase was the first to send out notices and supporting instructions, so Giftpack was ahead of the surrounding companies in getting the money, so it was lucky to have Chase. However, the development of the system slowed down the following batch support from the government (not in the case of companies running their own applications), while the banks prioritized manually serving large customers to get their loans quickly. The phone support was cut, and my banker was gone too.

Kudos to the firm likes of East West Bank, where all bankers are forced to work overnight to apply for client loans.

In the case of Giftpack, we have all accounts mentioned to handle different things to maximize the benefits and rewards, which is one of the reasons for the credit card section below.

The last thing you need to do is always keep a good relationship with your banker; when it comes down to it, it’s all about favors.

7. Maximizing Cash Flow and Credit Card Benefits

The dumbest way to use money is to use it directly, and the key principle in operation is to try to get every penny more than it’s worth. For Giftpack, we have the following principles:

  • Never transfer or pay cash for anything that can be paid by credit card with your reward system.
  • The later the actual bill date, the better.
  • Never pay for anything you can do without your own money.
  • Please do not let employees advance money on their behalf. Reporting and reimbursement can take so much of your time, while making your employee can only eat salad.
  • Globalized financial control and transparency are key, don’t let me see any international transaction fees again.

To solve these daydreams, we have integrated the following platforms to move closer to the ideal:

Brex provides Mastercard virtual credit card service and cash accounts, in which you can manage expenses.

The credit card limit is around 80% of the cash in your account when beginning. Assuming a current balance of $100, the credit card limit for the entire company would be $80. It will change dynamically based on your payment record.

You can create unlimited virtual credit cards; all transactions will have no international transaction fees for worldwide purchases.

Control your spending limit of each card and set up a review and approval system is also available. But, unfortunately, it cannot limit the brands a card can be spent on.

Receive reward points on each purchase that can be redeemed for many items or directly into cash (100 points equals $1).

Multiple X of points can be returned on purchases like ride-sharing or restaurants.

One physical card can be owned, and there is no minimum funding requirement to apply, as I know.

It’s super similar to Brex. Conversely, Ramp is a pure Visa virtual credit card service provider, not a bank.

The credit limit is around 3% of the total linked bank account, which means that if the bank deposit is only $100, the company-wide credit limit will be only $3.

It has no point system but a 1.5% cashback reward.
No international transaction fees will be charged, and the ability to own multiple physical cards.

Ramp offers precise control of spending limits on brands and categories for each card. For example, limit the card to airline tickets only, specific airlines, or public transportation for business trips.

It also provides a super blast billing and reimbursement process. Just take a picture and send a text message, the administrator will approve it, and Ramp will automatically wire the money to the designated account via ACH within 12 hours.

Additionally, it offers long-term transaction negotiation services, i.e., for long-term monthly or annual payments, Ramp negotiates lower prices with service providers on behalf of the business, and if successful, Ramp receives 50% of the savings as commission.

They recently announced a delayed payment service to help you maximize the cash flow.

The minimum requirement is to have at least $100,000 cash in your bank account.

If a credit card can delay the payment by 30 days, Melio can extend that 30 days to 75 days. With Melio, the platform will pay your bill then you will pay Melio after. This allows us to maximize cash flow when needed.

The Ink series of corporate credit cards offer 1.5% — 5% cash back or triple points depending on the card type and purchases, and you can also accumulate Unlimited Reward (UR) points, which is a great deal for travel-type of expenses.

The limit is usually higher than Brex and Ramp (if you don’t have million dollars in your account), and it is a fixed value that does not fluctuate with bank deposits and comes with very strong points.

It’s a very good deal if your business can own an Amex Platinum card when it offers strong opening rewards. For example, we got a chance to get six digits rewards points when we opened ours.

Amex card benefits are useful for founders and managers regarding business travels, especially when your company is a global startup like Giftpack.

Giftpack Practices

  • All Giftpack worldwide employees own both Brex and Ramp virtual and physical cards for work expenses. Brex cards are limited to travel, software services, and dining (with higher cash back than 1.5%), while Ramp cards are for everything else.
  • All purchases require receipts or invoices, and approval by the administrator is necessary over a certain amount.
  • Create different cards for each vendor and service to track and limit spending.

So employees will never have to pay for things out of their own pockets, while saving the accountant much time in billing and reporting.

  • Get lower discounts on software services with Ramp’s negotiation service or triple points on your payments with Brex if you can’t get a discounted deal.

Brex and Ramp can be tied to third-party payment gateways such as Apple Pay, Line Pay, and Google Pay. But the restricted countries may block your transactions for local payment gateways like China and Korea.

8. Accounting and Legal

One of the most important aspects of starting a business is financial accounting and legal affairs, especially the differences in tax and accounting laws across countries, which is usually the biggest obstacle in running a business.

Giftpack has a dream:

  • No need to do the accounting myself. Review the reports at the end of the month and ensure the items are in the right position for each category.
  • The accounting system can directly link to multiple bank accounts and automatically syncs all transactions.
  • The reports should be produced in real-time so you don’t have to wait weeks or months to know what’s happening.
  • The firm can handle tax filing and other legal matters.
  • It can provide financial and legal consultation.
  • It needs to be affordable, for sure.

And here are our picks:

QuickBooks is the #1 accounting software platform with powerful features that can cover everything you need about bookkeeping and financing, even with a bank account.

All bank accounts can be linked, and all transactions can be refreshed regularly, while suggested categories can be auto-accounted.

With real-time reporting and automated financial analysis, the invoicing system allows customers to swipe their cards or enter bank account information to pay directly from one interface.

The third-party integration function is the best in the U.S., which empowers you to build automation pipelines for whatever you need.

QuickBooks®: Official Site | Smart Tools. Better Business.QuickBooks Online Discount Offer Terms: Discount applied to the monthly price for QuickBooks Online ("QBO") is for the…

InDinero is a friendly service for Cash Accounting. They will connect to QuickBooks if you want an Accrual Accounting service.

All bank accounts and credit card accounts are linked and automatically synced with bookkeepers and CPAs to make your book hands-free. The support is always great; they help Giftpack save many taxes too.

Tax, Financial, and Accounting Services | inDineroGrow your business and streamline operations with inDinero. Get outsourced accounting, fractional CFO services…

Bench is also a great choice for startup companies. They use QuickBooks too for your daily operation.

Online Bookkeeping Services for Small Businesses - Bench AccountingAmerica's largest cloud-based bookkeeping solution for business owners. Start a free trial today and we'll do one month…

On-demand attorney services are available for as little as $35 per hour. A reliable choice for startup founders.

This is the trending law firm with a fascinating track record for technology startups. Recommended when you are ready for your series A.

HomepageCheck Out Fenwick's Current

  • Government Tax Credits

The U.S. government has always maintained a friendly and pragmatic attitude toward foreign business investment, and government agencies can be found in every state to provide free landing assistance, and more than 30 types of tax credits can help you save even more money.

Please make sure you always have a great relationship with CPAs and Attorneys. You will never ever want to save money on these two items in your life.

9. Recruiting and Human Resources Management

In a country where people can sue everything literally, you will want to ensure everything runs smoothly with your talents and HR management.

Giftpack images to have effective channels for recruiting local and global talents in the right field and an HR management system that can centralize legal, insurance, tax, compliance, and employee benefits operations so that we can follow the process without getting into trouble.

We are in the post-COVID world, and you don’t really need to hire expensive local Americans in many industries and job functions. So I’ll provide some great options as references.

Justworks is an all-in-one service staffing platform that does everything Giftpack imagines, whether you can clock in a contractor or hire a full-time employee in every state (you have to understand that state laws are different, and it can be tricky to deal with).

The best plan is $99 per month for an employee and includes benefits such as direct access to gyms and dentists via the app and the 401k.

Gusto is similar to Justworks, both are great startup-friendly services.

(I have no idea why Gusto’s SEO setting can be displayed here)

The U.S. government offers an identity check and work record system that eliminates the traditional I-9 paperwork process.

OpenComp can cover all your needs for employee compensation. Giftpack uses it for our ESOP and compensation calculation. It used to be free when we registered, unfortunately.

This article does not explore the choices of large companies such as ADP, Workday, Insperity, etc., but only takes a start-up perspective.

A super effective platform for hiring remote engineers for startups. Unfortunately, it works badly for non-engineering positions.

The best platform for recruiting professionals and executives. So far, it keeps the highest resume submission rate and the hire conversion rate of Giftpack.

Virtustant specializes in hiring Sales positions that can sell to the US market. Giftpack confirms our first sales hire within 2 weeks.

Indeed is the best platform to find blue-collar workers, not for senior officials or office-type positions. In addition, you can get hundred-dollar credits as a startup perk.

Wayup is a gathering place for top interns. Compared to other job search platforms, Wayup uses its system to filter out the best quality interns, mostly from prestigious schools.

It is the most used job search platform for college students in the U.S., mainly for hiring interns.

The downside is that you need to spend much time getting a reputation as a startup, and the platform itself is challenging to understand. But it is definitely worth the investment in the long run. Giftpack uses the channel to hire great U.S. interns and international students too.

Deel is one of the leading platforms to help companies hire remote talents in everywhere around the world. It solves compliance and all the legal issues with their local entity.

Slasify is similar to Deel and has strong support in Mandarin-speaking countries. The support is always dedicated and swift.

We understand that startups are hard with a super limited budget to hire, but please be careful about the consequences you will face if you don’t pay your interns. It’s America.

10. Phone System and Customer Service Center

Doing business in the United States requires a phone for sales, customer service, and registration. I provide a list of cost-effective and smarter ways to easily communicate with others remotely even when you are not in the U.S.

Giftpack imagines we can have multiple virtual lines that can make calls and send text messages at no cost. It can be answered anywhere in the app while serving as a customer service call center.

Dialpad is an innovative solution to our wildest imaginations: 10 numbers for free for life with a startup support program.

Giftpack provides a virtual number for team members and allows them to receive customer service and sales calls from all over the world via the app, with free calls and texts from the US, Canada, and Mexico. Its ability to set up number-specific forwarding and track data and interactions for each employee on all types of calls.

The communication quality is excellent, and the recording function is available.

OpenPhone has the most beautiful software interface I’ve used so far. Not powerful as Dialpad yet, but the rates are competitive with Dialpad when calling specific countries.

It’s $10 per month for a number, has fine signal quality, and offers call recording.

Zoom is very close to what we thought it would be, and it really does offer cross-country physical phone lines and other services, but the price is not friendly at all compared to all other providers. so after the trial period, we didn’t move forward with it. However, the quality of communication is the best.

11. Equity and Financing Management

As companies grow and raise capital, shareholder and equity management, financial modeling, and valuation validation for financing will become increasingly necessary. Therefore, Giftpack uses it with OpenComp after completing larger financing rounds.

Carta is a comprehensive solution for everything you need in equity and financing management. The price is not cheap, but it’s free before you raise your first $1M.

The company is a stunning newcomer, offering the same services as Carta at a reasonable price, from stock certification, financing simulation, 409A, and more focused customer service and consulting than Carta.

Cabal is a free investor, board, and advisor relationship management platform. There are other options in the market, but we don’t see the need to spend money on this effort. Cabal can do a good job.

12. Money-saving Hacks

These services may sound expensive, but there is a reason why we are in the U.S. There are free resources and discounts all over the place to help new businesses get through their early-stage. Here are the resources ranked by level of strength:

One of the largest accelerator around the globe that include hundreds of discounts on stratup-related services. The #1 to recommend.

  • Other Accelerators

There are accelerators everywhere that can offer you some discount on major services, but they are less comprehensive than GAN, and the deals are relatively small.

You can get tons of information about the accelerators and supporting programs around the world while enjoying many great discounts on business essentials.

Microsoft is very generous in its support to startups using its products, and they are offered a full year of free access to its corporate services by applying online.

One of the world’s leading startup communities. Its internal discounts and prices are comparable to GAN’s, except that the quantity is slightly less.

This discount pass is designed for executive executives to save money on various services and travel. The benefit is separated from credit cards, so it can be used with credit cards to make purchases and enjoy discounts and credit card benefits simultaneously.

Ofcourse, there are other support programs, such as AWS Activate, but they are not as generous and deep as the services mentioned above.

Giftpack Practices

Here are some examples of how Giftpack got great resources and discounts to get through our early days.

  • $200,000+ Google Cloud Platform credits for our early technology development.
  • Over 7X% of discount on all the shipments with UPS.
  • Several thousand dollars on Notion.
  • 90% off on DocSend.
  • 20% — 40% discount on Typeform, Slack, and QuickBooks with Brex.
  • 20% discount on OpenPhone through Mercury.

There are uncountable benefits to help you run your business in a cost-effective way (so you have no excuse).

It’s been a few years since I really don’t have time to write articles for sharing, but I believe it’s a good signal for Giftpack. After running businesses in many countries, I realize there is always a big information gap to help entrepreneurs through the tough early days. So I hope this article can be helpful for founders around the world when you want to do business in the U.S. market.

I’m hundred percent sure there are tons of great services I didn’t cover in this article. Please feel free to add me on LinkedIn to provide any suggestions. Let’s make a better world together by making startup innovation easier.

I’ll try my best to keep this article up to date, and please note that the discount and benefits might be changed from time to time based on your industry.

Archer Chiang is the CEO and Founder of Giftpack, a portfolio company of Accelerating Asia. Check out more of his articles here.

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