John, who had hired an accountant to do his accounts, found out that the accountant had failed to file his return. This ended up costing him a lot of money, since it is the company owner’s responsible for the accounts, not the accountant.
As John’s a software developer, he’s pretty handy with numbers and seeing as anyone can file their own company tax once the company is making less then 7.5milion, he decided to buy an accounting application and do it himself. However, he found they were difficult to use and you still needed accounting knowledge to use them. That’s when he started the idea of Bullet – we met a couple of months later and started working together.
How are you aiming to be a game-changer for SMEs to manage their own accounts/payroll without having to employ an accountant?
80% of companies in Ireland are SME’s with about 4 staff or less. Currently, we’re targeting invoice businesses in this group. Therefore, we can automate the accounts of a large portion of the current business market. That’s disruptive, not only to the accounting/bookkeeping industry but also the invoice and business expense tracking industries. If contractor is paying €300 a month to an accounts service company, and we can deliver a better service for €29.95pm, that’s a saving of around € 3204 per year.
Getting the business up and running for just €1,400 seems pretty impressive. Did you get any advice on how to go about being a lean start-up?
I think it was circumstances and experience that forced us into a lean startup mode.
From lack of money to pay graphic designers, I had to learn about design. Ironically, UI is really about what you want the user to do and less about look. I’m very limited in a design capacity, but that actually meant we really focused on function.
John is a talented developer with a crazy work ethic and lots of experience, so he knew how to build big tech efficiently. We’ve only recently started reading about the theory behind it. When you have constraints, it really forces you to be creative. It’s been happening in California for years.
Our homepage video personifies this thinking. That’s why Eric Reis, the creator of the lean startup, was happy to put his name to it. We didn’t have €5 to €10 thousand euro to make a slick flash video; we also knew that every business that launches usually has to experiment with their messaging until they get it right. So we decided to use ‘cartoon drawings’ as the style; it tied in with our message of simplicity, and sat within my limits of drawing skill, or lack of. We used the medium of Stop Motion so we could easily change the message if needed. It’s not really about being clever, it’s about being clear. Now, it’s a great talking point that makes us stand out from the competition, and all for €15.
Your mother has been the main tester of the service. How has she found it?
I think she loved the attention more than anything else!
Some people might be quick to laugh at some older people not getting tech – but to myself and John it’s a goldmine of raw reaction. Lots of tech is hard to use because it’s hard to make it easy to use.
There is an interesting hurdle to get over when you’re building a product – you can’t treat it like your baby. If people keep having the same problem or difficulty with your product, then there’s something wrong with your product, not the people. You need to stay objective.
What is your own background?
John’s been developing computer games from about the age of 7. He specialized in data mining and Java development, running his own consulting business. I spent 10 years in Rabobank’s Infrastructure department before working on RaboDirect, then setting up my own company.
I understand you want to grow the start-up organically?
Yep, we got a grant from the Leitrim CEB, which is great for keeping us going once we had the product built and went full time. To be clear, we’re not against companies getting investment. After all, supportive girlfriends, friends and family members are every entrepreneurs initial funding, but the best and only test for a business is money in. If you don’t have any funding it forces you to be smart, focused and obsessed about building a product that people want, and will pay cash to get. No money means no time to spend chatting about great marketing campaigns, picking office furniture or bad hires.
Have there been any challenges to setting up?
Everything about a startup is a challenge! Our biggest challenge has been building the product the way we wanted to build it. There’s great support out there. Eoghan Jennings who runs StartupBootCamp has given us some desk space in return for some mentoring; we’re currently in the New Frontiers program which is great, with lots of other support from family and friends.
What would you say to other tech self-starters out there right now?
Just start and keep it Lean. You’ll make mistakes; try to learn from them and keep going.
Mike Tyson had a great quote – “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. You’ll get lots of punches, just get smarter at reading them.