Friday, January 9, 2015

Coaxing accountants into Spotlight / Spotlight Reporting : Business Intelligence & Analytics for Quickbooks Online & Xero

Hamish Macnicol for  Stuff.Co.Nz writes: Helping accountants switch from poking through shoeboxes for receipts to advisers who make their clients successful gets Richard Francis out of bed in the morning.

And after a $3 million capital injection this year, his business has rapidly grown to being on the cusp of seven-figure turnover, as it looks to become the number one toolset in the Xero ecosystem.

Spotlight Reporting was established in 2010 because chief executive Richard Francis' own accounting practice, Francis Consulting, needed cloud-based software to provide good business intelligence to its clients.

"I'd always been interested in software and really I was looking for a cloud product that could produce reports, forecasts, dashboards, quickly and effectively at the push of a button using Xero's API (application programming interface).

"There was nothing out there so I started developing my own product, got together a really good team and next thing I knew we were really getting demand from a lot of other accounting practices." Spotlight Reporting's four products include an application of the same name that creates performance reports. 

Spotlight Forecasting, meanwhile, builds simple cashflow forecasts and scenario budgets, and is being redeveloped to a fully featured desktop product, where Francis said there was a big gap in the market.

Spotlight Dashboard tracks key business metrics, and Spotlight Multi is aimed at franchises and not-for-profit organisations which can import, analyse and compare up to 1000 Xero organisations.

Prices range from about $69 a month to $229, depending on the tools required and size of the user.

Francis said the products basically did some of the things Xero did not do and could not be expected to do, like multi-currency consolidation. It has also integrated with QuickBooks Online, Xero's rival in the United States, and was currently integrating with retail software firm Vend as well.

"We take the data, we mash it up and we come up with trends and analyses which a typical accounting system like QuickBooks or Xero can't really do.

"So we have this really good data mash up and that was just something quite unique in the market, ended up selling the software to other accountants all around the world." Spotlight Reporting had since grown to seven offices across New Zealand, Australia, the US and United Kingdom.

Sales were growing at 100 per cent a year, Francis said, and the business had grown from three staff to 15.

He expected it would employ 30 people next year.

"That's what basically gets me out of bed in the morning, is being part of an industry that's seen as boring and reactive and doing stuff that no one really wants, to transform that into accountants being advisers, doing useful s... that actually makes their clients successful.
"That's been my mantra ever since I started out in the profession and realised that poking through shoeboxes of receipts was pretty ordinary." Francis, a chartered accountant, is a director of Wellington open-source software development company Silverstripe, where he was formerly chief financial officer. His wife, Julie, continues to run Francis Consulting.
Spotlight Reporting raised $3m in investment capital in June, and wanted to become the number one toolset for Xero across Australasia and the UK.

Francis said the company now had some "heavyweight backers", including MYOB founder and Xero director Craig Winkler, former Xero chairman Sam Knowles, Xero director Graham Shaw, Snapper chief executive Miki Szikszai and Vend and Xero investor David Wilson. He said their backing was a strong endorsement.

The capital had helped fast-track the company's overseas expansion, he said. He thought about 25 per cent of the accounting market "intuitively" understood Spotlight Reporting's products.

"We don't need to be the size of Xero because we're a more niche product; we're targeting the smart-end of the accounting profession.

"There's still a lot of accountants who are quite happy just pumping out tax returns, sitting in their little hen huts, but we're trying to convince them in the end to come towards the light."

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