27th August, 2020
Launched in 2018, Lightyear has made big strides in the Accounts Payable space by automating many labour-intensive recordkeeping processes.
Traditionally, keeping track of all of a business’s outgoings required a cumbersome Accounts Payable process in order to ensure the right bills are being paid on time, and allocated to the correct manager, team or department.
In the past, this work was both labour and paper intensive. Today, technology is paving the way for a greener, more streamlined approach.
A fairly recent entrant to the market, Lightyear is an example of a solution that integrates with your cloud accounting software to save businesses time and money in processing Accounts Payable.
By putting its approvals workflow into the hands of individual managers, and before routing those bills to your accounts department or bookkeeper, Lightyear enables businesses to get all bills checked before they’re recorded in your accounting system, resulting in more accurate and timely reporting.
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Roger Gregg, co-founder and president of Lightyear, recently spoke with us about the inception of the company and its offerings in order to shed more light on how business owners can extend the use of their online accounting software with a best-of-breed Accounts Payable solution.
Roger, could you start by telling us a little about yourself and the journey that led you to launching Lightyear in 2018?
Back in 2011, my brother Chris and I were working for a large hospitality group in Sydney. Both of our roles partly involved us being tasked with ways to automate systems and processes through the group. And, not surprisingly, we found the biggest problem (and cost) was stemming from the paper-based Accounts Payable process. And what amazed us even more was that when we went to look for solutions, the world’s leading paperless AP solutions (as they referred to themselves) all started their sales pitch with ‘so, what you do is get your paper, and scan it’. It was a bit of a lightbulb moment for us — how can a paperless solution rely on paper?
From that, our first AP solution invitbox was born. We were determined to make an elegant AP solution that didn’t rely on paper and scanners. We didn’t set out to be first cab off the rank, but in 2012 we ended up being the world’s first cloud-based AP solution. Around that time, MYOB was starting its journey of moving clients into the cloud, and we’re proud to say that the very first export that was ever sent from invitbox was to an MYOB file.
A few years later, we were very fortunate to get an exit, but in our hearts and minds, we knew that what we loved to do was build great product. So, as crazy as it sounds, we decided in 2017 to do it all again. And about a year later, Lightyear was born.
It’s only two years ago, but a lot has changed since Lightyear began. What have been some of the biggest changes and challenges your business has faced since then?
Looking back over the last few years, two things really come to mind.
Firstly, the rate at which we have grown has caught us a bit by surprise. Back at invitbox it took us three years to grow to 10 people. At Lightyear, we’ll be a team of 30 by the end of year three. That’s a bit to do with the success we have had in market, but it’s also in part down to the different skill sets we need as a fintech company these days. The variety of developers needed to build for both mobile and browser; security and compliance roles; the sales and service teams needed to ensure we deliver the exceptional customer support we are known for across so many markets and timezones; the marketing and communications people to manage so many social media and education platforms; it goes on.
The fintech space we find ourselves in is much more sophisticated than it was six or seven years ago, and with that sophistication comes customer expectation — and rightly so. But we quickly realised that as we started to build Lightyear for longevity and growth, we needed to invest in those people, features and structures sooner rather than later. That being said, growing from 0 to 30 staff in three years across two continents brings its own challenges, not least maintaining culture and some semblance of regular sleep patterns.
Secondly, the biggest challenge for us has been COVID-19, but I suppose that has been a challenge for all businesses. Our development roadmap for the year was flipped on its head, and I really have to take my hat off to our entire team for coming together to create mobile approvals, instant messaging, notifications channels and so on, in such a short period of time.
The changes and challenges that SMEs find themselves in during the coronavirus pandemic are precisely the reasons that we built Lightyear. Paper-based approvals and bill processing is impossible without access to printers, scanners and colleagues, and COVID-19 has scattered the persons whose job it is to approve bills away from hardware and colleagues.
As a company, we have been very well placed to assist SMEs as they have searched for a paperless and mobile approvals workflow. We have been very fortunate to grow our team with fantastic new colleagues, but looking back over the last five months, it all seems a bit of a blur.
How has your view of your customer changed during this time?
We have a focus on the same customer problem, but not necessarily the same customer.
For example, today we would be known as the most widely used AP solution in Australian hospitality. But spilling out of that market penetration has come industries like franchise food groups (basically, a simpler hospitality model), and the aged care sector. When you think about it, an aged care facility is a lot like a hospitality venue (accommodation, food production, opex, maintenance, utilities, entertainment), but it’s just that they have the same guests every day. From our penetration in the aged care space came early learning clients — similar sort of business model, same suppliers, similar problems.
The commonality is that all those businesses have different managers at different locations approving different suppliers’s bills for different things. And for some of those things it’s important to know how many of the things they bought, and what price they paid for them. And sometimes that stock/materials data needs to be sent to 3rd party inventory and point of sale systems. That’s what we have always set out to solve for. That’s our USP. And that’s the pain point of many other sectors, like retail, the agri-sector, construction, manufacturing, education and the like. Those are the customers that we engage with and listen to.
How does MYOB and Lightyear work best together to make our shared clients’ work and lives easier?
I think this was best described to me by the financial controller of a franchise group that uses Lightyear with around 50 or so MYOB files: ‘With Lightyear and MYOB, we can pretty much throw the keyboards away’.
Data should be fed between systems. Bank feeds. Timesheet data. Bill data. Whatever it is, with MYOB’s own functionality and ecosystem of partners there’s no reason for data to be manually entered.
I’m old enough to remember manually entering bank statement data into accounting software. MYOB were at the forefront of getting data into accounting systems with their bank feeds, and with Lightyear today bill data can flow in just as seamlessly.
How has your team grown in recent times? What roles and resources have you been focused on developing?
As I alluded to earlier, the growth of the team has been reasonably fast, but steady. We have added around 10 people each year. In terms of the departmental head count, tech/dev and care/support have been our main focus to date. We have always been passionate about building intuitive tech (and we take great pride in that), but what gives us the most satisfaction is seeing the client’s ‘a-ha’ moment when it all clicks.. It’s through that customer satisfaction, and great product experience, that most of our new leads come from. Happy customers promote you, and advocate for you.
Accountants and bookkeepers know that if they bring clients on to Lightyear, that the client will have a tremendous experience, so they advocate for us. We regard all of Lightyear users as our partners, and we will continue to focus our resources on making sure that their Lightyear experience is the best it can be.
What are Lightyear’s plans for the future? Are there any big things you’re currently working on you’d be willing to share with us?
Our immediate roadmap is focusing on purchase orders — both giving our clients the ability to raise purchase orders directly from within Lightyear, but eventually connecting Lightyear with third-party Purchase Order (PO) systems, and providing the client’s with automatic line-by-line PO matching in Lightyear, before updating the status of the PO in those systems. We’ll have functionality released this side of Christmas (2020).
What’s your vision for the future of a cloud-based, tech-enabled accounting and bookkeeping industry?
That’s a big question, and I’m not sure that we have the column inches to express all my thoughts. But, at a very basic level, we need to kill the keyboard. If we can all spend less time manually transposing and entering data — data that mostly already exists in another system, or on a document (like a supplier bill) — we can then focus on using that data to give us insights to grow our businesses.
I don’t know about you, but when I trained as an accountant I didn’t think I was going to become a data-entry professional. Lightyear can help with that.
Find out more about Lightyear and how it can work with MYOB to simplify your Accounts Payable today.