Highlights of my conversation with Hannah McIntyre
- Inspiration for launching CrunchBoards
- The early design of CrunchBoards
- Working in a global community
- Covergirl for XU Magazine
- Business support in Britain
- Moving from compliance to value add
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Hannah, what did you like to do when you were 12 years old?
Hannah: Oh my goodness. Probably take my sister into a room and beat her up. No, that’s a ridiculous thing to say. What do I like to do? I lived in the middle of nowhere in the countryside in the north east of Scotland, so in the summer holidays which would be your winter, your version of your winter, our summer holidays … we did get some sun in the north east of Scotland, it would be a case of, “Right kids, we’ll see you at tea time and we’d be out on our bikes fishing and doing all this sort of Huckleberry Finn sorts of things. Yes, I was a bit of an outdoorsy girl.
Heather: Cool, you were out on the heather moors of Scotland?
Hannah: Well yes, something like that, or being thrown into the north sea with the beautiful beaches that we had. My mum going, “Get in there ya big Jessy.” “It’s ice cold mum and from the Baltic.” But it held no sway with her. We just had to man up and get in there.
So Hannah, what inspired you to launch CrunchBoards?
Hannah Need actually. We had a … Amy and I had ourselves a company before CrunchBoards with a hospitality vertical, it was a back office system. We had that for a couple of years and had been using Xero, probably one of the first adopters of Xero in the UK, coming up for four years ago now. It changed my life completely as the one who does all the books for the business.
I’d been using Sage desktop for a long, long time in a previous business that I had, manually exporting all the data, putting it into a spreadsheet for management accountancy information, future projections, all these things that the repetition and the inefficiencies that … and the headache quite frankly that that caused, was the inspiration for the original business, for the hospitality software.
But whilst we were building that out, we were looking, or I was in particular, we were looking for a solution for ourselves. We were giving all these instant management accounts to the hospitality sector. I said, “Hold on a second. It would be great if I could have this functionality too.”
So we went out, did a load of assessment and looked into the markets for the add-ons as they were, probably come out for a year and a half ago now. Obviously they’re vastly more in the market space now than they were then, and trialled all the solutions that were out there and none of them were a solution for us. I think primarily because they hadn’t been designed from the business owner up, they had been designed for the accountant down. That affords different problems.
So guess what? I’d be pulling all the information out because they were putting it into a spreadsheet and back to square one again for the management information and future projections. So we did a load of interviews because if I was suffering in this way, then I’m sure a lot of other people were, and then that kind of led to the fact well then hold on a second, people started to mention, “Well my accountant this …” “My accountant that …”
We started speaking to accountants too. This was a pretty big issue getting real time flexible, and that’s what spreadsheets do for you, they’re a blank canvas aren’t they? What do you want to build? Well, you build whatever you want. It’s your business. You know your metrics, your KPIs, you build what you need. That’s what we wanted to build with CrunchBoard.
I spent a long time kind of designing it. Didn’t even tell Amy what I was doing in the background. Then we started to plan the design and started our first line of code actually was written 1st December last year. It’s been pretty fast. We’re coming up for our first code writing anniversary next week.
Heather: Definitely was very fast. You said you designed from the business owner up, which is a really interesting concept. I guess a lot of things are … it’s interesting where they’re being designed from.
Who are you selling to, the accountant or the business owner?
Hannah: Absolutely both. From a commercial point of view, certainly the accountant because Xero realised that early doors that, “Yes, it’s for the business owner but actually there’s a complete avenue there to go down.” However, that for me has become really exciting because absolutely the core is to make … to demystify the numbers, to make analysis really, really super simple, easy, beautiful actually, you know, we take our inspiration from Xero strapline, “Well yes, actually I want to make my management information beautiful. I don’t ever want to have to create a pivot table again in my life. I don’t ever want to export data again.”
So that’s kind of the core, however the journey that we’ve then gone on because of the accountant, for me particularly from the design side of things, has been really exciting because that then gives other solutions that you have to solve. On our board, on our CrunchBoards, you can view multiple clients side by side. It’s practise management and it’s a client experience too, and a lot of the reporting add-ons in particular are one or the other, they’re not often both, and that’s actually one thing that we’ve spoken about on Developer’s Day at Xerocon.
It was nice to be able to say, “Well, actually, no, our product is definitely for both users.” The great thing is when the accountant actually shares a board with a client for the first time that they get this, “Oh my God, is that my business? Oh, and I can change that and I can change the date and I can view that the way I want to view it, not the way you think I want to view it.”
So while we’re giving the accountant the tools, they are also then able to … and it’s a bit scary for them. I’m not going to lie. There’s some education happening around this but those who are adopting our product for their business are probably the early adopters in the bell curve that people talk about, and accountancy is changing. It’s not about compliance anymore and it certainly won’t be in five years’ time.
Advisory is going to be huge, and those who are adopting tools like ours now are certainly ahead of the game in delivering an excellent client experience, and really empowering business owners with real time operational tools. It’s not a history lesson. It’s a live business plan to actually make your business better.
So you designed it in the early stages. What did that look like? What is you designing it in the early stages looking like?
Hannah: Okay, well as much as I bemoan excel, it does have its uses, doesn’t it? We’re still quite dev heavy actually, is our team, we’ve got seven developers. We’ve got a really big team which is amazing, which means that not only do we get to turn things around fairly quickly in development terms but also we’ve got a massive breadth of knowledge. Our design process is probably one of the most joyful parts of my life actually. I know it’s completely geeky isn’t it. It’s ridiculous.
Honestly, if you had told Hannah McIntyre 10 years ago that I’d just say that, she’d probably just shake her head and go, “Who on earth are you?” But it’s a collaborative … it always starts with me and it’s a collaborative approach in as much as I’ll do the wire frames, the design, the rationale, the logic behind it, and then we’ll bring the team in to go, “Right, how can we make the user experience excellent? What can we do to make sure that from the beginning to the end of this process, it’s as few clicks as possible, it’s as effortless as possible?” So that’s the fun bit.
Heather: Cool. Are your team based there in …?
Hannah: They certainly are in Brighton. We have one in EastBourne but all the rest of them are in Brighton but we’re all got a pier that we can see, not from our windows, but fairly close.
Heather: Sensational. That’s actually quite unusual, especially for developers, they seem to be all over the place.
Hannah: Yes, so that’s important to me. I have to say that’s one thing that I’m really, really proud of is we are completely made in Britain. But it’s not just we’re local, we’re altogether we see each other regularly. They’re not all office based. Some of them work from home but we use software ourselves so that we’re all video streaming all the time and just click each other’s faces to start having a conversation. It just works. It works really, really well.
What’s been one of your biggest challenges along the way since launching CrunchBoards?
Hannah: I would probably say being taken … being so well received in Australia and New-Zealand, the antipodean region. It sounds a ridiculous thing to say that that’s a problem. It’s not been a problem. It’s a wonderful problem to solve but of course it’s meant … you met Amy my co-founder out there. She’s over doing a six week tour.
Hannah: The time difference, it’s something that we’ve got to get around but luckily we don’t sleep. We are complete vampires, and that’s fine. We get the poly filler out in the morning and trowel it on and everything is good to go again. No, I mean it’s brilliant. It’s very exciting. We’re building an Australian team now which is super exciting, and in a million years, that was not part of the plan within the first year but it is now and that’s really exciting, but originally, a hurdle that we had to overcome with sound mind and some decent planning.
Heather: Yes, the time differences, which we can summarise that as, is a common thread I hear amongst the ad-on solutions.
Hannah, you appeared on the cover of the inaugural addition of the XU Magazine, so I’ve got two questions for you. Tell us about the cover shoot and tell us about the impact the coverage had for your business.
Hannah: Oh that cover shoot where we are in mid-aid. I have to say we had the bonkers photographer. He said, “Just imagine that you’re jumping over a barrel.” I was like … well I don’t know why, maybe because I’m from the north east of Scotland but I said, “Can I imagine I’m jumping over a sheep?” which seems to work for me. Our New Zealand counterparts will probably like that. Yes, it was really good fun. We were there with the XU Magazine boys, and we just had a bit of a giggle with it all. That was good fun. What was the second question Heather, sorry?
Heather: What’s the impact the coverage has had for your business?
Hannah: Well, let’s use Xerocon Sydney as an example. People walked in, it was XU Magazine’s launch as well, great, we were on the cover. It absolutely helped with the fact that, you know, with who are these two in the double denim, what’s this? It was … of course it helped. Of course it helps and they’ve been incredibly supportive and continue to be so. Maybe it’s the British thing.
Heather: What I was interested in … I wasn’t trying to get a claim for XU Magazine. I was just interested in media coverage and stuff, and that’s great.
Hannah: Absolutely, it’s been … and actually, that wasn’t my response either. Seriously, it was really, really fantastic dovetailing. Before we went over there, when we got the phone call from Wes, it was just phenomenal, “Wow, we’re going over and we’re going to launch with a splash.” That was just brilliant.
Heather: Yes, it was massive. It made Xerocon Sydney fantastic. I’ve got quite a long question for you here. Doctor Gordon Patzer, who spent three decades researching physical attractiveness and says, “Human beings are hard wired to respond more favourably to attractive people,” to quote him, “Good looking men and women are generally regarded to be more talented, kind, honest and intelligent than their less attractive counterparts.”
He contends that controlled studies show people go out of their way to help attractive people of the same sex and opposite sex because they want to be liked and accepted by good looking people.
Do you see physical attractiveness more as something to be leveraged or your unfair advantage?
Hannah: Well, is that you giving me a sideways compliment Heather?
Heather: Yes, it was.
Hannah: That was a rather long way to do it. Thanks very much. Wow, okay, so this is one of those questions I have to think very carefully of how I answer I guess. No, I have two daughters and a stepson, and they are beautiful. Of course you always think your own children are beautiful. But I would say that it, wrongly probably, opens doors.
However, if there’s no substance there behind it, then you’re dead in the water. Sometimes I actually think that perceived looks can hinder you because people make assessments about you before you’ve opened your mouth. I hope that Amy and I, as two females in the marketplace, are assessed on our product, what we’re bringing to the add-on eco system, and the way that we do business with integrity.
Hannah: That’s all I guess I can say. I just hope that my kids embrace every opportunity they’ve got, and if they get given some more opportunities, then great but I’ll tell you what, they’ll have to work bloody hard to make a success of their life like their mum has to.
Heather: Absolutely. I know when you appeared on stage, the table I was with went silent, stunned, because you were a stunning, shining light there. Then you started speaking and one of them just went, “Bloody hell, she speaks English with an English accent as well!” They were, in a very loving way, amazed by you.
How many customers does CrunchBoard need to be successful?
Hannah: Oh my goodness. We are meeting and exceeding our forecasts. I guess that’s a good thing.
Hannah: We don’t need a set amount of customers I guess. It’s a case of building, you know, monthly recurring revenues as a business models is an interesting one, and maximising our potential in the antipodean region is absolutely what we’re focusing on at the moment. It’s lovely to see that we’ve got UKs signing up but actually we’re not pushing in the UK at the moment because we’ve got a focus there, and we’ve still got a small team. On the sales side of things we’re building that out now which is, again, another exciting step for us. We are thrilled with our progress.
Heather: That’s sensational.
Hannah: If we continue the way that we’re going then we’re in a really good place.
Heather: So it sounds like you’re a strong UK business with a heavy export focus.
Are you getting assistance from the British export authorities – I don’t know what their name is – but the British export type authorities?
Hannah: It’s interesting actually because this week, the Daily Mail in the UK, there’s a focus that they’re doing all of that and actually we’ve been video interviewed for them, so that should be going out this week at some point. But on the export side of things, we are not getting any particular assistance, no. We’re working things out as we go along.
I think the biggest challenge that we’ve got is getting the information about employing staff in Australia, New-Zealand, all of those things, because there’s pitfalls there and that, I guess, is our biggest challenge.
Amy is going back over there in the New Year again, like I said, for the Australian roadshows. She’ll be doing a little bit more recywork but that’s progressing nicely. I guess it’s the legalities that you’re always a bit wary of. But we’ve got good accountants too. They’re helping us out which is great.
What software do you use in your own business?
Hannah: Yes, I mean we run a SAAS business. We’ve got to use smart software ourselves don’t we otherwise we’re not really practising what we preach. So you’ll be happy to know that we run our business on CrunchBoards – Hurray! So building it from a selfish perspective worked.
Heather: Yes, sensational.
Hannah: I don’t know. So that’s brilliant. So from the development side of things, we’re massive fans of Trello. We use scrum methodology technology in our development plan. We use Trello for that which is fabulous. Absolutely love Trello. We are using things like Salesforce
for our CRM. We’ve got some other cool tools like Squiggle that we use to collaborate with our development team, you know, those who are Eastbourne or who are working from home.
I guess for me, the biggest one that we’re using is HipChat. We’ve got a room in HipChat which has got our conversation CrunchBoards room from the beginning of time. It’s brilliant because it feeds in with a different software, alerts and stuff that we’re using feeds into it to. That’s an essential tool for the dev side of things.
Heather: So HipChat is what you talked about when you said, “I just hit a button and talk to someone face to face?”
Hannah: No, that’s actually Squiggle. It’s constant video streaming. It’s brilliant. It’s really good. We’ve been using that since they launched it with their beta. They’ve been a few bugs which is fine.
Heather: You’re an early adopter, aren’t you, of everything?
Hannah: Yes, but you’ve got to remember as well, I’m working with geeky boys. It’s like, “Hannah, have you seen such and such?” “No I haven’t, I’ll check it out.” Things like Screen here, that’s quite good as well. I don’t know whether you’ve used that before. It’s kind of instant screen collaboration, and it’s absolutely brilliant. You’ve got both mouses there, you start typing, you’re on the other person’s screen. It’s phenomenal. From peer to peer dev side of things, that’s really cool too.
Heather: There seems to be a lot of screen adoption technologies come out recently because I know I’m still paying my $60 Go to Assist Citrix subscription which I think I need to drop and do one of those.
Hannah: We do use it. We’ve used others. I think that all of them, including Skype which we’re using at the moment, if that’s all you do really, it should be bloody good. Building an application that does a lot of things and making sure that they’re all good is hard work. If this is all you do, let’s get it going well. So I think screen technology is brilliant if it works, and we’ve all had issues where it doesn’t I guess.
How do you see the Xero ecosystem evolving?
Hannah: Well, it’s growing at a rate of knots isn’t it?
Heather: Absolutely, yes.
Hannah: Interesting, I’m not using many add-ons now myself.
Heather: No, it didn’t sound like it.
Hannah: We’re using our own because that’s what we needed to use. We are using things like Zapier Integrationss which we use for our billing. We use Stripe for our billing, which is brilliant; it creates an invoice in Xero straight away, so that’s brilliant. I see us doing some interesting things next year with the ecosystem but I don’t want to speak too much about that because it’s ‘in the can’.
Heather: That’s okay.
Hannah: 2015 is really excited with that. I think that Xero is really pushing the vertical add-ons, sometimes to the detriment of the horizontal add-ons that are out there. As much as Xero has given us all this opportunity in many cases, it is an accounting package. I think that if it loses focus on what actually is its core product, that it will actually create issues down the line with, “Well, what are you? Why build an ecosystem if you don’t want to actually help it flourish.”
So I think the next year, in particular, will be very interesting. In particular when you look at Xero’s competitors and what they’re doing. We are purely Xero, certainly at the moment we are. We’ve made a decision despite the fact that we have got other integrations. I’m not going to name any names but we’ve got other integrations that we could turn on and we decided not to because they’ve been amazing. They’ve been very supportive of us.
You mentioned that you use Stripe billing with Zapier, does strike billing do your automatic subscriptions?
Hannah: Actually no, it doesn’t.
Hannah: We built our … we could have and we did look at their … they’ve got great docs, they’ve got a great system but we’ve got kind of a variable billing system, so we actually built our own … one of our lovely boys went and built a custom one for us.
Heather: Oh, that’s good. That sounds like another little solution you could go and sell out there. Another one, “We built it because we needed it.”
Hannah: Yes, right.
I think you’ve touched on this a bit but if you have anything to say, what changes are you seeing in the market moving from compliance to value add? I think you’ve said that you see it becoming …
Hannah: Look, you’re a CPA.
Heather: I’m FCCA. You actually know that.
Heather: People in Australia don’t know that.
Hannah: So previous life for me, I’ve had accountants beforehand who I’ve not seen for a whole year, and at the end of the year had gone, “Oh hi, it’s year end, we’ll get your accounts prepared and here’s a P&L and a balance sheet and here’s a bill for £2,000.” That was years ago. Years ago!
Heather: And that sounds really cheap.
Hannah: Yes, right, exactly. Well, it didn’t feel it but you’re just like, “What value am I getting here as a business owner?” So there’s that. We kind of parked that on one side but I think that business owners are kind of having … there’s some really entrepreneurial businesses out there. There’s still some huge business, fine, but yes I mean markets are traditionally time poor, on the ground, firefighting, all of those things, really hands on, and until you get to a point in your business where you can employ these things for you, you need input now and again.
There was a great study, I can’t remember who commissioned it, that I read probably about a year and a half ago, that said that 84% of SME actually want their advisor to take on more of a CFO role, a remote FD role.
Hannah: It’s hard doing it on your own. I may be wrong and I may be off here but I do think there will be a move that actually compliance will not be the thing that’s the billable. It’s actually … actually I met a very interesting accountant in Brighton actually awhile back, actually last month, who she hasn’t got many clients but she does definitely perform that FD role for them and does not do compliance. They have another accountant for that. She’s not interested in it. It’s like, “I’m here to help you run your business and make you as successful as possible.” That’s exciting.
Hannah: Compliance is a necessary evil. Tools are actually making that process a lot quicker, a lot easier than it was before, even for the single ledger it’s revolutionised a lot of these things. It’s a lot more streamlined, so where’s the value? What do we need an accountant for? Well, actually, you should have a hell of a lot of knowledge to help me run my business, so give me some. That’s where I see it going.
If you were talking to … and I’m asking you this because it’s specifically around your product, if you’re talking to a bookkeeper or accountant who’s never ventured into value add work, and there are a lot of people like that, what would you suggest is the easiest thing they can do, using your product, to help their client and value add?
Hannah: The first thing I’d say is how do you present data to your client? How do you give your client visualisation over their own business? First question. Often, there’s an um and an uh there, and a pause. Then the second point will be what we’ve just discussed, you know, the value add side of things, and what do business owners … we know this because we did the bloody interviews. We know it. We’re not making it up.
Actually we’re one of those business owners, “Hi there, we’re one.” What we would then do is create … and we have, we have them already built out, but we’ve got sample boards that can get turned on and they work for every organisation because they’re a little bit more generic. That’s fine. It’s a great introduction to the visualisation side of things, the power of actually just being able to pull out one account, for instance, or income and see all of your sales streams side by side on a chart in seconds, and being able to change that data. Do you want to see it this week, this month?
We’ve got a great client of ours that looks after cafés and restaurants and things. Great, so they’ve got one board. That’s a starting point, and then each business they’ll tailor it, of course, but for each vertical, we can get those things set up. The kind of point about it is we’ve created an engine, and it is an engine, it’s a platform that allows you to absolutely tailor and make bespoke in seconds, analysis: future, present and past. All of those things in one card, one of the cards that we’ve got on our board, can be flipped out into forecast data, again in seconds.
It’s just that instant, effortless, and now you start doing this the conversation starts. That’s the point because the boards that we’ve built, you can then share with the client. They receive it. It gives them a mirror copy in their instance on their tablet, their phone, we designed it responsibly so it works on any device. It’s a case of right, we’re syncing with Xero automatically as well, about three times a day, three times every 24 hours, so that data just comes through. It’s being updated all the time. You build out your forecasting CrunchBoards as well. You’ve got that versus actual forecast. It’s how we compare it.
Tracking is being released within the next week or so. They are looking amazing those cards at, and great plans for the future for consolidation of things at the beginning of next year. It just literally is, I know we say on our website, “Where Xero stops, CrunchBoard starts,” that really is the case. That’s what we’ve done.
Heather: Absolutely, and you seem to be evolving and bringing out new updates so quickly because I know that Amy said it almost looks completely different to the original version.
Hannah: It does. Again, I sneakily did version two while she was in Australia. I did it while she was away. It’s terrible. It’s like cheating on your wife. But the beauty of cloud, the beauty of … and that’s why we’re here isn’t it Heather, it’s all about cloud. The beauty of that and the whole point of it from an end user’s perspective is you don’t pay for a disk of some desktop software that you punch in to … plug into your machine, and then that’s it you’re done, and you hope that it doesn’t corrupt and you need to phone the support line. You get really an update for the same license fee. It just keeps giving. We’re just a gift that keeps giving. That’s the point of it all.
Heather: Absolutely, well you’re the frosting on the cake.
Hannah: The frosting on Xero’s cake, for sure.
Heather: So Hannah, I’ll leave you with one final question.
What do you look forward to doing most?
Hannah: Oh my goodness. Seeing my kids more probably. I have mummy guilt quite a lot, so they’re seven, eight and twelve, and I think I’m really, really looking forward to Christmas this year. It’s been an insane 12 months, insane, and spending some family time with my kids and my amazing partner. He’s the rock. I couldn’t do it without him. I’m being a bit soppy now but that’s the truth. That’s the truth. Why do you do this? Why do you slog your guts out? For family.
Are they looking like they’re going to go into computer sciences?
Hannah: It’s funny actually. My youngest, she’s a big crazy, that’s just an aside, that’s just a statement of fact, but she wanted to be a vet. She said to me the other day, “Mummy, if I don’t get to be a vet, I think I want to be a business woman like you.” I just thought, “Bless you darling,” because she sees the hours that Amy and I put in, and especially with Australia and New-Zealand of late.
We start and 5 and tonight I’ll finish at 10:30. My day started at 5 today. Usually I’m drinking wine, today I’ve actually got water which is a big … I’m quite impressed with myself. So I hope that we’re an inspiration to the kids. I hope so. It would be nice.
Heather: Yes, I do think sometimes, and it may not work for you, but the cloud, it means you can actually be flexible around your children.
Hannah: At the end of the day, if I want to take a day off, I can do. If I need to work away, I can do. This year not so much because we’ve had so much to do but next year it will be different. We’re not going to take our foot off the pedal but we will be structuring things a little bit differently by taking on more staff, etc.
Heather: Absolutely. Thank you so much Hannah for speaking with us today. I’m sure our listeners will really appreciate everything that you’ve shared with us. Hope you have a wonderful evening.
Hannah: Thanks Heather.
Heather: Thank you. Cheers.
End of Transcript
- CrunchBoard http://CrunchBoards.com
- Xero https://www.xero.com
- Sage http://www.sage.com
- XU Magazine http://xumagazine.com
- Salesforce http://www.salesforce.com
- Squiggle https://squiggle.codeplex.com
- HipChat https://hipchat.com
- Zapier Integrations https://zapier.com
- Stripe https://stripe.com
- Trello http://www.Trello.com
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