Mick Devine is the CEO and co-founder of Calxa, producers of the leading budgeting, reporting and cashflow forecasting software in Australia and New Zealand. He’s an accidental accountant with a strong desire to solve problems. One of his goals at Calxa has been to deliver software that makes life easier for customers, maximising the time they can save. Another, bigger one, has been to make the world a better place and Calxa’s donation program for grassroots Not-for-Profits is one of the key vehicles for delivering on this.
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Calxa helps accountants, businesses and not-for-profits by delivering better management reports in less time, without the need for complex spreadsheets. Linking to common accounting systems eliminates duplicate data entry and provides the basis for accurate reports.
Calxa’s software makes reliable cashflow forecasts available to non-accountants so they can take charge of their businesses. Accountants love Calxa because it gives them the tools they need to provide a true advisory service – helping their clients with cashflow and budgets and using KPIs to monitor important statistics.
Calxa is based in Townsville, North Queensland and has customers as far afield as Japan and Scotland.
Heather: So I started by asking him what he liked about living in Townsville?
Mick: The people mostly but generally it’s a very easy place to live. I live at the bottom of Castle Hill and I just walk out my front door and take a walk up the hill and back down again.
Heather: Fantastic. How long does that take you?
Mick: If I go all the way to the top I have done it in 45 minutes but generally an hour.
Heather: Very good, very good. So when someone visits Townsville, one of our listeners visits Townsville, where should they go for a drink?
Mick: There’s a number of places. Depends what you like, but the Basement Bar is good on a Friday or Saturday night for a bit of music as well. There’s Longboards down on the Strand which is good for a Sunday afternoon just looking out over the water. Yes a number of different places depending on the time of day and what you’re looking for.
Heather: Very good. We’ve got a few options there so people might try them out. So Mick when did you found Calxa?
Mick: Calxa as Calxa started in 2008 but it came out of a previous project that I was involved in which was Two Keys Money Manager which first started back in 2000 and we did some budgeting software there but it was limited in what we could do and it was our first attempt and even though it kept a lot of customers happy we knew we could do better. So in 2008 we started from scratch and Calxa came out of that.
Heather: Oh okay. So you started, I do remember Two Keys. I was racking my brain trying to remember what the business was called but I do remember Two Keys. So you started from scratch again. That’s kind of really amazing to just start from scratch again. What was that process like for you?
Mick: It was interesting, challenging, but it was the best way of doing it I think because Money Manager was the first big application I ever did and you don’t always do things right the first time. It was very MYOB centric in the way we’d done it. Technology had changed in the intervening 8 years. I’d learnt a lot in that time as well so it made sense to think, well the first question was if we were starting from scratch now what would we do and it wasn’t precisely what we’d done before. We took some of the elements of what we’d done before but did it in a way that was better, gave us better customer experience, gave us more flexibility so we’ve been able to integrate fairly easily with other things like Xero, with Reckon, we’re about to do QuickBooks online in the next couple of weeks. So that sort of stuff becomes a lot easier now that we’ve changed the architecture.
Heather: Yes absolutely. It is interesting when people do that. Do they say okay we’ve got to restart again. How do they do it. Whether they just try and replicate what they had on a different infrastructure or whether they want to start a new and build fresh, which is what you seemed to do. So I jumped ahead there, but can you explain for our listeners what Calxa does?
Mick: What we try to do is to make it easier for small businesses, accountants, bookkeepers, not-for-profits to get management information for their organisation. So easier to do budgets, easier to do cashflow forecasts, KPI reporting, getting that information that you need to run the business rather than the compliance side of things that you get from your accounting software.
Heather: Absolutely, yes. That’s a very good explanation there. So why did you, maybe you’ve answered it, but why did you see the need to found Calxa or the need to move into this area and develop these tools?
Mick: I guess there was nothing else that did what was needed and I’d spent far too much time banging my head against spreadsheets, both for organisations that I was directly involved in and also for clients that I was working with and having budgets in one place, actuals in another and trying to match them up. It was far too time consuming and at that time there were a couple of other tools around that did budgets and cashflow forecasts. I mean WinForecast is probably one that comes to mind but you had to have an accounting degree and three days of spare time to do anything with it.
Heather: Yes absolutely and it’s so easy for business, people who go out and inspire businesses to say do a budget and then analyse it, but it’s actually as you said, very time consuming and you need the tools to be able to do the analysis of it quickly so you’re not bogged down in the time and trying to avoid it. So what programming language is Calxa currently built on?
Heather: Oh very nice, very nice. So what outcomes do you see when people are using your solution?
Mick: Well I was just talking to one of our not-for-profit clients in New Zealand last week and she’s a fairly small organisation but the first thing she said to me was, I’ve only been using Calxa for a couple of months now but every month it saves me more than a day in getting my reports done. That’s the difference we make and that tells me we’re doing something right.
Heather: Absolutely. So she was doing the reports anyway but now using Calxa it’s saving her a day in administration and sort of processing time-
Heather: -and probably at the end of it she has a lot more confidence in the accuracy of it because of no re-entering of data or a mysterious person who changes an Excel spreadsheet cell, that none of us have ever experienced.
Mick: That’s right. It’s never me that did it.
Heather: Yes absolutely. So you have recently in the press, there’s been publicity about your donation program which has recently reached the first $1 Million milestone; congratulations on that. Can you explain to our listeners what the donation program is and how you went about doing this?
Mick: Thanks Heather. The donation program is for small grassroots not-for-profit organisations and we started it just over 4 years ago and we do a lot of work with not-for-profit organisations and sometimes they have really complex reporting needs and while we saw that Calxa was a solution to those reporting needs and save them one day a month, two days a month or more, some of the smaller organisations because they were tight on funds couldn’t afford to buy Calxa and I’ve done some work in the past with an organisation based in Adelaide called Connecting Up who do donations and discounts of technology for not-for-profit organisations and they’re allied with TechSoup New Zealand, who do the same thing over in New Zealand. So you can go to them and you can get Microsoft Office, Windows, anti-virus software, Cisco routers all sorts of things and so in my previous experience with not-for-profit organisations I’d organise discounts of those sort of things for them, so I knew about what Connecting Up did and it seemed the ideal vehicle for us to (a) help the smaller organisations who had some of the same needs of the larger ones. You know if you’ve got a grant acquittal to do it’s the same sort of paperwork whether it’s for $50,000 or $500,000. Having an extra zero on the end doesn’t always make it more or less complex. So we wanted to help those organisations even though they couldn’t, didn’t always want to prioritise buying Calxa because they had all sorts of other things to do and generally we wanted our relationship with the not-for-profit sector to be a two-way partnership rather than us just coming along and yes there’s great benefits to them in using our software but we wanted it to be more than that and so that’s when we talked to Connecting Up about doing the donation program and they’d never had an Australian donor partner before that. So we were their first and we’re still their biggest donor partner, or the biggest Australian donor partner. It will take us a while to be as big as Microsoft and then we were talking to them and they said you can put a limit on the donations if you want to and they said how some people like Cisco have a ceiling on how much they donate every year and then when they get to that they stop donations and then the first of July it starts again. We thought that sounds far too complicated but let’s just come up with a number anyway and let’s see what it would be like to do $1 Million worth of donations and we had no idea when we started how long that would take. We didn’t know how many people, we had no idea even how many people were eligible. We didn’t know if we were offering it to 90% of the not-for-profits out there or 20% or what. We went into this fairly blindly I will confess, but I’m sure my business planning advisors would have something to say about that, but it’s been great, you know. We’ve helped all sorts of organisations from Lifeline offices to small disability providers to neighbourhood centres to women’s groups-
Heather: –so do they get the product for free?
Mick: Yes they pay a small administration fee to Connecting Up, for just managing it, but the product is free.
Heather: That’s sensational and I remember listening to someone from an RSPCA type organisation over in America and they said that they just couldn’t give the kittens out for free because people wouldn’t respect them; they had to actually charge and I think you do need to charge a little bit so you’re not just giving something away but that’s really impressive. Really well done on that. I know there’s been a huge amount in the media recently about how wonderful a certain Mr Facebook founder has been about giving away money to charity but I think you’ve probably affected a lot of people in what you’ve done and probably paid a lot more taxes than Mr Facebook has done here in Australia.
Mick: Probably. I think it was also about what could we do that would have most impact on the world we live in and we could give $100 to Greenpeace every month or whatever and it would have a fairly minimal impact, but by giving away our software to these organisations, if each of them is saving a day or two days every month on their administration that means they’ve then got extra resources to help the clients that they deal with. So it multiplies our contribution many fold.
Heather: Absolutely and I think one of the issues that charities have is that they need to be focussed on that they actually do need to spend money on their administration side of things, whether it be they’re getting your software but actually paying people to actually run that software. They kind of sometimes they want to run completely on volunteers and are tripling the workload for themselves rather than focussing on that administration side, which is so important, and I know that I’ve actually worked with charities and they’ll actually get a donation and the guy will say put that towards the administration; I don’t need any fanfare about it and I always think that’s such a great way to donate to someone.
Mick: Yes and I think a well-run organisation needs good administration. It needs to be accountable to the Board. It needs to be accountable to the people who fund it and without good systems in the back office sooner or later the front line will fall over.
Heather: Yes absolutely and what you’re doing is so important and you did mention before that you’re solution is really good for grant acquittals so I just wanted to touch base on that again and sort of make sure our listeners are aware that if you are dealing with a grant acquittal take a look at the solution and see whether it will assist you. Have you found that the charities and I presume the treasurers who are all touching your solution in their capacity, are they then going back into their own businesses and saying I’d like to get it for my own business?
Mick: Sometimes. Sometimes. It does a little bit in terms of spreading the word in that respect and one of the interesting things to see is how people move from one organisation to another and introduce Calxa into the next organisation they go to.
Heather: That’s always nice isn’t it?
Mick: It is, it is. I know one guy who’s probably on his fourth organisation that I’m aware of, but he started using Money Manager back in 2002 and he’s still using Calxa now, so-
Heather: -very good, very good. That’s sensational. That I guess is your ideal client-
Heather: So you’re existing solution connects with cloud solutions but its desktop based?
Mick: That’s right.
Heather: I understand this week you have some very exciting news for us.
Mick: Yes. Calxa with online work spaces will be released on, I think it’s Friday, I think it’s Friday-
Heather: -very good-
Mick: -don’t jump on me if it’s Monday and what that will do is enable you to store your data online. So the software’s still on the desktop but you’ll be able to store your data online, share it with other people and access it from any computer that’s running Calxa. That’s the first step in our online journey from-
Heather: –so tell me about the journey of sort of moving to desktop to developing this. Can you elaborate on that?
Mick: In what sense?
Heather: Elaborate on the development of this solution that is going to hold things in the cloud I guess; hold data in the cloud.
Mick: In what we’ve done so far?
Mick: Okay. We’ve-
Heather: -so when did you think about doing that? When did you think about doing that?
Mick: Back in 2008.
Heather: Oh very good.
Mick: So it was always a part of the plan. It was originally intended to happen quite a bit sooner but life interfered along the way and frankly customers wanted other things first which changed some of our priorities along the way. So it was always there as part of the plan. It wasn’t something we rushed into implementing because there are certain parts of Calxa where we have quite a lot of data on the screen at the same time and it’s taken some thinking about how we present that data in a way that’s easy to use and not incredibly slow. When we do our cloud stuff I want it to work and it will work well and so that’s taken a bit of research, it’s taken a bit of experimentation along the way but I’m reasonably confident now that we’re heading in the right direction. So the basic core of Calxa stays the same but there’s basically a database online where the data is stored and then a whole bunch of services around that which will process that data. So the processing happens in the cloud as well which is one of the things that makes it different to the performance there. So the processing’s not happening on your desktop it’s happening in the cloud. Or the bulk of it is. So the road forward from here basically is we have the Calxa online workspaces where you can store you’re data online and then early in the new year we’ll have the beginnings of our browser based Calxa and that will be introduced gradually over the next few months, starting with being able to generate reports online. So we have a concept of report bundles at the moment where you can batch up all your reports for the month so you’re Board reports or your management reports or whatever and with one click you can generate them. So one of the first features we want to put online is being able to just login to the browser and generate a report bundle. So if you’ve got a Board member whose offsite or your accountant’s offsite or whatever they’ll be able to just generate that bundle and get their reports without even having to have Calxa on their system.
Heather: Oh okay, that’s excellent.
Mick: So that’s one of the first features and with that we want to implement the scheduling of those bundles so we’ll deliver it to you on the first Monday of every month-
Heather: -oh that’s really nice. That’s a cool feature.
Mick: So as long as your Calxa data’s online and your accounting data’s online we’ll be able to pull the latest data out of the accounting software and email you that report.
Heather: Very nice, very nice.
Mick: So making it very easy to use and there will be a transition period where some stuff gets done on the desktop, some stuff gets done either on the desktop or online. But gradually we’ll add more and more online so eventually you’ll be able to do everything online if you want to.
Mick: There are some people who still prefer to do things on the desktop and that option will stay there.
Heather: Oh okay. That’s interesting isn’t it giving them both those options and they’re definitely, especially depending on the organisation, whether they want to go to the cloud or want to stay on the desktop.
Mick: Yes we find our accountant customers and bookkeepers are very keen on the cloud. Our small businesses and not-for-profits are less keen.
Heather: Yes and I can image the NFPs, not-for-profits, are less keen. They’ve got a lot of people who need to sign off on everything and agree to everything and there’s always someone on the Board who puts up a disagreement about something.
Mick: Yes exactly and some of them are in regional areas where the internet is not quite as good.
Heather: Absolutely. So Mick in your business what challenges have you faced on your business journey?
Mick: Oh now you’re asking me hard questions.
Heather: You can say none.
Mick: We’ve had all sorts of challenges, that’s what makes business life interesting. There’s been challenges with cashflow. There’s been challenges with finding the right people. There’s been challenges with going down one road developing the software, spending a few months on a new feature and saying no, that’s not working the way it was meant to work and saying I’m ditching it and we’re going to start again. So we recently had probably not such a big challenge of squeezing eight of us into a small little office until we found the right one to move to. But yes, finding the right office to move to took us 12 months.
Heather: All the challenges faced by growing businesses and you’ve certainly been around for a long time so I know you’ve been in business since 2000 so 15 years for a software business is quite a long time really in this game isn’t it.
Mick: Yes I can’t be hip and cool and call myself a start-up these days-
Heather: -no, no you can’t. Is there any cool name for businesses that have been around for 15 years? You were just ahead of the trend Mick.
Mick: That’s right.
Heather: Way way ahead of it. So what do you look forward to doing the most?
Mick: Problem solving I think. It’s about talking to customers and understanding their problems. You know I’ve been doing a lot of work with organisations involved in the NDIS, the National Disability Insurance Scheme lately, and there’s big changes happening in that sector about how organisations are funded and how they need to restructure everything so there’s lots of challenges there and it’s about, what I enjoy is talking to the different people in that industry and learning about those problems and then thinking about how we can help them and then coming up with creative solutions to be able to do things and sometimes that means coming back and talking to the team here. Sometimes it means talking to some of our partners who are also out there talking to different clients and you know everybody comes with their different bit of experience and together we come up with solutions to make that change process easier for people and make it manageable and help them through that change. That’s what I enjoy doing.
Heather: Do you think here in Australia the regulations overseeing not-for-profits are easy to get on with or frustrating?
Mick: Regulations are never easy to get on with and they can always seem frustrating but on the other hand most of them are necessary as well. Especially in the not-for-profit sector generally you’re doing something with somebody else’s money. Whether that’s grant money from a government or donations from the public, you’re spending somebody else’s money so therefore you need to be accountable for that and that requires some sort of regulation, it requires some sort of ticking of boxes and reporting back to somebody. So yes I understand it’s sometimes frustrating and I guess our role there is in trying to make it as easy as we can to do the reporting side of that regulation so that people don’t have to spend two days messing around with a spreadsheet in order to do their grant acquittal for example. They can just do a bit of setup and click a button and it’s done. So yes regulations are frustrating but generally its necessarily frustrating and we need to find ways of getting around that frustration and automating as much as we can and getting things done more efficiently.
Heather: Very good. That was interesting. Thank you for that. Have you gone down the route or considered venture capital?
Mick: We considered it briefly. Considered it, talked to people and then rejected the idea for a number of reasons. The first one is that investors typically have a very short timeframe and we wanted to build a long term sustainable business. We didn’t want this typical start-up model of you to pour lots of money in, you grow quickly and then you sell it off to some big organisation in 2, 3, 4, 5 years. It’s not what we want to do. We have people with a problem. We have a solution for that problem and they’ll still have that problem in 3 years’ time, 5 years’ time, 10 years’ time so therefore we want Calxa to be around to solve that problem in that time. I’ve seen companies get bought up by big organisations and then they often virtually disappear because the big organisation has other plans at the end of the day and the problem doesn’t end up getting solved. So that was one reason. The other is our donation program doesn’t fit very well with investors. Maximising our profit isn’t our only goal. We need to make money because we need to be around next year and the year after and the year after that and we want to grow and be able to help more people but there’s conflict between those goals that we have and the goals of investors and I’ve yet to find an investor who is, not that I’ve looked lately, investors who have that same mindset-
Mick: -yes they’re few and far between so I may not be around in 10 years’ time but we have a plan within the organisation that other people will be around to take over and to transition to other people doing things probably better than me in 5 or 10 years’ time.
Heather: Very good, very good. No that’s great. It’s really interesting to hear those insights. So one of the things that Calxa does which is a bit different to a lot of businesses I’ve seen is that you hold regular networking meetings. How have these Calxa networking meetings benefitted your community?
Mick: The official term is Calxa Clubs.
Heather: Calxa Clubs. Sorry.
Mick: That’s alright. What we do is when we’re travelling around the country, which we do quite a lot of, we invite our customers in the area to come together and we generally do a short presentation on something to get conversation started and then it becomes a very much Q&A discussion type session and it’s great for our customers because they get to meet other customers. They get to learn from the questions that other people ask. They can ask those questions that they’re maybe not urgent enough that you’d phone up the support team and say how do I do this, but it’s just something that’s been bugging you it’s opportunities to ask those things, to talk about what they like, what they don’t like. So it’s good for us in terms of getting that feedback from customers. We get a lot of ideas on what we need to do next from the Calxa Club meetings and listening to what people are concerned about; what works for them, what doesn’t work for them. People aren’t generally shy in telling us what we could do better.
Heather: I can’t believe that Mick.
Mick: It’s never finished you know and it’s never the best it could be and it’s great to see customers helping one another and exchanging ideas because they often have similar problems. It’s all very well for us to give them a technical answer on how to solve their problems but sometimes it doesn’t really sink in until they talk to another customer who has had similar problems and can speak much more from the business angle of how that works.
Heather: That’s really interesting. It’s kind of like you’re nurturing support ambassadors for Calxa.
Mick: Yes it is and it’s about giving our customers the opportunity to share their ideas and they’re generally very sharing people-
Heather: -yes absolutely. If they’re working in that sort of field you would imagine they would be and sometimes one way to do something is so much faster than another way to do something so it’s always good to hear sort of how someone else is optimising it. So how can our listeners become involved in the Calxa Club?
Mick: Probably the best thing to do is to, I was going to say subscribe to our newsletter, but I don’t think the form for that has gone up onto the website yet. Send me an email and I’ll subscribe you to our newsletter and we will tell you when we’re coming your way. That’s probably the best way. I mean you could just keep an eye on our website on the events page. We always put dates and times up there. We’ve just done the last one for this year in, where were we last week, in Brisbane I think-
Heather: -Brisbane, yes I know you didn’t give me the heads up fast enough.
Mick: I know. But I think we’ve got some scheduled for February in Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland at this stage.
Heather: Wow. One of the things that has always impressed me, or I’ve always seen from a distance is you do an extensive amount of travelling which you have sort of just touched on here. How do you cope with so much travelling?
Mick: That’s an interesting question. How do you cope with it?
Heather: Do you enjoy it or is it part of the job or is it a good part of the job, is it tiring?
Mick: -all of the above. I enjoy being out and meeting people and talking to people. The actual getting from A to B tends to be a little bit tiring and a lot of the flights tend to be early in the morning and late in the evening and there are some parts of the country, I mean one of the downsides of living in Townsville is that it probably takes longer to get places than it would if we were living in one of the big cities. It’s generally two flights to get to Sydney or Melbourne from here. But that’s a small price to pay for living in paradise. The travelling is necessary to talk to people, to listen to people and one of the things that’s probably changed a little bit in that respect in the last twelve months is that I have been able to share around the travelling a bit more. Paul is going to more of the accountants events and catching up with accountants and bookkeepers. Christian is doing more of the not-for-profit stuff and catching up with people in that area. So I don’t have to go to every event every time now.
Heather: Very good. Everywhere I go you seem to be there so I’m thinking you must be going to a lot of things.
Mick: Yes, yes.
Heather: So what does the future hold for Calxa Mick?
Mick: On one level it’s more of the same in terms of helping more customers, more accountants, more small businesses, more not-for-profit. Probably the big change over the next twelve months will be the online transition and how that works and what response we get to that. That’s probably the big thing in terms of the software itself over the next twelve months. We’ve got all sorts of plans around that in terms of…I mean it comes down to…it’s really an extension of what we’ve always been trying to do. It’s automating, simplifying, taking the time out of that process of creating budgets and reports and simplifying that as much as we can and the cloud journey will give us another way to help in that respect.
Heather: Yes, very good. So thank you so much for speaking with us here today Mick. How can our listeners find out more about Calxa and get in touch with Mick Devine?
Mick: Okay the website is www.calxa.com so there’s lots of information there and a free trial if you want to have a look at the software, lots of support material, that sort of stuff. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and that’s Mick with an “m” for mother. Not Nick and call the office 1800 733 149 if you’re in Australia.
Heather: Excellent. Does your solution work overseas or is it primarily Australian?
Mick: Yes yes.
Heather: Oh so you’ve got an overseas base?
Mick: We are a multinational corporation. We have quite a large number of customers in New Zealand and most of our attention has been based on Australia and New Zealand the last few years, but we do have customers as far afield as Japan and Yorkshire.
Heather: Yorkshire. Love that. I spent my childhood in Yorkshire so that’s very funny-
Mick: -it’s probably your local accountant.
Heather: It probably is. Probably. I think we’ve got a few people from Yorkshire who listen in so hello to everyone from Yorkshire listening in.
Mick: Greetings to Yorkshire.
Heather: Thank you so much Mick for talking with us today. We really really appreciate it and we’ve probably learnt a lot and people will go out and give your solution a go.
Mick: Thank you Heather and thank you everybody for listening.
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