Originally posted on Xero.com/blog
Introducing Lightyear – Xero April app partner of the month
Lightyear is an intelligent accounts payable solution which helps business save up to 80% on their accounts payables costs. The app has grown at light speed on Xero’s app marketplace thanks to its line by line real time data extraction.
We spoke with Lightyear founders, and brothers, Chris and Roger Gregg who told us how the fast growing accounts payable app, is becoming one to watch.
Know the pain, solve the pain
Coming from hospitality and small business management, Chris and Roger both knew how businesses could suffer from the burden of manual data entry, a lack of accurate data and automated workflows in accounts payable. Chris explains.
“We were struggling to get a handle on accounts payables while drowning in paper and manual approvals. Both of us found our separate businesses were spending a lot of time and money on a broken process, our data was not accurate nor in real time, we were being overcharged by suppliers, and we spent half our week chasing approvals, and our business was suffering for it. Like all good entrepreneurial stories, we thought there must be a better way.”
Chris says the inspiration to start Lightyear was primarily due to the huge gap that exists in the market.
“In early 2017, we looked around the marketplace and couldn’t see anyone solving the accounts payable problem for larger SMB’s well. There was no great solution at a good price point which was easy to get going, intuitive and ticked all the boxes for more robust businesses needs.”
Chris notes there were apps which did components of Lightyear’s offering, but nothing providing the full solution Lightyear brings to the table.
“Identifying that gap was the first big win we had, we couldn’t believe that no other providers had stepped into this segment of the market. From there we hired a great team and got laser-focused on building a really great product in super quick time which filled a specific niche for larger SMB’s who need detailed, real time extraction, an approval workflow and a host of other niche features which we have built.”
Lightyear launched at Xerocon Brisbane in August 2018 which Roger remembers fondly.
“The Australian market gives you a buzz. It was a great launch event for us and we were blown away by the reaction from accountants and bookkeepers. You’re talking to someone and you show them the product, and you can see the relief in their eyes where they think ‘What have I been doing before this?’.”
“That moment with customers is incredibly rewarding, because we’ve been there. If someone had showed me a product like this when I was running my businesses previously, I’d have been a very happy guy.”
Finding clients outside the niche
In just six short months, Lightyear have found their biggest vertical in the retail and hospitality industries. Chris says experiencing the pain points of restaurants, pubs, clubs and franchises made it much easier to build the perfect solution.
“We know the problems these businesses face, we understand our customer. The need to extract data line by line, needing product codes and descriptions or unit codes, needing to enter that data into accounting and inventory systems, and removing the physical element like paper from workflow management in accounts payable is our bread and butter.”
“When multiple people need to approve a bill in a bar/restaurant, it can get very messy. You’ll find chefs approving kitchen bills, floor managers approving bar bills, and marketing staff or the head office approving each other’s bills. Paper invoices are a nightmare and often get lost, the whole process is more complicated than it needs to be. The average cost to process a supplier bill is approximately AUD $20, the cost is huge and most businesses we speak to do not realise this.”
Solving for these problems has led Lightyear to create better efficiencies across the board for businesses and their accountants and bookkeepers.
After delivering this solution to hospitality businesses, Chris soon found a lot of crossover and opportunity for Lightyear to help more industries with the same challenges.
“We found our hospitality businesses were experiencing very similar problems many other businesses were facing; manual approvals and needing detailed line by line data and automation and a platform to collaborate with their accountant and bookkeeper.”
The Lightyear team saw the opportunity to expand their offering to other segments. By rapidly improving inventory exporting, analytics, data quality and reporting, they’re now finding clients in construction, retail, franchises, service industries and healthcare in addition to the hospitality realm.
Rapid, agile development and rapid feedback
Lightyear’s lean and agile approach to improving the product has been well received by users, who Chris says are a huge part of growing the product and influencing the roadmap.
“We do about two releases per week. We code it, get it out in beta, let our customers know, and they give us quick feedback very quickly. That flexibility allows us to move at pace.”
This lean development culture has resulted in customers getting a better product thanks to their participation. Chris believes bringing users into this approach is a key point of difference for Lightyear in the market.
“We’ve always been very open with our users from day one. We tell them we’re not going to hold stuff back, and we don’t know all the answers – we listen to them and we build things we think they’ll like. If we release on Tuesday and they give us feedback on Wednesday, they’ll see an iteration in the product on Thursday. I’m a big believer that the fast eat the slow and we intend to continue to develop at breakneck pace to ensure we have the best offering in market.”
A second pillar to success Chris points out is the Lightyear team.
“We have a very strong bench right from our executive team down throughout the organisation. It’s important as a small team to have great quality and talent and a great culture and we spend a lot of time fostering that internally which ultimately perpetuates itself in our customer first approach to development and customer success.’’
Another point of difference Chris points out within the product is the speed, accuracy and detail the app provides alongside the customisable approval workflow.
“We’re getting bills approved as quickly as possible by the right people without causing churn within an organisation. That’s our core offering and that’s what has got us to this point. Now we’re understanding the smaller nuances no one else is solving.”
Working with Xero and helping businesses get into the cloud
Chris says a big part of Lightyear’s growth has come from opportunities within Xero’s ecosystem.
“Our global launch at Xerocon Brisbane in August 2018 was HUGE – it was fantastic to see the energy there. We followed that up with Xerocon London in November which again was a huge event for us, and we’ve done a series of Xero roadshows. A lot of our success has come from the goodwill of the Xero community.”
By attending Xero’s global events, the team was able to gather feedback and insights directly from users.
“Getting our brand out there was huge for us – we connected with some big Xero accounting and bookkeeping influencers and built great relationships based on their reaction to our product. By being at Xerocon we could see first hand what users wanted in the market, what big problems we could help them solve.”
Chris is passionate about bringing the benefits of cloud accounting to SMBs, allowing them to perform as agile as possible in a changing digital landscape.
“There are a lot of businesses in the world still not in the cloud, and the more we get to utilise cloud apps the better off we will all be. Xero has done a fantastic job of building an entire ecosystem of advocates for cloud products. People now understand the benefits which cloud products bring to businesses and bookkeepers alike, so it was fantastic for us to plug into that ecosystem and ride the wave.”
Through identifying advisors in Lightyear’s target market and creating strategic partnerships, Chris found ways to ensure Lightyear embraced the opportunity in becoming an app partner with Xero.
“We knew the Xero ecosystem was vibrant, so it was a no brainer. When we were looking at connecting with millions of small businesses, making the integration with Xero was an easy and quick decision.”
To infinity and beyond – Lightyear is buzzing
“We’re very early and we are just getting started,” Chris says. “We’ve got a great product in its own right, but we’re perfectionists. There’s a lot more we want to do.”
Beyond upcoming features and product updates, Lightyear is focussing on creating strategic relationships. Chris knows the opportunities strategic partnerships present, and explains the importance of SMBs and advisors working in unison.
“The app is all about collaboration between businesses and their accountants and bookkeepers. Whichever channel we enter the relationship with, we end up having a relationship with both.”
He notes it’s sometimes the businesses who drive the adoption back to the accountants and bookkeepers, echoing the importance of cloud accounting and business management for SMBs.
“We know when we have conversations they go fantastically well. When we speak to businesses, accountants and bookkeepers that our product serves, it’s typically a great conversation which leads to a conversion for us. It’s now saving them time and money, and they’re happy.”
Lightyear offers round the clock phone, email and live chat support and have a partner program available for accountants and bookkeepers.
We are running a series of webinars to show you how you can benefit from the power of Lightyear's automation. Click here to sign up for a webinar.