A Coffee Date with ...
Chris Gregg

CEO - Lightyear

Our next instalment of our Coffee Date series is with Co-founder and CEO of Lightyear, Chris Gregg.

Chris is a Northern Ireland native and spent 10 years overseas before returning to NI to found Lightyear with his wife and young daughter.  Chris has over 10 years experience building and scaling companies in the fintech space across Australia, the US and the UK.

This is your second tech start-up (most founders stop after one) - why did you decide to go again?

“Two main reasons.  Firstly, the opportunity is HUGE.  No one is solving the problems we solve for medium-sized businesses and the Accountants that serve them. These businesses are often the last to be disrupted because they are larger and more apprehensive to change but they are also the businesses that can benefit the most from automation and the economies of scale that accompany that. Today we solve for Accounts Payables but the near future will see us move into payments and procurement. I’m tremendously excited to build a world-class product for these customers and our partners. Rome was not built in a day but we are trying our best to do that. We love a challenge.

“Secondly, Roger and I love startup life.  We successfully exited our previous startup and I’ve been involved in other startup’s in an investment capacity since.  Being scrappy, frugal, inventive, innovative and disruptive is in our DNA. If truth be told, corporate life was not my calling.  I missed being connected to customers, connected to my product team and being able to test and make decisions FAST that would have a real tangible impact on the lives of small to medium businesses.  My family’s heritage was grounded in small business and entrepreneurship so it was only natural I found find my way back to building tools to solve their problems.”

You are based in Belfast and Sydney - why did you choose to split Lightyear’s operations like that?  

“We have been a global business from day one with customers across 7 markets within our first 12 months.  We are live in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, UK, US and South Africa. From previous experience, we knew that having a presence in 2 hemispheres meant we were able to offer near 24/7 support and on-boarding. This coverage was crucial to delivering the best service possible.  With Roger based in Australia and myself in the UK, we effectively have 2 company leads to run all our markets. It was also an opportunity to spend time with my extended family and friends and see some of Europe with my wife and daughter, in theory !

How do you plan to scale Lightyear?

“We see our success being focused around 2 main themes, technology and relationships.

“On the technology front - By using the most up to date platforms and technologies we are able to build a truly scalable product.  The world becomes more connected every day and we want to leverage those connections and platforms to scale Lightyear via network effect.  Initiatives such as Open Banking, payments innovation, the emergence of challenger banks, and the freedom of data access mean there has never been a better time to scale a SaaS Business.

“Relationships - Despite much of the focus these days being around digital channels and mobile, much of our success is founded on good old relationships based on trust and respect.  We have a keen focus on community engagement & partnerships with various accounting software partners, inventory software partners, accountants & bookkeepers themselves, industry bodies, re-sellers, cloud integrators and associations.  Through partnerships we are able to reach a wider audience in a one to many approach.“

What’s the biggest sacrifice you make as a founder of a high growth SaaS startup?

“Time with the people I love and care about. Contrary to popular opinion, I do like to sleep and spend time with my family and have a social life, although, I am a self-confessed workaholic.  My wife and I had just had a baby when we decided to get back into startup life, and we don’t do things by halves so the pressures are real. However, we are a strong team and have a great support network around us.  We wouldn’t change a thing.”

What’s the biggest lesson you have learnt.  

“It is important to get into business with good people both from both a skill set perspective and a cultural alignment perspective.  In a startup environment, you spend a lot of time in each others pockets. It’s critical that you have trust and prepare to scale from the beginning.  Find and nurture top talent, don’t hire for the here and now, get the skills you need for the future and invest in those people for the long run. It will pay dividends.”

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