Chris Strode, Founder, Invoice2go
The Big Business of Helping the Little Guys – How Chris Strode Built a $100M Startup by Looking Out for Small Businesses Owners
All the most successful ideas in the world came when entrepreneurs realized that there were things about their current lives that they wished could be done a little easier. The only difference between entrepreneurs and regular people, though, is instead of just complaining, they go ahead and build it.
For founder Chris Strode it all began because he wanted make the lives of small business owners a little easier back in 2002. Today Invoice2go is one of the highest grossing business apps on the market, and the number one invoicing app worldwide for small businesses.
“I was always interested in small business because I come from a family of small businesses, specifically tradespeople. I have a brother who’s a bricklayer, another who’s a carpenter, and another who’s a plumber,” Strode says.
Despite his father’s insistence that he become an electrician, Strode instead started working as a freelance software developer. One of the first things he had to do was create an invoice, and soon found out that all the software options available at the time were needlessly complex, full-fledged accounting packages.
For many small business owners, the administrative effort going toward cataloging, drafting, and sending out a professional invoice was both an inefficient and time-consuming process. Whether it was using pen and paper, or even an invoicing template on a free MS Word Doc, mistakes could easily be made, which would take even more time to find and fix. And many small business owners did not possess the technical expertise to navigate the expensive and bloated accounting software at the time.
Invoicing had become a pain point for every small business owner.
“I knew coming from a family of small businesses, my siblings didn’t have the technical knowledge to navigate these big complex accounting packages, and I thought, ‘There has got to be an easier way,’ so I went to try and find an easier way,” Strode recalls.
Taking advantage of the shareware available at the time, Strode began hacking together his own version of invoicing software, soon becoming an expert within the invoicing space.
“There was nothing available where I could pick up a package and in two minutes I could actually go and create an invoice. So that became the criteria for the software that I wanted to write. Any small business, within two minutes of downloading the software could create a professional-looking invoice and be sent off to their clients,” Strode says.
“Every decision I made for how to develop the app, and also how to develop the business, just came around to trying to help businesses within the first few minutes get up and running with our application.”
At 28 years of age, while working full time at Macquarie Bank, Strode utilized his several years of experience as an industry expert on invoicing software and began developing the first iteration for Invoice2go. He threw himself into the work, as entrepreneurs are wont to do.
“It started way back when I was living with my in-laws or future to be in-laws a year before I was due to get married. And literally working out of the spare bedroom there, and spending every spare second for a year and a half trying to just launch that first version of the shareware,” Strode says.
“That was working in transit, back and forth on the train, working weekends, working Christmases, working Easter, so on top of doing a 40-hour job, I was probably doing another 60 hours on the app a week.”
After a year and a half of bootstrapping and hard work the first functioning prototype of Invoice2go was released. At the time, it was nothing more than a simple Windows application that could be locally downloaded onto a desktop.
“When I was building invoice2go I knew, the one thing I knew, was that every business was different and this has to be an app that is super easy to customize so that businesses can come in and put their own brand into the invoice, they can choose their own logos. And so that’s what freelancing taught me, that every business was different, and I made sure that that flexibility was built into invoice2go.”
Within the first day of release, Strode received his first sale.
“It was a very good feeling. It was also still a year and a half’s work for one sale, which was maybe $40 or something, but no, it was a great feeling.”
If you can sell one…
The first sale was all the validation Strode needed in order to know that he was onto something.
“I knew that if you could sell one, then you could sell 10. If you could sell 10 then you could sell 100.”
Immediately he knew that he had to keep on iterating and further developing his product. He kept overhead low by bootstrapping and going forward as a one-man business. Taking it upon himself to further product development, and achieving further sales by distributing Invoice2go as shareware, and selling the software to small businesses around the globe.
For Strode, the first 100 sales are the most important, as that’s where the most learning can be achieved for any business.
“It might have taken possibly, if I look back, maybe nine months to get the first hundred sales.”
In those nine months Strode spent the majority of his time constantly iterating Invoice2go, taking every complaint and suggestion from his first 100 customers seriously.
From there, those first 100 sales turned into 1000 sales, and continued expanding. Slowly, but surely, Strode was chipping away at the small business market and winning.
For the next several years, Invoice2go would go on to make a tidy profit, but it wasn’t until the advent of the mobile market that Invoice2go began to really hit its stride.
When the iPhone came out, Strode recognized the benefits of mobile applications and how they would soon revolutionize the business landscape. With the majority of his customers being remote workers or contractors often running their businesses from the road, he quickly realized the potential for an app that would allow his clients to create simple and professional invoices on the go.
“It was 10 years ago; I knew when mobile came around what people wanted to do, how businesses work, we already had several thousand subscribers who were using our Windows app. It was really taking what we’ve learned in building a Windows app, and putting it into a mobile product. It seemed obvious to me that all the businesses we were dealing with were mobile businesses.”
He would spend the next nine months building Invoice2go for the iPhone before releasing it onto the App Store. It didn’t take long for the iPhone app to start outselling the desktop version. Today the majority of revenue for Invoice2go is generated from mobile sales.
He comments on how the app market was much smaller and less competitive back then. Today it’s inundated with apps with varying degrees of similarity and performance.
App developers today have to be wary about optimizing their App Store rankings using the right keywords, issues with monetization, and potential third party customer acquisition strategies, just to name a few challenges.
“There’s close to a million apps now, so I think all the users are so well educated on what an app should do, and the quality level. I think if you’re going to attempt to build an app, then whatever it’s taken you to build that app in man hours or in cash or whatever, you have to make sure that you can keep that amount of resources going forever,” Strode says.
Today Invoice2go is a full cloud-based application, with Strode making sure to develop a native app for every device and platform.
Expanding the one-man team
For several years, Invoice2go had only one employee, and that was Strode, who was doing everything by himself. From product development, to tech support, to sales, Strode was a one-man team.
Following the success of the iPhone app, he hired his first employee. From there, Invoice2go began to scale rapidly. In about four years, they’ve grown from one employee to a team of 90.
Strode stresses the importance of having an organic hiring process, and finding people with a passion for the product. For Invoice2go, it’s finding people who have come from small business backgrounds, are passionate about software development.
While his product serves many remote workers and contractors, Strode actually encourages his employees to come work in the office, and to have as much interaction as possible. This helps him to ensure that employees enjoy working at the company and that their needs are being met.
“I think it’s important that you’ve got a lot of interaction. Especially when you’re a startup, you’ve got to remain lean, you’ve got to have people talking amongst each other all the time. Most of the conversations you have come from dumb ideas a lot of the time. It starts off with a stupid idea and it ends up being something which our customers really like,” he says.
Experience and contacts
While it had become a profitable business, Strode decided that Invoice2go needed to rapidly expand, and the only way to do that was with seed capital. He managed to raise $35 million within the first round of funding from heavyweight VC firms Accel World and Ribbit Capital. That made Invoice2go one of only a handful of Australian startups to gain international exposure.
“With the size of the opportunity, it wasn’t something we were able to tackle from our base, which was in Erina on the central coast of Australia. It’s definitely not the tech hub of the world; we knew we needed to have an office in San Francisco where we could recruit some top talent. It’s just a lot harder to find in Australia, around the marketing, the sales, and user acquisition, and the way they’ve got intimate knowledge of how to grow companies. That’s what motivated us to do it,” Strode says.
Unlike other startups, he wasn’t focused on the funding aspect when reaching out to VC firms. Instead he was focused on bringing in the wealth of experience and the contacts that partnering with high-profile VC firms would bring.
“We were already profitable and we had grown organically, and we could’ve kept doing it that way. But it was to bring in those contacts and the experience, which has helped us over the last 12 months double our subscriber base from a hundred thousand subscribers to over two hundred thousand subscribers now, and also grow the company from 30 people to 90 people. And that’s hard to do, very hard to do without that experience, and that funding,” he says.
Strode also made the decision to step down from the role of CEO and instead hand the reins over to Greg Waldorf, one of the cofounders of eHarmony. He cites reasons such as decision fatigue after a decade of being a CEO, and being aware of his own strengths and weaknesses. He chose instead to focus on his ability as a software developer, and continue working on product development and as the CPO.
“It’s not like when the CEO comes on you hand over the reins and put your feet up. If anything, you’re working harder, you’re working hand in hand. Any good CEO knows that it’s the founder’s DNA that created the company and they foster it, and they try to amplify it.”
Strode never would have guessed as a child growing up in a trailer park that he would be where he is today. He never would have guessed 12 years ago that while coding the first prototype on the train that his journey would lead him to be an internationally recognizable entrepreneur.
But Strode still isn’t finished, and believes that Invoice2go has only just gotten started.
“I think 90 percent of our work is still in front of us, and that’s all we’re really focused on—that small businesses will have an awesome platform, not just for invoicing but in the future for a lot of other products. Small businesses can get access to great functionality, which is normally only delivered in consumer apps.
“Most business apps haven’t done a great job in interface, but we want to create a really beautiful experience for small businesses, the same as what they’d expect from consumer apps. But I think we’ve built a really good base and from this point on we’re just working on building from that base.”
Chris Strode’s Essential Advice for Entrepreneurs
Bootstrap it until absolutely necessary
“I think that if you can bootstrap, then definitely do it. Because if you bootstrap and actually build a profitable company, you can just have a way better conversation when it comes to talking to VCs when you want to take it to the next level. Because you can continue to bootstrap, because you’re profitable, you know the ball’s in your court. Time is on your side to a degree.”
Never stop learning; never stop pivoting
“I’m a big fan of lean startup methodology. That’s pretty much how we built the company. Find out what worked and pivot, find out what worked again, and then pivot, and find out what worked, and you keep pivoting. That’s the whole thing. Everyone is still pivoting, even the big companies. It’s not ‘set and forget.’”
Nothing will beat perseverance
“Keep chipping away, you can’t do much in a week, you can get a little bit done in a month, in a quarter you can hit a couple of goals, in a year you can do a lot, and that’s the way I look at it. You just have to keep chipping away and day in, day out. I don’t think there’s any hacks.”
- Exactly what it takes to bootstrap your way to $100 Million
- How to create a brilliant product by identifying a personal problem
- The importance of finding, and defining, your perfect customer
- How to grow a business as a one-man startup
- The key to persevering when the odds seem stacked against you
Full Transcript of Podcast with Chris Strode
Nathan: Hello and welcome to another episode of The Foundr Podcast. My name is Nathan Chan and I’m your host coming to you live from Melbourne, Australia. We’ve got really, really good weather at the moment and spring kinda was on and it’s good times, good times. What’s been happening in my world? There’s a lot been happening in the world of Foundr, we’re really, really starting to ramp up our continent. We’re getting very, very I guess focused on optimizing one of our marketing funnels, we’re looking at doing some more courses soon and products. There’s a lot happening, got so are many epic interviews planned for you. We’re starting to roll out our plans for 2016, and wow, you guys are in for an absolute treat. So yeah, I’m trying to keep my head above water. We are still pretty consistent with posting these episodes which I’m quite proud of and that’s really where it’s at. We hit another milestone today of the day of recording this episode. So what’s that? Mid-October we’ve just hit literally over 100,000 people are now on our email newsletter community which is an amazing feeling to know that Foundr was just a thought in my head two and a half years ago and now, you know, 100,000 plus people rely on the content that we send every week. You know, we’ve built up an amazing community and we’re just getting warmed up. So really, really excited, happy days.
Now, to today’s guest. His name is Chris Strode, he’s a fellow Australian and he’s a founder of a company called Invoice2go. They have over 100,000 customers and it’s just epic invoicing software. They’re one of the top business apps in the App Store. You know, it’s funny. Chris started this company a long time ago and, you know, even 4 years ago, he was running it solo and now they have over 90 stuff and this guy’s absolutely crushing it. They’ve just done their series A round of funding and they had a valuation of $100 million and they received over 35 million in venture capital funding. So, yeah, these guys are turning it up a level. And me and Chris talk about some really interesting things that I’ve never touched on in a podcast episode where, you know, namely like why did he choose to take that amount of money? Why did they choose to raise capital when he said they were an extremely profitable business? Why would you do that? And also he’s actually stepped down as the role of CEO and they’ve hired a CEO and it’s really interesting to hear how this tend to scale up. Why they’re making the decisions they’re making right now? And yeah, I’m really proud of this interview. I think you’re gonna enjoy it. There’s a lot of interesting things here around how he’s grown Invoice2go, how they’re operating the business, how they’re getting their customer base and a lot of key lessons on leadership. All right guys, so that’s it from me. If you are enjoying these episodes, please do take the time to leave us a review. I’d love to hear from you as well. You can reach me at [email protected] Now show me to the show.
We’ll start off with the first question that I ask every one of our guests is, how did you get your job?
Chris: Basically, I started as a software developer and then from that point in time, once I had honed my skills as a software developer, five or six years, working with other people, working for other people, I was always interested in small business because I come from a family of people who are in small business specifically tradespeople. So I’ve got a brother who’s a bricklayer, another who is a carpenter, and another who’s a natural plumber, and my dad tried to make me an electrician, I guess, trying to get his retirement house built for free but… So I came from that background, you know, small business and so I started working as a freelance software developer and one of the first things I had to do was create an invoice and I just found that all the other…all the software that was at my disposal was fully fledged accounting packages and there wasn’t anything for a small business like for someone who didn’t wanna learn an accounting package. And I knew it coming from a family where there was a lot of small business people that we just didn’t have…that my siblings didn’t have the technical knowledge to navigate these big complex accounting packages and I thought, you know, “There’s gotta be an easier way.” I went to try and find an easier way just from the shareware that was available at the time. And there wasn’t even anything… There was no shareware available or nothing available where I could pick up a package and within two minutes, I could actually go and create an invoice. So that became the criteria for the software that I wanted to write, any small business within two minutes of download and the software could have created a professional looking invoice and be sending it off to their own clients. And every decision that I made if I had to develop the app and also I had to develop the business just came around to trying to help businesses, within the first few minutes, get up and running with our application.
Nathan: Was Invoice2go your first business idea? How long ago was this? Can you take us back?
Chris: Yeah, it was a long time ago. So this was over a decade ago even long before mobile and so I guess that’s…when mobile did come around, I was already, you know, an expert in the invoicing space. It wasn’t like I said, “Oh, what am I gonna do? I mean, mobile is here, you know, what should we do?” I’d already been building shareware for invoicing for seven years prior to that. Yeah, it was 10 years ago so I knew when mobile came around what people wanted to do, you know, or how businesses work. We already had several thousand subscribers who were using our Windows app and it was really just taking everything that we’d learned in building a Windows app which was still known by the same name as Invoice2go and putting it into a mobile product. It seemed obvious to me that all the businesses that we were dealing with were mobile businesses and it wasn’t until iPhone came around that I felt confident enough that a platform had arrived where you could… Which was simple enough for people to actually be able to do something complex from like sending an invoice which is prior to that. You know, you could send text messages and do voice calls but then you wouldn’t wanna go much deeper on any mobile device.
Nathan: So yeah, look, this is really interesting because I’ve always known Invoice2go as the mobile app and would you say that when you guys… Did you guys launch the mobile app as soon as Apple went live with the App Store or how long did that take to come out? Is that when you really hit your strides?
Chris: That’s when we hit our strides. We were…I was a one-man band up until about four and a half years ago. So those first seven years was literally just myself and me and myself and I doing development, tech support, and sales. So when the iPhone SDK got released, that was when I started developing now iPhone app and it took about nine months to build the app after the SDK got released and then that’s when we really hit our stride. So very quickly, the iPhone app started out selling our desktop app and then I hired our first employee roughly about four years ago and we’ve grown. Well, there’s 90 people now who work for Invoice2go. So over the last four years, we’ve grown from 1 to 90 people.
Nathan: Wow, that’s impressive. So I’m curious just to touch on that first seven years, Chris. So were you running like a SaaS pretty much? Was it always on the local-based application not on the cloud, nothing like that? Or?
Chris: No, it wasn’t a SaaS or anything. It was really like a shareware type product where you download it, it would run locally and yeah, it was a local install.
Nathan: Got you. So you were working as a software developer, what made you go to freelance in the beginning? Like I’m just curious, when did you go to freelance and then developing your own app? How did that happen?
Chris: It was that next logical step that a lot of people…you’d work in a business, you’d learn what to do and then I guess from being a freelance, you learned that every business that you worked in was different. So when I was building Invoice2go, one thing I knew was that every business is different so this has to be an app which is super easy to customize so that businesses can come in and they can put their own brand into the invoice, they can choose their own logos. And so that’s what freelancing taught me that every business is different and I made sure that that flexibility was built into Invoice2go.
Nathan: I see.Aand when you launched the app, did you go for a freemium model or just the pay for the app? Like where did your strategy come behind that? Because the App Store is very crowded these days.
Chris: Yeah, so when we first launched, there were no time-based trials in the App Store, Apple was literally saying, “You know, you can’t take functionality out once the user’s downloaded the app.” That’s changed now which is good. So when we first launched, we did what everyone else did and had a lot version of our app and then a paid version and it was just standalone too, it wasn’t a SaaS model. And so one of our biggest transitions has been taking the company from just a standalone product to a SaaS company. And yeah, that was one of the hardest transitions just, you know, navigating that process and keeping our customers happy. When you’re in the App Store, you can’t take a paid app and turn it into a free app, we literally had to…and you’ve got so much traction already around that existing paid app, moving that traction into a SaaS app which is another app within the App Store, took a lot of work and it’s taken a long time to get it run.
Nathan: Yeah, I see. And are you guys…like can you use Invoice2go on the computer and is it all linked up from there? Because I’m sure many of our audience would love to know that too, or you have to use the app?
Chris: Oh yes. So now, we’re a fully cloud-based application. You can use it on an Android device, you can use it on our web app, you can use it on iOS. So yeah, it’s across all devices.
Nathan: Got you.
Chris: And we focus on building a native app for each device, for each platform.
Nathan: And where would you find most of your traction come from now? Generally the app or the web app or…?
Chris: Yeah, I’d say probably…I’d say it’s the App Store brings in a lot of people, also Android too and and the web. I’d say most of it is coming from mobile. Definitely from mobile.
Nathan: Just to touch on back on the early days because I always find this stuff really interesting, like you’ve got 90 staff now, you guys are the number one invoicing software out there. You know, how did you get your first 1000 customers for your shareware version? Did it take a lot of hustle? Like, tell us about the hard times, Chris. Tell us about the times when you felt like giving up.
Chris: Yeah, that’s good. Yeah, and that’s easy to think. We’re actually the top grossing business app now and the number one invoicing app worldwide. So yeah, obviously, it didn’t start that way. It started way back when I was living with my in-laws or future to be in-laws a year before I was due to get married. And literally working out of the spare bedroom there and spending every spare second for a year and a half to try and just launch that first version of the shareware. So that was work in transit back and forth on the train, working weekends, working Christmases, working Easter. So on top of doing 40-hour job, I think I was probably doing another 60 hours on the app a week, so yeah,100-hour a week. Which are possible when you don’t have kids, I guess, and when you’ve got a supportive partner. You couldn’t attempt that now when you’ve got three kids. But it was possible to do it back then. I think it’s the best time to do it before you do start a family. So yeah, I think that was pretty tough and to get the first 1000 customers was always like I was really aiming for the first 100. The first 100 was a milestone and I knew that if you could sell 1, then you could sell 10, if you could sell 10, then you could sell a 100, and keep thinking, you know, just sort of exponentially. Even to get that first sale, I got the first sale on the first day that I launched the shareware app and then I knew that there was something there and just kept integrating on that. It might have taken possibly… If I look back, maybe 9 months to get the first 100 sales.
Chris: And now we do our first 100 sales in the first 3 or 4 hours of the day. So it’s like it took nine months. Yeah, it’s a lot different, it’s a lot easier now to make 100 sales than it was originally but yeah. And, you know, that’s the hardest time just figuring out what people want. I took a lot of functionality out of the app and that helped in pointing people in the right direction. Really just to make the first 100 sales, you need to have a really good understanding of what your customers want.
Nathan: And, you know, when you said you launched…you got your first customer on the first day, like how did you actually get that customer? What did you have to do, out of curiosity? And can you take us back to that moment? Like were you jumping up and down? Like how did it feel?
Chris: It felt pretty good. It felt good because I had previously launched a product prior to that which took me about six months and I never made a sale out of that, you know what I mean? So I knew that making a sale on the first day that it was a big deal. So had I not had that failure, then I obviously wouldn’t have known that, “Okay, this is a big deal, making a sale on the first day.” I think I got about 200 downloads on the first day and I made a sale out of one of those downloads. Immediately it was like, “Oh, this is great. This is awesome. Keep working on it and keep building on it.” So yeah, that was good. I mean, with the shareware mentality, you know, it sort of makes it easy to do that, I guess. It was a very good feeling but it was also still like a year and a half’s work and for one sandwich which was, you know, maybe 40 bucks or something. But it’s a great feeling.
Nathan: Fast forward to now, you know, you said four years ago, four and a half years ago, it was just you. How have you managed to handle that growth? Like you’ve employed a lot of staff, how do you handle that? How do you work out who to hire? How do you manage that growth? Because I know it must be difficult as a quality problem to have, but can you give us some insight into how you’ve managed that?
Chris: We get a lot of referrals because, you know, everyone who comes to work with us enjoys what they’re doing, we have a really good time. We have a lot of fun building the product and I guess it makes it easy for referrals to sort of come through that way. We’re also just looking for… We also just try to find people who really have a passion for small business who have come from small business backgrounds but, you know, like the tech industry. So we hire as organically as possible and people with a passion for software development and for small business. They’re the two key things that we look for.
Nathan: Got you. And I’m also curious, you recently went through a round of seed funding. Why did you make that decision?
Chris: Yeah. So the funding decision was based around the fact that we were about 25 people and we knew we had this… We saw the size of the opportunity. There’s 100 million small businesses worldwide and we wanna become the invoicing solution that everyone worldwide thinks about when they think, “I’ve got to send an invoice and I’m a small business.” We wanna be that invoicing solution and the best way to do that is to bring in more people which the funding helps with. We were a profitable company before the funding. We’d grown organically and we were a very profitable company. The funding was there to accelerate the growth so we didn’t miss out on the opportunity and was also there to bring in the contacts. It’s not just when you’re talking like VCs, you know, the money shouldn’t be the big deal. It’s like it’s the contacts you’re making. And through working with, you know, with tier one VCs like Accel and Ribbit who were behind our Series A funding, we’ve brought in amazing talent. For example, our CEO built eHarmony which is a big brand, by the name of Greg Waldorf. And we’ve also brought in top talent from all the tier one tech firms in and around Silicon Valley. So it wasn’t necessary just about the money for us because we were already profitable and we’d grown organically and we could have kept doing it that way, but it was to bring in those contacts and the experience which has helped us over the last 12 months, you know, double our subscriber base from 100,000 subscribers to over 200,000 now in the last six months and also grow the company from 30 people to 90 people. And that’s very hard to do without that experience and without that funding too.
Nathan: So what’s your advice on bootstrapping versus raising capital? Do you think bootstrap first or…?
Chris: That’s great. I think if you can bootstrap, then definitely do it because if you would bootstrap and build an actual profitable company, you can just have a way better conversation when it comes to talking with VCs when you wanna take it to the next level. You can continue to bootstrap because you’re profitable. So, you know, the ball’s in your court and you’ve got a lot more… Time’s on your side, I guess, to a degree and so yeah, I would always go with bootstrapping.
Nathan: Okay. And I’m also curious, like you said that you were extremely profitable, you didn’t really need the funding unless you want to take it to the next level. You know, what, I guess, triggered you to take it to the next level? You could have, I guess, gone on and keep…you know, you had your 100,000 customers, you could have just gone on and keep getting more customers. What pushed you to give up equity in your company and take it to the next level?
Chris: I think we just saw the size of the opportunity and with the size of the opportunity, it wasn’t something that we were able to tackle from our base which was in Erina on the Central Coast of Australia.
Nathan: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Chris: Yeah. It’s definitely not the tech hub of the world. We knew we needed to have an office in San Francisco where we could recruit some top talent that’s just a lot harder to find in Australia around the marketing and the sales and user acquisition and the way that they’ve got intimate knowledge of, you know, how to grow companies. And so yeah, that was what motivated us to do it.
Nathan: That’s a great answer. And also how do you manage both teams internationally? Do you have any specific tools that you’d recommend?
Chris: Well, we skype a lot and we also use Slack a lot. We use the Atlassian Suite with Jira and Confluence and get great value out of that, and we find that, you know, that combined with making sure all the offices have super fast fiber access gives us plenty of opportunity to have face to face high-quality video conferencing but we also make sure the teams travel regularly. So we’ve got people from both offices always flying to and from so there’s…nothing can make up for proper face to face.
Nathan: And you said that you guys have a lot of fun. Like how have you developed that culture? Because to go from just yourself to 90 people in four and a half years… Like I’m just thinking about that myself. It must be very difficult to, you know, I guess enforce a culture of having fun especially when you… Do you have most of your staff here still in Australia or more over in San Fran now?
Chris: No, we’re spread out about 50-50 between both. I think if anyone is in tech and they’re not having fun, then they shouldn’t be in tech. So I don’t think there’s a better industry to be in. It’s a great industry for both genders. It’s just an industry which, you know, just…where quality rings true. And so I think it’s a great place to be in and that’s what we look for when we’re hiring people, people who just love this space and who get it and if they do, then they’re people who really enjoy what they do and we just make sure that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, but at the same time, we’re professional and that we always put ourselves in our small business customers’ shoes and we see the world the way they see it. And we remind ourselves just how hard their job is every day and that it’s our job to make it easier for them. That’s how we instill the culture.
Nathan: Do you kind of go for like a Google kind of Facebook kind of style where you have like we’re working from home days and is your office really cool and funky and stuff like that? I’m really curious.
Chris: I think it’s good that as much… We don’t have working from home days because I think it’s important that, you know, you’ve got a lot of interaction especially when you’re a startup, you’ve still gotta remain lean, you’ve gotta have people talking amongst each other all the time. Most of the conversations you have come from dumb ideas a lot of the time. It starts off with a stupid idea and it ends up being something which our small business owners really like. So we encourage everyone to come into the office. Our offices are… Make sure they’re in nice locations with nice views which is central and that everyone’s got plenty to eat and drink. But I guess we haven’t gone over the top with games or internet yet because we’ve been too busy filling them up with our desks and machines. Yeah, that’s how we do it.
Nathan: Awesome. Do you have any leadership or management like number one, like one thing you’ve gotta do to lead a team? Because, you know, that’s something that comes up for me actually a lot now is, how do you motivate people? How do you lead them and manage relations? Because I know now you’ve got…you said you hired a CEO which is another interesting move, like I’m curious. So first things first, leadership and management, you know, top tips there and then why did you decide to hire a CEO?
Chris: Yeah, great questions. I think the person who’s leading the team has to be the one who can expose the truth of everything. It’s all about being able to put your finger on what’s really happening and then just telling everybody, “This is what’s happening. This is what we’ve got to do.” And being 100% transparent in doing it. Then everyone goes, “Yeah, yeah, we see that too.” I think it’s all about just being 100% upfront, 100% truthful, 100% exactly who you are and then if those working around you see the same thing, then you actually form a team. We always say it’s best idea when… So whenever we’re brainstorming things, it’s a very flat structure and it’s a person who’s come up with the best idea and not everyone necessarily. We then transform that idea a bit but it’s then God and everyone to seeing what the best idea is and getting everyone to… Like you’re not gonna convince an engineer…you can’t tell an engineer how to build something. You know, they have to agree with you that that’s the best way to build it. Yes. It’s just really working together as a team and I think the only way I can do that is by being upfront and having 100% transparency. And that’s what we also looked for when we…with our CEO also. We all moved to having a CEO because you don’t know what a CEO does until you actually see a CEO in action and then you actually realize, “Oh, okay.” A lot of people can go around putting the term CEO against their name but it’s not until you see a real CEO and you work with a real CEO that you actually understand, “Oh, that’s a CEO.” And after seeing it, it’s like, yeah, it’s a great decision and it enables me to focus on product while there’s someone who’s just focusing on everything else that needs to happen to build a successful startup business.
Nathan: Got you. Yeah, I know, that’s really interesting because me personally, I’m asking, I’m being a little bit selfish here, Chris, because I own 100% of my company. We’re extremely profitable but, you know, maybe in the future, we should look to… Like I’ve had these thoughts recently, maybe we should look to bringing on some seed funding or whatever and then also, you know, it must have been so hard to give up your baby and hand it over to the CEO. You know what I mean? Like was that really difficult?
Chris: You can get decision fatigue after you do it for a long time now when everything’s coming back to you all the time. Now, after a decade of doing that and I think also at the same time, if you find someone who you really can work well with even before you start working together, you’ve actually created a lot of value. So there’s so many reasons to put it off until you find the right partnership but once you do find the right partnership, if you wanna create value, that’s the best opportunity to do it in my opinion. But it’s not like when a CEO comes on, you know, it’s not like hand over the reins and I put my feet up. You know, if anything, you’re working harder, you’re working like hand in hand. Any good CEO knows that it’s the founder’s DNA that created the company and they foster, but they just try to amplify it and that’s what a good CEO would do.
Nathan: Yeah, I know, that’s a great answer. Last piece on that CEO pace. Like were you told by a mentor that maybe you should get a CEO or you felt that there was a gap in the management structure? Because I know you said you brought on like Accel for your Series A through the connections and mentorship. I’m sure like you guys would have access to some really, really A players in the startup field. Were you told to do that or was it just something that you felt needed to happen?
Chris: It was something that I felt needed to happen, 100%. Yeah. I think if you’re running a company, you have to know where your strengths and weaknesses are and if you do, continue hiring but once you find someone who can do a better job at one of those things than you can do, then you hire that person. You keep that philosophy going forward, you might hire yourself out of the company in five or six years, but you’ve build a stronger company doing it.
Nathan: Yeah, I know, so the vision before your own, I guess, personal satisfaction.
Chris: Well, yeah, 100%.
Nathan: Awesome. So there’s a couple of more questions I have to ask you before we wrap up. You’re killing it on the App Store, you must have a couple of pieces of tips or advice or hacks for anybody that wants to launch an app.
Chris: I wish I do.
Nathan: Build a great product?
Chris: The only tip I have is just keep chipping away. It’s like you can’t do much in a week. You can get a little bit done in a month, in a quarter, you can hit a couple of goals, in a year, you can do a lot and that’s the way I look at it. You just have to keep chipping away day in day out. I think consistency is what we say. You know, we just keep consistently chipping away. But yeah, I don’t think there’s any hacks. There’s close to a million apps now so I think all users are so well educated on how…on what an app should do and the quality level. So if you’re going to attempt to build an app, then whatever it’s taking you to build that app in man hours or in cash or whatever, you have to make sure that you can keep that amount of resource going forever. It’s not like, “I built the up, now I put it out there.” Building the app is just training for the marathon. You know, once you release it, then, you know, that’s when the actual race starts.
Nathan: And what is your advice on like… Because you said there’s a million apps out there, how do you know when to give up? How do you know when to pivot? Like are you a big fan of Lean Startup methodology? What are your thoughts on that?
Chris: Yeah, I’m a huge fan of Lean Startup methodology. That’s pretty much how we built the company and you just have to know…and I totally agree, yeah. Find out what worked and pivot, find out what worked again then pivot, then find out what worked and if…you know, you keep pivoting and that’s the whole thing where everyone’s still pivoting. Even if you look at the big companies, they’re all still pivoting. So it’s not set and forget.
Nathan: And at what point did you realize like… Because you guys are $100 million company, right? Like what point did you realize that I’m gonna make this into a $100 million company? Did you…this is something that you always felt inside of you because I know you’re a country boy. Like did you feel like you’re going to build this massive startup or…and change the small business industry and platform on how people raise invoices? Or was this something inside of you that always knew or just… At what point did you realize you were gonna make it?
Chris: I think 90% of our work is still in front of us and that’s really where we’re focused on. It’s making sure that the small businesses will have an awesome platform not just for invoicing but in the future for a lot of other different products too. And that small businesses can get access to great functionality which is normally only delivered in consumer apps. Most business apps have always been, you know…they haven’t really done a great job on interface because… But we wanna create a beautiful experience for small businesses the same as what they’d expect from their consumer app. So I think we’ve built a really good base and I think from this point on, we’re just working on building that base.
Nathan: Awesome. Last question before we wrap is just three… What are the top three things that you wish you knew before you started?
Chris: It’s almost the reverse. You know, if you knew how much work there is, you might not start. So you don’t wanna think about that because it’s all consuming. So based on that, you have to just be super passionate about what you’re doing, it’s gonna ring true for everyone, it’s always the same, super passionate. You have to love what you’re doing and you have to be super scrappy whether you’re bootstrapping or seed capital. You have to be motivated by finding ways of building your business for free essentially. And that’s through using open source, through finding avenues for advertising which costs nothing. Yeah, I think the one thing which…if you’re not scrappy, then the startup world is definitely not for you.
Nathan: Awesome. Well, look, you know, we’ll wrap there, Chris, but just thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really enjoyed our conversation.