Highlights of my conversation with David Tuck

  • From accountant to launching and growing a startup SAAS based in London
  • Working with Stripe to provide a global currency gateway
  • The surprises of starting a start-up, when you come from one of the Big4
  • Working within the Xero – ecosystem
  • Finding a domain name in the middle of the Indian Ocean
  • Investment from early Xero and MYOB investor Craig Winkler
  • The Chaser partner program
  • Moving towards chasing by phone

 Subscribe to Episode #21 of Cloud Stories on iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/cloud-stories-heather-smith/id908333807

What was life like for you as a twelve year old?

David:            Oh well firstly let me say thank you very much for the opportunity I’ve been really looking forward to this.  Life was like for me as a 12 year old so I was quite sort of average football fan as a child and yeah my brother is a couple of years younger than me, we were average fans of the game so championship manager as it was called.  So yeah school holidays as we would have been in right now I think we would have been ploughing our way through that competing against one and other as fictional managers of premier league football teams.

Oh okay so is it a computer game or a board game?

David:            It is yeah it’s a computer game football management simulation.

Heather:        Oh okay cool, so for our Australian listeners David’s referring to soccer.

David:            Sorry yeah my mistake.

Heather:        No that’s fine, I’m not sure what it’s called in North America I should know that but I think it’s called soccer in North America as well isn’t it?

David:            It is yeah.

Heather:        That’s okay.

So David why did you start the business Chaser?

David:             Short my background is I out of university I trained as an accountant with Deloitte and then headed up three different sort of SME finance teams before starting Chaser, so it was very much a product of that background really of heading up finance teams all of whom sold on payment terms, and yeah coming to the conclusion that there must be a better way of carrying out that polite persistence that pays and I was very lucky that the second and third jobs that I did in industry were in technology, so got to find out a little bit more about software do some courses in things like Code Academy I did an introduction to computer science course on Udacity which is great.  Yeah that’s borne the idea for what is now Chaser.

Heather:        Oh that’s very exciting.

So am I correct in saying that the Code Academy and the Udacity they’re both free online courses is that correct?

David:             They are yes so it was a little bit of time it was a couple of years ago now, I’m pretty sure Code Academy is still free, last time I looked at Udacity I know they were exploring monetisation offerings around I think there is still a core that is free, but looking at monetisation options around certification that you can get through that, but yeah I can’t recommend those courses highly enough for people like me who are coming out of completely sort of ignorant so to speak of software engineering yeah a fantastic sort of foundation.

Heather:        Yeah absolutely no that’s really exciting to hear someone having that really strong accounting background and going and studying the Code Academy, ‘cause I was sitting pondering the other day I wonder how many of the CEO founders of the Xero and the Xero add on solutions could actually code, and I was thinking I wonder how many it was, but obviously you’ve got yourself there and it’s not like Richard Branson needs to fly a plane to run Virgin but I do think that the small business owner always has that I need to know but I don’t need to know too much or I’ll get caught up in the detail and having that balance there it sounds like a really good balance that you have there.

David:             Yes and I should just add which will be to the great relief of all of our partners and users that I don’t write any of the codes on Chaser, a brilliant co-founder Mark who thankfully oversees and would never go anywhere near that, but I think you’re absolutely right and it’s really interesting from an accounting profession perspective, I did an interview recently where we got into discussion about how you could really see not that many years down the line how relevance within accounting qualifications of that sort of entry level to computer software and application programming and faces just a foundational understanding of what software is capable of doing which I can definitely from my own perspective have found incredibly helpful in starting to build Chaser with Mark.

Heather:        Yeah absolutely yeah it helps you have the conversations and it helps you ask the questions, so that’s really good and I’ll put those two links to the two courses that we mentioned in the show notes for people who are listening in.

So you have perhaps touched on it but for our listeners could you perhaps please explain what Chaser does?

David:           Sure so we’re about tackling the problem of late payment so selling on payment terms about 75% of all businesses do that, how do we get those invoices paid on time which is a big global problem, at last count in the UK, UK sales were owed 55 billion pounds in overdue invoices which is just a staggering number and the single most effective thing a business can do to address that problem is that the polite persistence that pays and we’re about giving Xero users an opportunity to carry out that process that polite persistent communication in a much more efficient way, so connecting with Xero organisation so we always have up to date information about what your sales invoices haven’t been paid, and then yeah they can set the different Chasers that they want sent out in different points by reference to invoice due date until the relevant invoice gets paid.

Heather:        I love that the polite persistence that pays, now does it come with English language overtones on that dear sir all of the BBC kind of English tones, ‘cause we might get a lot more people listening in if that’s what it comes with?

David:            Yeah well absolutely I mean I think yeah hopefully from an English politeness perspective where we’re quite well suited to this, so not in an over the top sense but absolutely when you first set up with us you get our eight recommended best practice templates which by that you have us being a UK origin business an experience of a hand carried out, credit control is a process within the UK yeah very much have that flavour to them.

So whereabouts is headquarters for Chaser?

David:           So we’re based in London so we moved a couple of months ago to these new offices, so we’re just near Liverpool Street Station now, we were previously for about eight months just near the Victoria Station, but yeah Central London.

Heather:        So Liverpool Station that’s very exciting for you to be based right in London with a software company?

David:            Yeah it’s fantastic.

So how do you navigate the different the global time zones while you’re being based in London?

David:           That’s a great question, so I think you do what you can and tools like obviously we’re speaking over Skype and Google Hangout and things like go to meeting for the ability to screen share and demo, but yeah you definitely get your fair share of early mornings which is and late evening courses as well which is great, but that’s the beauty of the Xero Ecosystem and we’ve been incredibly fortunate with the Australian and New Zealand partners that we’ve been able to work with so far and yeah very excited we’re heading over which I imagine we may talk a little bit later but we’re heading over in a couple of weeks for Xero in Australia we’re doing an extended trip there.  So yeah really excited to be able to build those relationships, but yeah probably more than our fair share of coffee.

Heather:        Yes definitely.

So following on from global time zones how do you navigate international pricing for your solution, so if you were based in London and you want users in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America to adapt to it?

David:              Sure and I mean I should just say so on time zones and on pricing that’s been very important to us since day one, so we launched on 19th August last year, but from day one we’ve ensured that it’s been imperative to us to ensure that we can cater to international time zones.  So when someone says I wanted to send my Chasers out 11:00am on a Tuesday, they get sent at 11:00am on a Tuesday wherever they are in the world, similarly with our pricing structure and our billing system to be able to offer our prices in local currencies to wherever our user wherever our partner is based.  So I mean yeah if you go onto our website www.chaser.io your pricing scheme that you’ll see on the pricing page will be denominated in your local currency and that’s been very important to us, so yeah we have a separate Australian, New Zealand, US, EU pricing schemes, and then a US dollar one for the rest of the world.

Heather:        I think that is really important and I think it’s really hard for a new business to possibly get their mind around that they’re going to have to do that if they want to go global because once you start getting into the fluctuations of the rates it can become quite significant.

David:             Absolutely and I should say we’ve been very fortunate so we use Stripe for our billing system which we found don’t get me wrong it’s definitely been a challenge and Mark and the team have done an incredible job on building that billing infrastructure, but yeah they’ve been excellent to work with in providing that opportunity to be genuinely global as a gateway in terms of currencies from day one.

Can I clarify then if you said if I want to send my invoice out if I want to send my Chaser out at 11:00am, can I set an Australian a Brisbane time zone in the solution when I set it up?

David:                        Yes absolutely, and they will be sent out ‘cause it’s what would you do if you were doing it personally principle which is so important to us as a product in replicating as far as possible what you do if you were typing out those Chasers by hand, which is how they have the maximum impact in getting your invoices paid.  So whenever you would send them normally which wouldn’t be 12:01am past midnight on a weekend and no-one’s that dedicated to their chasing.

Heather:        Yeah I completely agree with that and I think that when we’re dealing with these online automated solutions we’ve got to try and make them as personal as possible, so one of the big things for me and it might sound a bit silly but I think you have it on 11th November, we have it on 25th April which is our Remembrance Anzac Day which we call Anzac Day, I think you call it Remembrance Day, and I’ like I do not any business emails on that day and it’s completely inappropriate for me to be sending them out or for me to be receiving them, and I understand they’re going to come from overseas who are unaware of that, but I don’t want to be that person generating emails ‘cause I think it just leaves a real bad taste and that’s just a specific example but it leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths, sort of a disrespect of what they’re doing and the day and just basically being human, that automation forgetting it.  So that’s excellent that your solution has that ability.

So you worked as an accountant with Deloitte’s one of the most prestigious global accounting firms, with that background what surprised you about starting your own business?

David:                        That’s a great question actually, so I think probably just how little I knew about business and how much you just had to learn through trial and error, I think ‘cause I mean it’s a brilliant place to train don’t get me wrong so I did my ACA and my chartered accountant articles with Deloitte and then I did the charter tax advisor qualification with them as well, fantastic place to cut your teeth and train.  But I think I probably feel in retrospect I emerged from that with I guess a misplaced confidence of what it took to build a business, ‘cause you understand all the theory but you haven’t really done the inner trenches practice of it, and it’s only when you get into it and you go through that truly trial and error experience that yeah you can build up that muscle memory almost.

Heather:        Yes absolutely, look I absolutely adore Deloitte’s and everyone I come into contact with from Deloitte’s but every time I interview someone who’s done a similar jump from you says exactly the same as that, which I always I wasn’t leading you there but it is always interesting to hear, ‘cause you know the big accounting firms they’re out there charging a lot of money for advice and then they come out and they go oh didn’t really know that, was so on that advice but in reality so but I do love Deloitte’s if anyone’s listening in I’m not having a go at them it’s just a general understanding and growth in the journey.

So David moving on from that, what do you look forward to doing most in your day?

David:                        Well I think I as I look forward to it a huge amount is really yeah tough to pick one ‘cause I mean we’re just growing as a team now so we brought on a couple of new team members we’re up to four as a team, and yeah absolutely love the team that we’re working with, also I think it’s the one thing that amazes people when I tell them this is working in the Xero Ecosystem and genuinely so with catching up with a couple of people one from another I had a lady called Karen Rayburne from the Profitable Firm over in the UK catching up with them on Friday and for a drink at the end of the week.  We were talking about how much enjoy just working with the other people within this community and we’ve got some incredible partners that we get to work with, and the added bonus and the incredible thing is just you really enjoy seeing them and spending time with them and obviously you’ve got to be careful of that it doesn’t just become a kind of hedonistic thing, but that alongside a real focus on doing important work I think is yeah an incredible privilege that we have and yeah it’s a thing that I get a huge amount of satisfaction of just those relationships truth be told and the other people that we get to work alongside in this incredibly dynamic and fast moving industry.

Heather:        Yeah no it is the community that has evolved around Xero and the Xero Ecosystem is very passionate and driving people forward so it is a good community to be involved with.  I actually just tweeted about half an hour ago the photo that you uploaded when you were with Karen who is famous for her sketch notes, so I put Karen’s Twitter handle in the show notes so people can follow Karen and watch her sketch notes on her Twitter.

So I should of asked this a little bit earlier but you did mention your website name and it’s chaser.io, can you explain to our listeners what io means?

David:           Yes so it’s actually the domain suffix of the Indian Ocean of all places so yes bizarrely so the back story to that so we’re not based in the Indian Ocean we’re based in Central London, so there’s no sort of geographic connection there, it was so originally when we were first starting the company always wanted to be Chaser as a company product a brand, when we first started and this was by virtually of the domain that we could find we were www.autochase.it, so autochase.it as a business which yeah we didn’t like the auto the car connotations, always wanted to be Chaser but as a more sort of popular name a widely used name there weren’t any domains available that I could find and it was Mark who discovered that chaser.io was available.  So .io is quite popular within the developer community because of the output connotations that it has there, and yeah it was brilliant Mark found that that was available instantly pounced to snap that up and then so from a product perspective you get paid what you’re owed with chaser.io, so it all came together from that perspective as well, so very happy with our sort of current residence there.

Heather:        Such an interesting back story there.  I’m not sure if you’re aware but Chaser is a really popular TV show here in Australia, so if you went and had a look yeah.

David:             I have yes I’ve been told yes I’m looking forward to hopefully yeah.

Heather:        I don’t think it’s on anymore but you might be able to go to stream it if it’s been pirated or go to the ABC Stores and buy some, but it’s kind of like a satirical show so.

David:             But it’s no longer running?

Heather:        Yeah I don’t think so I don’t think it’s no longer running yeah, but you could give out Chaser DVD prizes just to really confuse people at Xerocon, that would so confuse people don’t do that that’s such a bad idea.

So you recently received investment from an external investors including Craig Winkler is that correct?

David:             Yes that’s right.

Have you had the opportunity to meet Craig yet?

David:             No no no no, so I’ve not met Craig met his investment manager when he was over in the UK, but not had the chance to meet Craig in person yeah so very much looking forward to hopefully doing that when we’re over for the two and a half weeks in August with Xerocon.

Heather:        Oh that’s fantastic yeah I absolutely adore Craig Winkler and have been yeah so it’s very exciting for you he’s such a smart savvy man so that will be an interesting meeting for you definitely.

David:              Yeah no I mean we’re absolutely thrilled to have received investment from him and our other investors and yeah have the opportunity now to really scale up as a team and pursue the incredibly exciting opportunity we have with Chaser.

Heather:        So from I can’t recall publicly hearing of him investing in another big company overseas like that, you may know something different to me, and for those people who are listening in Craig Winkler was the main founder of MYOB who moved across to Xero, so there’s a story there there that you can go and research which is quite available.  So I was a long term MYOB consultant so I knew him from my MYOB days as well, so very interesting oh well good luck with your meeting with him.

David:             Thank you very much.

So what do you think to date has been your most effective marketing strategy?

David:             I think well I’m torn I have a bias towards.

Heather:        Getting on this podcast isn’t it?

David:             Absolutely yeah this will be the pinnacle, I think well I have a slight bias towards I think Sir Chaser Lot worked quite well for us at Xerocon but I mean no truthfully told more widely I think we’ve been incredibly fortunate with which is maybe not so much a marketing strategy as such but just reflecting the nature of the community within which we operate, we’ve been so fortunate with the partners that we get to work with so generous with their time support helping us figure things out but also being so I mean you’re obviously we try to be as well very active on Twitter and social media, but the people are so generous with their time in terms of when they find something they like they’re incredibly forthcoming with sharing the news about that.  So I think that in all it has been the single most valuable thing that we’ve done.

Heather:        Excellent so it’s connecting with the community essentially and that does take a lot of time and when people do it it’s important to be human and genuine but you’ve done a really good job of that connecting with the communities, the listeners maybe can take that on.

What’s your favourite social media tool is it Twitter?

 David:            Yes so Twitter in conjunction with Hoop Suite is what we use but I think to anyone…

Heather:        Because you haven’t updated your Facebook page since like February.

David:             No yeah busted, no I mean I think Twitter just seems to be it’s interesting I mean it took Valexus Prem from Receipt Bank and he says when we were first going we just decided to pick one channel and Twitter being its prominence within the Xero community and focus on doing that really well rather than trying to be active across all channels.  Yeah I think we’ve really seen that the Xero Twitter community is just so vibrant so that’s where we’ve really focused a lot of our time.

Heather:        Yeah I’m big on Twitter and I have a lot of followers on Twitter so my one comment is that I think it’s good and fun to be there but it concerns me that I think it’s almost reached a saturation in that the people who know people on Twitter know people on Twitter and there’s this whole group of people who aren’t looking at things on Twitter who also need to find out about Xero and Chaser about everything, and it’s always interesting having those conversations with intelligent savvy business owners who don’t have a mobile phone, don’t have any touch points with social media.  So I think yes definitely go there get the information but it’s one avenue and if the market’s not there then you need to look at other ones as well, so it’s interesting that both you and Receipt Bank are doing that.

So I noticed that you’ve partnered with various accounting firms, what does partnering with a business such as an accounting firm mean for you?

David:                        Well it’s a really interesting question ‘cause we have I guess different stages along the long cycle of working with us and there are some of them that completely openly we’re very much still in the process of working out in conjunction with our partners.  I mean we have our partner program which is very similar to Xero’s in terms of classic if ain’t broke don’t fix it in terms of referral margin, the more clients you introduce to Chaser.  What’s really exciting for us and this is very much what we’re working on at present and in conjunction with those partners is around how do they best deliver value to their clients on top of Chaser as a platform for chasing up customers to pay their invoices on time, because credit controllers as a general accounting firm offering has not been viable previously in a world where you had to do it manually, no-one can deliver enough value there to be able to do it cost efficiently.  And what we’re really excited about is the opportunities we are now seeing in conjunction with those partners recognising that there’s an incredible opportunity but also a necessity for them to move up the value chain in terms of their service offering is us working in conjunction with them to deliver better chasing as part of that service offering and we see it in a number of different guises, at one end of the spectrum you’ve got kind of partner firms who say well I’m not really that interested in getting involved into the day to day sort of dealing with replies to Chaser as potentially dealing with phone calls etcetera.  I want to focus on advice to my clients about how they best carry out their chasing in conjunction with us as a platform.  At the other end of the spectrum we have partners who and these tend to be the ones who are a little bit more involved in the bookkeeping side of their clients’ businesses, they’re saying yeah great this is a natural extension of the work that we’re doing already we can deliver it now in an efficient way ‘cause we’re not having to type out those Chasers by hand, we’ve got the single ledger with Xero so we’ve got the contemporaneousness of information.  So yeah it’s a really exciting time as we start to see chasing as a core part of the Cloud enabled accountants’ service offering.

Heather:        Absolutely, and for people listening in who are advisors or bookkeepers that’s an extra way to earn extra money in your firm by niching in that particular area, ‘cause that’s kind of basically what you’re saying isn’t it niche earn some extra money through those offerings.

How much does it cost to can you give and share the parameters around the partner program?

David:             Sure so I mean we have I’ll cover our pricing first and then the details of our partner program, so we have five different price tiers according to the number of different invoices that you chase through us each month, everyone gets an up to 90 day free trial first I should add, so plenty of time to check that the product works before you need to subscribe and then we have those five price tiers according to the number of invoices you chase, where Heather will the majority of users be from listeners sorry be from Australia I’m just thinking which currency do I quote that the pricing scheme in.

Heather:        Don’t bother quoting a currency ‘cause it’s international listener based.

David:              Okay very good okay well I’ll steer people towards our pricing page and you’ll see the prices for those five tiers in your currency.  Fortunately our partner program has no sort of monetary values it’s all percentages, so I can do that more easily so yeah we have five different tiers of partner starter up to platinum and then yeah depending on the number of organisations you as a firm add to Chaser so a bronze partner kicks in at three organisations where there’s a 15% margin, silver kicks in at 16 where’s there’s a 20% margin, gold at 51 where there’s a 25% margin, and then 300 plus is platinum where there’s a 30% partner margin.

So is the money collected directly by you or is it collected by the partner and then remitted to you?  

David:            So that’s a really good question, so the short answer is it depends so in the event that so we have a number of partners who are keen to and are building Chaser into their bundle service offering to apply, so like you see people do with kind of see here on Receipt Bank for example it’s all that cost and then there’s a single charge.  So in that situation they would pay for the Chaser subscriptions and then net off the partner margin against that, but what we also hear from partners is them saying well I don’t want to have to incur the cost of the subscription in order to be able to get the margin and then I’m in a position where I have to just do an invoice each month recharging on the Chaser subscription which is additional overhead for me.  So their client can pay for their own Chaser subscription and then the great thing about our billing system that Mark and the team have built is that the partner will still get the partner margin either way whether they’re paying for the end subscription or whether the client is, and so the first instance is if the client is paying for the subscription that partner margin will net off against the subscriptions that the partner is paying for and then potentially if they’re not paying for any subscriptions or they’re only paying for a small number it would then take them to the position where we will then pay them money each month for the net margin that they’ve earnt.

Heather:        Excellent.  So if you are an advisor accountant bookkeeper listening in and you’re currently listed on the Xero site as perhaps being bronze or silver partner, if you also want to be listed on the Cloud integrator site and want to be perhaps evolve your business to being a Cloud integrator you need to have at least be a partner of a couple of the Cloud solutions, so definitely debt tracking is one of the ones to consider and it seems to be a low entry barrier to sign up as a partner with you and then see how it grows with their business.  So it’s definitely a route someone could use to grow their own business as well as helping their clients sort of a win win win for everyone.

David:                        Absolutely.

So Richard Branson suggests that you should submit support questions through to your own business and see how they’re handled, have you ever tried to do that David?

 David:                        Submit support questions, I must confess I have not I mean so as a company we’re four people now I have answered like my fair share of support questions and I should just say I mean we really pride ourselves on the quality of the support that we provide Chaser, and yeah I’ve been really thrilled so on the Xero add on market place with the reviews that we’ve received how many of them have mentioned the quality of support and service that we’ve provided.  So that’s a very good point and I think as we grow that’s a good point to remain mindful of and so that.

Heather:        So maybe on 18th August every year you can submit it just before the birthday and then ‘cause what Richard Branson says that if he gets the name of the person and then we’ll ring the manager and let them know who did the good support, and if it’s a bad support response he gets the name and again has to deal with it in a nice way of course but yeah so you could build that in once a year and let us know how it happens, you can come back and you could record it and upload it to social media for us to listen in.

So you’re coming out to Melbourne Xerocon which is just in a few weeks’ time, is that going to be your first trip to Australia?

David:              So our first trip is a company yeah I’ve got family in Sydney so I’ve been a couple of times, but never spent much time in Melbourne before so yeah really excited we’re flying into Brisbane we’ve got a couple of days there then down to Sydney for five days, and yeah meeting as many people from the community as we can in the time that we have and then yeah onto Melbourne for Xerocon itself, and then we’ve got a few days after that for meetings as well.  So yeah we’re incredibly excited about the trip.

Are all four members of the team coming out?   

David:             So no it will just be the two of us that will be myself and Ben who’s just joined us as business development manager so the two of us coming out.

Heather:        Fantastic.

Will you be on Start Up Alley?

David:           No so I think we were no longer eligible for Start Up Alley so we are exhibiting within the main exhibitor list.

Heather:        Main area okay, well anyone listening in who is going to Melbourne Xerocon make sure you go down say hello to David.

Will Sir Chaser Lot be there?

David:             He will yes I won’t be there it will be alter ego but yeah Sir Chaser Lot fresh off he had a great time at Xerocon London and yeah he’s very excited about meeting the Australian Xero community.

Heather:        Excellent, so make sure you take the opportunity to go and meet Sir Chaser Lot at Melbourne Xerocon and let him know you heard him here on Cloud Stories.

So just to wrap it up David, just one final question for you, what do you want to achieve with Chaser and what does the future hold for Chaser?

David:                        So good question, I mean in the first instance what do we want to achieve, we want to solve the problem so we talked about I think earlier in the interview that just in the UK 55 billion pounds owed in overdue invoices and that’s a huge market failure, one that really blights smaller and medium businesses both in terms of them not having the cash to invest in in growth in creating new jobs, but also just in terms of the distraction the psychological sense of you can’t focus on doing your best work if you’re worried about cash as the life blood of your business coming in the door.  So absolutely our kind of guide in Brisbane we want to solve that problem and yeah really excited about the opportunity that we have to do that.  In terms of where we go and what out next plans are it’s very much about I mean we’re loving working with the Xero community, so very much focusing on the depth of our offering working with Xero and taking the product from chasing strength to chasing strength.  So hopefully looking to move into the first steps into the telephone side of chasing as well ‘cause my experience as an FD is that email chasing it’s like a sales fun so over 80% of your invoices could be successfully collected through email chasing alone which is great, so let’s focus on that the outset, but we really want to be the complete communication platform for all of your chasing and working hand in hand with partners as well to really build that chasing value provision into their service offering to clients because small and medium businesses they don’t really have an appetite for kind of doing this stuff or owning this stuff they want to specialise on the work that they do best.  So yeah really excited about the opportunity we have working with partners to build that valuable offering that hasn’t existed previously.

Heather:        Brilliant, thank you so much David for talking with us today and sharing all your insights about Chaser and your business and I’m sure a lot of people will jump onto your website and check you out.

David:             Brilliant, well thank you so much for the time Heather yeah I’ve really enjoyed it.

Heather:        No worries.

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