Highlights of my conversation with Andrew Sims 

  • Helping accountants achieve a fully cloud-based modern practice
  • Growing a product focused company that evolves with customer needs
  • Zero downtime for conversions to the cloud

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Heather: Can you explain to our listeners what The Full Suite does?

Andrew: At The Full Suite, what we do is we really try to help anyone who’s getting into the cloud be more productive with their files, particularly when they are working in the Microsoft Office 365 platform. For those who understand what Office 365 is all about, they will know that they can do a number of different things there, and there is a way to manage your files in the cloud.

People who then take it to the next step and go and have a look at it realize, quite quickly, that actually managing your files in Office 365 isn’t just a case of taking your files off a file server, putting them in some cloud thing and it all just works. The system behind this thing is very complex, and it’s complex in a lot of good ways because it allows you to do a huge amount of stuff and build a lot of functionality into the system.

But for small to medium business, that normally comes at a price tag that is way beyond them and also a time frame that’s way beyond their needs as well. So, what we are trying to do is build some products that make it really easy where you can just turn things on and you can work with your files in the cloud.

We can migrate your files from your file server to Office 365, and you do have that sort of “Nirvana” of “I have taken my files and my file structure, put it in the cloud and I can just work with it.” It’s quite hard to do if you do it in other ways. We’ve got a file management system that’s built around folders and files, so it’s a structure that’s really easy to understand because it was what you originally had. But, we’ve built other things on top of it like Template Management, Security Management, Sharing and Notifications. It just makes things a little bit more productive for your business.

For our accounting customers, we build integration into the WorkflowMAX where they start…

Heather: Xero Practice Manager.

Andrew: Yes. So, we can pull information out of the Practice Manager and use it in templates and files—Word and Excel templates and email templates as well—where you push a button, copy and paste all your client’s information, it’s all in those templates and it’s ready to go. Also, we’re doing some work around backups now as well. So, there are some really specific scenarios around backups, particularly around protecting you if your staff makes mistakes or also protecting from a compliance perspective.

So, you’re having a snapshot of your file system every day, so the people, if they come and question you, you can say, “Here’s what we have on the 15th of August 2010 and that’s what it looked like and that’s why we made those decisions.”

Heather: For someone to use your solution, they need to be really on Microsoft Office 365.

Andrew: They do. Yes, that’s the prerequisite.

Heather: Okay. My next question was going to be–but maybe you’ve already answered this–how does your solution benefit the Xero user? You’ve mentioned Xero Practice Manager and WorkflowMAX. Is there anything else that you can add there?

Andrew: Well, I guess, Xero, as a business, is really trying to promote accountants to be fully cloud-basing their modern practice initiatives. Xero pushes and promotes Office 365 as the platform that accountants should be using especially from a file management perspective. We’re really just trying to make that nice and easy for them.

So that integration point is a two-way integration. It’s the only cloud-based file system that the Practice Manager integrates with this two-way integration. If you integrate with Box, Dropbox or Google, when you’re in the Practice Manager, you can see your files that are stored against the client record. In your file system, you can see that through the Practice Manager in the client records there.

We can do that with Suite files as well, but it’s that other side of it—that productivity with the template management that the other guys will probably never build. You’ve got that productivity point where you can say, “I’ve got a file.” Think of a scenario: you got a new client who comes on board, he’s seen a welcome pack, you can template all the documents that you need, put some custom fields in those documents that specify information about that new customer or new client, and click a button and it just produces them and send them off to them. So, there’s no copy and paste, no having to remember things or moving between different tabs to pull information out. It just does it all for you!

Heather: Excellent! So, what was the inspiration behind founding or launching The Full Suite?

Andrew: Our relationship with Xero at the end of the day. And a couple of the other owners and founders of the business used to work with Rod Drury back in the day. One of them was sitting behind him on a plane a number of years ago, and Rod talked about the concept of the modern practice. This guy saw the business that he is involved with SharePoint experts.

So, SharePoint is the underlying system in Office 365, and it is used for the file management. As they were talking, Rod said, “Can you build some kind of a template on SharePoint, a standard thing that can be deployed to everybody and accountants can use that for file management?”

The first generation of that was a product that—as with many first iterations—wasn’t overly good. But we got involved with Xero and the whole modern practice initiatives. So that was back in the days when WorkflowMAX wasn’t even…

Heather: A separate company.

Andrew: Yes. We’re not owned by Xero. Yes, absolutely. A couple of other organizations were really sort of banging heads together to say, “How can we get clients get accounting businesses off their servers fully?” So, it’s not just getting the accounting software off the servers; it’s getting everything off. How can we get them into the cloud?

We were helping out to specialize in the file management side. We got to the point where the people who were trying to do the Office 365 deployments weren’t really working with them as hoped, and Xero started asking us to do it. We spent a lot of time talking to accountants and trying to understand what they were after.

It was hard work in those days. Office 365 had only just been launched. No one really knew what it was and here we were. This was even before we became The Full Suite. We’re part of another business and we spun out of it. We were always ringing people up, ringing accountants up saying, “Hey, can I talk to you about IT?” And they’d say, “Who are you? Why would I talk to you? You’re not my IT guy. And my IT guy tells me that you don’t want to go to the cloud anyway.”

So, we spent six to seven months not making a lot of progress. I think we sold about eight or nine of the first product. I think that’s an indication of how bad the product probably was in those days as well.

Heather: Those first buyers are fantastic though, aren’t they?

Andrew: Yes, it’s all about learning. We’ve done a lot of learning after the last four years or so. We walked away and sort of separated ourselves a little bit. We wrote the business plan. We separated ourselves out of the company that was funding that first part of it because they were really a services company and not really think of things like a product.

They are still actually our major shareholders these days, but we separated into two entities. We’ve got a product-focused company. We redesigned it. We employed some really good designers. Actually, we don’t want anything that looks like what we previously had. We need a totally new user experience. We need to make it really easy and really simple.

It has been about nine months doing that, went back to Xero and say, “Hey, look at what we’ve got now.” And they went, “Wow! Yes, we like that one. Let’s do it.”

Heather: Excellent! So, you’re based in New Zealand, I presume.

Andrew: We’re in Wellington.

Heather: Close to Xero headquarters, then.

Andrew: Yes, we are in the corner.

Heather: Fabulous! Look, if you touched on something that was actually quite interesting that I would like to pull out, let’s pretend I’m just a dummy when it comes to IT and I go into a business (and this happens not a lot, but it’s happening), the IT guy says you don’t need to go to the cloud or your infrastructure will not support you going to the cloud. With your insight and your knowledge, what should the advisor, the bookkeeper, or the accountant then says to that? Sometimes I wonder whether it’s true. What further research and further questions should they be asking?

Andrew: I think, at a really high level, sometimes it could be true.

Heather: Yes, I agree. Absolutely, it could be true.

Andrew: There are certainly scenarios where you probably don’t want to be in the cloud. There are all sorts of talk at the moment, especially here in New Zealand and I’m sure it’s the same in Australia. What can you store in the cloud or what can’t you? Do you want health data in the cloud? All those sorts of things and vital pieces of information.

So, I guess, yes, the number one thing about the cloud is the right thing for you. Generally, it gets down to a risk analysis. What have you got that is of importance that someone else might be after? Then, I guess the risk analysis is how secure am I with what I apparently got compared to what the cloud solutions can provide.

From what I’ve seen, most small to medium business would be many times least secure than a proper cloud solution that Microsoft, Google or anything like the big guys are providing. They are spending millions and millions of dollars every year on their security, and you can assume that a small business is not. So, they’re doing many more things that a small business could ever imagine possible from a security perspective.

That doesn’t mean that these big cloud service providers are infallible. It doesn’t mean that people aren’t trying to hack into them. I’m sure that all the time—as far as we know—they haven’t gotten into any of the Microsoft systems yet. But you know it’s IT and you can never say never. But I know of a small accounting firm that had one server on site in Invercargill, New Zealand—a tiny little town. They got hacked. So, why would anyone choose to do that?

What could they have that would be of interest? It was probably opportunistic. Someone has found a hole somewhere and got in. So, you know it happens. So, what advice would I give to the IT owner? I guess I would be saying that you might want a second opinion. You might want to know what and find out why. Why was your business not suited to the cloud? Then, there might be a second opinion that’s required there.

I’m just trying to understand where the IT guys are coming from. I still see a few IT people out there who don’t quite understand how to work in the cloud world, so they are still pushing the service. Is it kind of…

Heather: Protecting their own business.

Andrew: Yes. To keep you on this service. Hopefully, it’s not. Hopefully, they are actually looking out for you to know that this is something real behind that, that you shouldn’t do it. When it comes to the infrastructure, anything that’s half modern is probably good enough to be in the cloud.

We do have people talk to us and tell us that their computers are now five years old, and things are starting to slow down. They thought that going to the cloud might have improved that. Yes, when your laptop is five years old, it does start to slow down whether you’re in the cloud or not. So, you do still have to refresh your hardware and you still have to have good internet connection. In fact, it’s even more important to have a good internet, of course.

Heather: Absolutely.

Andrew: So, you do have to have the right infrastructure in place, but it’s not over the top. Most people work from home quite effectively on a laptop with their wireless internet connection with all of their cloud applications. What we found actually, which was really fascinating when we started out, was a number of our customers had worse internet connections at the office than they did at home.

Heather: Yes, that’s interesting.

Andrew: We had one customer in particular a couple of years ago. I think the best plans if you get in New Zealand (where all data were capped here in those days) is you can get 100 gigabytes a month data, and it will cost you $100. These guys at their office had a 50 gigabyte-a-month data plan that costs them $250. You’re sort of going, “That’s your business plan, but I can do better than that at home.” We’re talking about your business here. You need to invest a little bit to get that right plans so that you can be productive.

Heather: Absolutely. Yes, I completely agree with that. I work from home. And I ring Telstra probably every three months and say, “Look, I’m on the biggest and best plan because I just need to be as productive as I need to be.”

Andrew: I ring Vodafone here every few months as well. They’ve got a new offer, and I find that they keep increasing my data for the same price. And now, it has gone unlimited on the home plans, and I’m paying no more than I did two years ago. It was 40 gigs.

Heather: It’s really worth it for both of the advisors and for telling small business owners to actually do that and actually help them. It can be a real life saver for them. So, I’m wondering, Andrew, do you use any Xero add-on solutions in your own business?

Andrew: We don’t actually use any add-on solutions. We use Xero a lot. We haven’t actually gotten to any add-ons.

Heather: Okay. So, if not, have you got into Receipt Bank yet?

Andrew: No, we haven’t.

Heather: The Receipt Bank girls are going to be ringing you up.

Andrew: I guess, most of the times, we buy cloud services. Yes, the receipts come in an e-mail and I just sort of put it straight into Xero.

Heather: Well, Receipt Bank would scan it and put it into Xero for you.

Andrew: Excellent! Well, maybe I need to know more.

Heather: Very good! Andrew, where do you find your customers?

Andrew: A lot of them come to us at the moment. Over the internet, we get a number of inquiries every month.

Heather: Is that good SEO on your part? Is that content you’re putting out there?

Andrew: We did a lot of work a couple of years ago on SEO and spent quite a bit of money on it. We were probably a little bit too early actually at where our business was to put the money into it. But it gave us some really great search results. When people are searching for Office 365, we were the top result in New Zealand after Microsoft. That was really good.

I think now it’s really more around accountants getting into Xero and Practice Manager, and seeing our logo in the Practice Manager when they want to connect to their file system. There are people who are talking about us and telling their friends. We do a bit of work on SEO these days, but it’s more in-house.

Heather: Is your customer-base primarily Xero users then?

Andrew: Yes, 70% of our customers were accountants because of the integration with the Practice Manager. As a business, we’re industry agnostic; our system can be for anybody. Because of that relationship, that’s where the bulk of our customers had come from.

Heather: I think I’m hearing this from you, but just to clarify for people listening in, I imagine it’s a global solution.

Andrew: Yes, absolutely. We’ve got customers here in New Zealand, Australia, the UK, and South Africa. Obviously, we would like to be in more countries, but that’s where we are today.

Heather: Excellent! Hopefully, we will get some expansion in there. How many staff do you have working in the business?

Andrew: Four at the moment.

Heather: Oh, my goodness! It sounds a lot bigger than four.

Andrew: Yes. Well, we work pretty hard, but, yes, there are four of us and we are trying to automate as much as we can, so that we can scale pretty easily. That’s what we are trying to do.

Heather: Do you know what share of the market, you have at the moment?

Andrew: Tiny.

Heather: Tiny share. Okay. So, who would your competitors be? Is it the Dropbox? Is it the Google Drive that you were mentioning before?

Andrew: Yes, that’s a good one. So, I still think the number one competitor was the file server. I think the reality is that the file management in the cloud is—might not be the last—but probably the next piece of the puzzle that people are trying to solve.

A lot of IT companies out there are really good at moving businesses into the cloud for just about everything—e-mail, accounting, and all the different systems that are out there, like project management and task management. Yes, you can find a solution for anything.

But this is really hard; it’s really hard to begin because people just wanted that concept of a central file server where I’ve got one copy of my file on one location. Whilst some people use Dropbox and Google, they are really built around the concept of synchronizing files to different devices.

When you start to get into a large organisation of more than three or four people, all of a sudden, you got a central copy that’s in the cloud and then a copy of each file on every computer. The next thing you know you are running multiple copies of the files in different places and relying on the sync technology to keep everything up to date rather than that original concept where I’ve got a file server with everything in one place, and that’s my source of truth.

So, people have moved into that world with the syncing, and they are finding lots of issues. Then, they go, “How can I get to the next step where it’s just one source of truth?” That’s what we’re trying to do with Suite files. We don’t promote syncing at all. It’s just a file in one place and that’s it. But because of those things, I think people find it hard still to decide to make the move to [put] their files into the cloud.

I think—and Microsoft might shoot me for this—that the file system that they are using is Office 365. I think, of all the Office 365 customers, maybe only about 10% are actually using the file server.

Heather: We welcome them to come back.

Andrew: And they got hundreds of thousands of customers in New Zealand and Australia. And the file part of it is not as easy as it could be.

Heather: Absolutely. It’s really interesting. One, the pain point. Two, the time it takes someone to think about, “Okay. I need to put the investment in and I need to deal with the hassle of moving it.” Then, once it’s there, it’s fine. It’s kind of like moving house. I spoke to someone, and it was like just putting in an infantry system. I know I need it, but I wonder if I can just keep putting band aid on until I actually move across.

Andrew: The Infantry CRM is another good one. Most of the people just use a spreadsheet as opposed to a tool where you got to learn the tool and invest in it, or that sort of stuff. Well, migrating the data is not easy.

Heather: Yes, absolutely. In line with that, how long does it take someone to learn this? How long does it take someone to do the move and then learn the system?

Andrew: From a move perspective, we aim for zero downtime. That’s our goal. I think we probably hit that about 98% of the time. We can take a file system depending on the size. Obviously, it depends on how long it will take to move it, but if it’s not overly big, we can move it overnight. So you go home in the evening, we’ll get our guys in action and migrate the files, and they’re there for you the next morning. But if it’s bigger, we do it over the weekend. We can run one for you, one for the next person, and we can have multiple going on at one time.

So, yes, we aim for zero downtime. If you need Xero involvement from new users for migration, we can take your file system as it is today without you having to think anything about it, and we can move it to Office 365.

Heather: Is it easy to edit it once it’s actually out there? Obviously, perhaps, there is an opportunity for people to detox their file systems.

Andrew: Absolutely. My advice to all of our customers is do that before you move because that is the best time to do it. We have customers that have different levels of appetite for doing that. I had one customer who had 250 gigabytes of data to move. Then, by the time we got to do the migration, it was 21 gigabytes. So, he had spent a lot of time sorting that out.

We have others that want to move hundreds of gigabytes. They don’t want to sort it out or they believe that it’s in a state right now that is perfect for them, so they just want to go forward with that. Yes, the best time to do it is before you move. But if you don’t want to… How many people who go into businesses to sort their files out?

Heather: Yes. It’s a really hard one. Yes, absolutely.

Andrew: It’s not expensive to do the migration. Most migrations are sort of around $1,000-1,500 in the market. It’s not a lot of money when you compare it to spending three weeks of your time sorting your files out.

Heather: Yes, absolutely. With your insights and experiences, where do you think businesses can improve their business productivity?

Andrew: Good question. These are things that we’re looking at. The visions that we have are probably the best way to attacks that. Management of information and automation of processes. We sort of started that with just a simple template management, and we’ve been able to pre-populate them. Not only can we hook it into Xero Practice Manger, we can hook into other CRMs as well. And we do that to pull information about your clients out. Other people can use it as well.

Just a little simple workflow processes and building little systems that have those standard things that small businesses are after—things like expense claim management. Obviously, people are doing that in all the systems that are out there. There are things like leave management. There are some really simple stuffs that people can do around that.

Being paperless and being able to take devices with you for accessing your information is another thing that we’re really into. I think it’s that whole process side of things. We’ve talked to a lot of accountants actually around the ideas of putting in some simple processes with our integration with the Practice Manager. Come GST time very couple of months, you can choose any of your clients that you’re doing GST returns for. As long as everything is all set up in the Practice Manager, push a button, and it generates the [lead] for every client. It puts it into a workflow for approval and then sending out to those clients.

Heather: It’s kind of working almost like a CRM then.

Andrew: Well, it hooks into the CRM and pulls information out of it, but we don’t store that data. We are just trying to make the most out of it.

Heather: Which CRM is it hooking into?

Andrew: At the moment, Microsoft Dynamics.

Heather: Okay.

Andrew: Yes, so we hook into that, but we’re exploring some other things. We are looking at Sales Force. I guess, being driven a bit by whatever our customers are using, there’s no point hooking into a CRM that they’re not using.

Heather: Absolutely. So, Andrew, what do you look forward to doing most dublering your day?

Andrew: I guess I like talking to our customers at the end of the day, and I probably spend a lot of my day doing that and just getting their feedback and getting their ideas. We love getting feedback from our customers around what we can do better and also what they like as well. Obviously, a bit of validation is always good too.

Just all the things that they think they want in the product going forward. Then, negotiating with our product guys around how to actually build that. Yes, that’s probably the most enjoyable part of the day.

Heather: It seems like, from what I’m hearing, your product is really receptive to new ideas and evoluting, and working with the clients to adapt to what they need.

Andrew: Yes. We’re still tiny, and we don’t have some of the big processes that big systems have. We can do that. We’ve had a number of occasions where our customers come to us and see if we got this little pain point. It doesn’t quite work for me this way. What can you do about it? Three days later, we deployed an update and they’ve got to fix that. We can do that sort of thing if we see the benefit in doing it.

Heather: So, what does the future hold for Full Suite?

Andrew: What does the future hold? Global domination.

Heather: Excellent.

Andrew: We want to become a much bigger company. We want to have customers all around the world. We are working to build a partner channel which is really working with IT companies. We still see that they are the best people actually to be talking to businesses around their IT needs. So, we’re working with IT companies in here, Australia and in the UK for spreading the word and creating that channel of sales for us.

Heather: It’s growing.

Andrew: Growing global expansion. Having a business that is really resolving productivity issues. We’d like, at the end of the day, to be thought as, if you want a really productive cloud-based platform, you come to us and we provide that for you. It’s still a long way to go until we can say that.

One of the things that we have talked about and actually one of the pieces of feedback that came from a customer we were talking to a couple of years ago, who have now just gone on to Suite files, when we first showed it to them, they said, “I’ve got another tab open on the browser?” It was like, “Yes, we’re going to have some other applications that do other things.” They were like, “Yes, I thought that when I went to into this cloud world and we stopped having applications on the computer, everything was just in one browser tab.”

So, I thought, “Okay. You’ve got so many niche products now that you have to have a tab open for everything. So, how can we integrate with some of these products or how can we do some of the things ourselves? That means you can do just about everything in one browser tab. That’s really what we’re looking at.

Heather: Yes, opening a browser tab doesn’t sound like a big frustration.

Andrew: Well, when you’ve got a dozen other things like that and apps.

Heather: I always pull the things down. Actually, it sits on the menu bar. I’m not sure if that’s the correct name of it. So, I have all the icons sitting on the bar just below, I click on them as I need them, and then close them down as I don’t need them. But it’s fair enough.

Andrew: I had this guy who is a director of a 50-person business and he doesn’t really have time to think about IT too much.

Heather: Yes, absolutely.

Andrew: We got to deal with those objections, absolutely.

Heather: Absolutely. Just one quick last question because I didn’t clarify it. When you have the data up in the cloud, is there optical character recognition over the data so I could do search for a particular word and locate it?

Andrew: It’s full-text search over a file, so any document is text-based. In terms of OCR over images? No, there isn’t.

Heather: Fair enough. Andrew, thank you so much for spending your time with us today on Cloud Stories. I’m sure our listeners have really benefited from this, probably learned a few things here. They will be able to share it with their clients. So I really appreciate your time.

Andrew: Thanks a lot, Heather. Thanks for having me. I appreciate being on here. I hope people find something of interest in this. Yes, I look forward to talking to you again soon.

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