According to Forrester Consulting, two-thirds of SME financial decision makers claim managing expenses is their top concern. Too many companies still use Excel spreadsheets, failing to invest in the tools necessary to speed up the process. This has to change, says Johnny Vowles, as employees feel the brunt of it.
Their financial wellbeing is at stake. Automation can make a vital difference, not only freeing up everyone’s time but ensuring no one is out of pocket. This is the concept London-based Expend is based on.
Here Vowles explains how the company plans to streamline the expense management process and give companies more control over their finances.
Founder: Johnny Vowles
Expense management is an issue which affects employees and businesses around the world.
What we’ve found is that it’s younger and less professionally experienced employees who are bearing the brunt. It’s not like employers do it on purpose, but having staff foot the bill for everyday workplace costs has them waiting weeks to be reimbursed while out of pocket.
Research we commissioned shows this is having a negative impact on employees’ personal finances. In fact, 18-24-year-olds are worst affected with a quarter of those surveyed unable to pay off credit card bills. We intend to solve this with our expense management software.
Your business model:
Expend’s model is focused on giving companies a complete overview and authority of the expenses process, allowing them to qualify the parameters of expenses or authorise individual expense claims from a PC, tablet or mobile app.
Combined with the development and infrastructure of a bank, this means we have the financial infrastructure in place to move money securely and effortlessly in real time so that employees can be immediately reimbursed for expenses or given pre-credited cards solely for company spend.
More broadly, Expend is a flexible cloud-based tool that has been built for the future demands of business payments. It is scalable to varying business sizes and requirements and is secure to industry standards.
We set out to be an independent from day one, building our own technology to serve the needs of quickly evolving, global business.
How do you measure success?
We would like to see our solution supporting financial controllers, accountants and employees in streamlining their expenses processes.
For accountants, being able to automate expenses processes with solutions like ours means they can spend less time compiling receipts and correcting mistakes. For the financial decision maker, Expend’s solution enables expenses to become a process which doesn’t require dedicated hours to complete every month.
For employees, the solution means zero confusion when logging expenses at the point of purchase, and no fiddling with receipts and spreadsheets at the end of the month
If we can see our solution rolled out in the UK and further afield, helping to eliminate employees ever being out of pocket, we’ll consider the business a success.
We’re an ambitious company, so are certainly planning to expand into new markets. We get enquiries from all over the world and are tackling a global issue, so watch this space.
How did you fund your business?
Funds and angel investors.
In five years:
I want to see Expend further expand its international reach. There’s a huge amount of potential across the world. We have a clear roadmap, but I could easily see Expend turn into a tool that’s used across the globe for company spending and with it a financial intelligence tool.
As for our industry, it’s going to continue to become more automated. Employers want real-time insights and control, whilst employees expect business tools that work as well as the tools they use in their personal life.
The process of out of pocket expenses was born through a lack of a viable alternative, as no one wanted to hand employees wads of cash or credit cards with large credit limits.
Your highest point:
I think the biggest is yet to come. But if I had to choose one it would have to be when we got our first paying customer.
Not far behind that, the first paying customer that told us they loved our product. Sounds cliché I know, but after the blood, sweat and tears of getting to that point it was a vindication that we were on the right track.
Your lowest point:
In my early career, I wasted too much time with the wrong people and not trusting my early instincts. Something which I rely strongly on now.
What would you tell your younger self?
Surround yourself with good people as fast as possible. With a priority list of work ethic, smarts and initiative.
Your policy wish list:
From a business point of view, I’d like to see measures to continue to increase the opportunity for investors to invest in new and growing business. This is always going to be high on my list.
It’s tough, but further downside protection as a lot of companies fail or exit too soon because they are underfunded.
Your biggest piece of advice to other entrepreneurs:
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Test fail, test fail, refine. Trust your instincts regarding who you work with or employ.
Listen to your customers and what they are asking for, but you need to be headstrong too. You’ll get a lot of opinions from people. Use your instincts to know which ones are valid. Otherwise, you’ll end up going down a route that’s not fruitful.
Bring out the violins but I haven’t really had a hobby or side projects since I started this company. Playing football on a Thursday night is as close as it gets. Guilty pleasure is winding down watching YouTube.
What would make you a better leader?
More time (haha). When a founder is very busy there are pros and cons. One thing I can feel guilty about is that I never feel I have enough time to spend with each post of the business. Though it’s made easier when you’re surrounded by people you trust.
The app you use the most:
Intercom, because I love to know what customers are asking for and making sure that we are responding quickly enough. The second would be Slack as it helps me communicate throughout the business.
A day in your life:
Get woken up by the kids at silly o’clock. Get ready, fed and washed. Reply to important emails, check Slack for any updates overnight. Then I get ready for work and jump on my Vespa and ride to the train station. I generally have my first cup of tea at the train station and breakfast.
Every day is different, but I set a main target to achieve and I do it, even if it takes me until 2am. I also make to-do lists because there are always other things that come up throughout the day and not all of them need to be completed there and then.
On your reading list right now:
Lost and Founder by Rand Fishkin, the founder of MOZ. It was recommended to me by a fellow founder. I like it because a lot of these books can be cliché – work hard, follow your dreams, etc. But this was a refreshingly honest take on the ups a and downs of running a company.
The most interesting thing about the book is the rarity of overnight success. Everyone dreams they’ll run a startup and in a few years they’ll be relaxing on a beach, but only a fraction go on to become legendary unicorns.
On your watchlist right now:
Cobra Kai. For those that don’t know, it’s based many years after the original Karate Kid. It’s great from a nostalgia and reconnecting with your youth perspective, but the two main characters are now grown up with new challenges. Watching it unfold puts me in a good mood.
I wouldn’t say it has inspired me in business, so I haven’t asked the team to start waxing on and waxing off. (Yet).