Automating Business Show - Episode 1 - Wave with Rob Maurin

 

On This Episode:

We talk to Rob Maurin from Wave , a free small business accounting package trusted by three million companies across the world, and counting. In a crowded market of accounting apps, Wave stands out a serious contender, even though it is free. We talk about the interesting tech wave is exploring in machine learning and AI to make accounting less of a burden for small business owners.

In this episode we cover:

  • Why it's free - what's the catch?
  • The challenges Wave has faced since inception
  • Internationalisation issues
  • Who Wave is suitable for
  • The importance of integrations and why 2018 is the year of the API
  • How Wave caters to makers with an inbuilt Etsy integration
  • Wave is growing, and recruiting!

 

Links Mentioned In the Show

 

Full Transcript:

Shaun:

Rob Maurin, welcome to the Automating Business Show.

Rob:

Thanks for having me. Great to talk to you.

Shaun:

You're from Wave. Tell us, if somebody landed on Earth today, [00:00:30] how would you explain Wave?

Rob:

At the highest level, Wave exists to try to take away all of the pain that comes around running the finances for your small business. If you're an entrepreneur or the owner of a small business, all of the headaches that come around tracking your money, getting paid, running payroll, cash flow management, anything at all with the finances of your business, we want to make that easier for you. We know [00:01:00] that the smaller the business, the less likely it is that the business owner has any training in how to do these, in some cases, very complex tasks. Our goal is to find ways to simplify that all, smooth it all, put everything into one package, to really take away those headaches.

Shaun:

Excellent. Where are you based?

Rob:

We are in Toronto, Canada. That's where our headquarters are, but we have customers all over the world with the US as our largest market, followed by Canada, [00:01:30] UK, and Australia.

Shaun:

Excellent. Let me get this right. It's free.

Rob:

Wave's software is 100% free. We always feel the need to qualify that in some way, because people go, "Free? What do you mean? What's the kicker?"

Shaun:

"What's the catch?"

Rob:

Exactly. The software is 100% free. That means you can sign up today, use it forever, have an unlimited number of invoices, an unlimited number of customers, [00:02:00] an unlimited number of transactions, and it's going to stay free. The software is all free. In addition to the software and deeply integrated with the software, we offer a range of financial services like payment processing and, in North America, we have payroll and a couple of other things on the go. Wave makes money from those services, and we believe that they are well-priced for the small business owner and entrepreneur. If you need them when your business grows, great. We'd love to have you on [00:02:30] board with those services. If all you ever do is use the software, congratulations. You have free software.

Shaun:

One of the things that we see about accounting software is that internationalization factor, which I know is a challenge because unlike other apps, which aren't necessarily regulated by legislation in each country, accounting is, right? How do you account for those international differences in each country, for how [00:03:00] things need to be accounted for?

Rob:

Right. Wave, I'll start answering by saying Wave is real double-entry accounting that operates according to generally accepted accounting principles, so the math that underpins all of that software is the real thing that any accountant or financial professional would insist upon. That's the starting point. When it comes to the internationalization, there's a couple of things that people hit automatically, things like sales taxes. [00:03:30] Those are completely customizable in Wave. Currency, obviously, and Wave can function in multiple different currencies for a business. Little things like the fact that an invoice in one country needs to say Tax Invoice or have specific language like that. I think Australia is one that requires the Tax Invoice language.

Shaun:

Yep, that's right.

Rob:

Our invoices are customizable in that regard as well. All those things that you need in order to either do your daily bookkeeping [00:04:00] or issue invoices are fully customizable. The place that then the next layer of complexity comes in is things like filing your taxes. Wave is, at this point, not yet a tax-filing software. When we get there, we'll make sure that we're customizable for all of the internationalization as well.

Shaun:

Excellent. In terms of automation, how does Wave help the small business owner? Can it integrate with other apps?

Rob:

[00:04:30] For us, in our experience, Wave has signed up three million customers around the world. We've talked to, not all three million of them, but we've talked to many of them. What we've discovered is a phenomenon that we refer to here as swivel chair automation, which is to say that the business owner does one task over here, and then turns around and does a different task over here on a different piece of software, and does something else on another piece of software in another system. Our first and primary [00:05:00] goal, really, from our experience in talking to small business owners, is how do we get rid of that? How do we roll everything into one place, so that you don't have to, for example, create your invoices in Microsoft Word, send them with Gmail, track it on an Excel spreadsheet, check your bank balance later on for whether or not you got paid, but you're using four separate systems for something that you could potentially do all in one. That's our goal with Wave.

Even without any integrations, [00:05:30] you can send your invoices, track your invoices, get paid on those invoices, even see little details like, has your customer viewed your invoice? All of that gets done in one singular system. Then that goes immediately into your accounting/bookkeeping records. All of that can be exported as real double-entry accounting reports. In countries where we offer payroll, that, again, becomes instantly part of your bookkeeping [00:06:00] so that you don't need to be tracking things in separate systems.

On top of that, Wave integrates with your bank account, so you can connect your bank feeds directly into Wave. That way, you don't need to do the manual data entry. You don't need to manage your shoebox full of receipts in order to keep track of where you've spent money. All of that data flows instantly into Wave, and you can just get down to the simple business of indicating, this was, I had lunch with a client, [00:06:30] and this was, I had to buy office supplies. That's really all you need to do now, for your bookkeeping. Wave has built-in receipt scanning functionality, so you can download our app for iPhone or Android, snap a photo of your receipt. This, again, becomes part of your integrated singular records of your finances. We have an integration with PayPal and with Etsy in order to import transactions from those systems as well.

Shaun:

With Etsy. That's interesting.

Rob:

[00:07:00] Yeah, and 2018 is really the year of integrations, in my mind, where we are very aggressively looking at determining what additional third-party services we can pull into our ecosystem to, again, automate as many of these flows as possible and make it easier for the business owner.

Shaun:

Of course, Wave is on Zapier at the moment.

Rob:

Right.

Shaun:

If you need to pull any information from your CRM or something like that, [00:07:30] you can use Zapier to pull that information in and presumably push information out.

Rob:

Absolutely, yeah. No disrespect to Zapier. They've been a great partner to us. Like you said, you can connect your CRM systems this way. For example, if you have an email newsletter, every time you add someone to the newsletter, they can instantly be added to Wave as a new customer so that your systems are synchronized and up to date. You can also import contacts from Gmail, and [00:08:00] again, try to unify that picture of your business.

Shaun:

Sure, okay. You've been with the company since the start. How long ago was that?

Rob:

We launched Wave in November of 2010. We're a little past our seventh birthday.

Shaun:

Wow. That's a lot of longevity for a startup. What do you look back on and shake your head and think, "Why? Why did we do that?" What mistakes or stumbling-blocks were there [00:08:30] along the way that you've learned from?

Rob:

I think the most honest answer is that you never get anything perfectly right the first time you try. There's a near-infinite number of things that we would do differently if we were to do them again. I think knowing the direction that the industry has gone, if we had had a crystal ball and knowing what 2018 or, even better, [00:09:00] what 2019 is going to look like, we probably would have hurried our progress toward things like the financial services that we currently offer. We would have gotten them into market sooner. We probably would have opened our API a little earlier. Like I said, this is going to be the year of our integrations and our APIs, so we might have gotten to that earlier. We could look back with regret, I guess, at all of those things, but the truth is that a tech startup, especially when [00:09:30] you're in those early, early years, it's a tough thing to do, and it's a tough thing to get right.

Shaun:

Sure.

Rob:

We're better now than we've ever been before, but I don't really look back at a lot of those mistakes with too much regret, because we had to go through those steps to get to where we are now.

Shaun:

Of course. I think you mentioned one of the things that maybe you would have done a little bit earlier is opening up the API. [00:10:00] For people listening, that's really opening up open integration with other apps. I talk to a lot of app developers and startups. Often, that open integration is towards the end of their road map somewhere. My feedback, of course, doing what I do, is always, "I think it should be from the start." It opens up the decision to make it a lot easier for people to choose your app if it can already [00:10:30] integrate with other things they're using. It's often a pretty big decision point for customers, when they're choosing their tech stack. Would you agree?

Rob:

I think, to a point, I definitely agree. Now, when we're talking about the smallest of small businesses, the smaller the business, the less complexity there tends to be in that tech stack and the less appetite there is for a lot of the small business owners to even think about something called an API. They're going to not understand [00:11:00] what it is, not know how to take those first steps. That conversation might be completely irrelevant to them. Then you get into a gateway entry point, something like Zapier, where you don't need any technical knowledge in order to begin to have the flow of information between two different applications. I completely do agree that there is a set of customers, a little more technologically advanced customers. They don't necessarily have to be big businesses. They can be one-person [00:11:30] operations where the person simply is more inclined to technology, where that API functionality, that kind of access to data and the ability to connect things is a more obvious need. For them, it would definitely be a big decision point.

Shaun:

Yeah. It's interesting, because whether or not people know they want it, my view is that I feel like automation can give people a lot of freedom, particular if [00:12:00] it's as simple as integrating with their Gmail or something like that they already use. It's good to see that you're heading in that direction. Boy, you already have Zapier up and running anyway. Where is the product going? What's the road map for you guys?

Rob:

Right. Wave, the seeds of Wave really are in our accounting software. That was what we were first known for. From there, we really branched into a really robust and beautiful invoicing tool. [00:12:30] From there, we moved into the payroll and the credit card processing. We've got these little pockets of functionality that we are now much more known for across, really, those areas that I just mentioned. The end game would really be, how beautifully simple can we automate all of your financial life? To what extent can we apply AI or machine learning to simplify your bookkeeping so that when a transaction is automatically imported [00:13:00] from your bank account, how smart can we make the system so that the system already knows what you want to do with each individual transaction? In your case, it may be slightly different from what a different person might want to do with their bookkeeping, depending on the nuances of their business.

Shaun:

Sure.

Rob:

How can we automate those flows? Then one of the little bits of magic is, how do we transform bookkeeping from the obligation that you do simply so that you don't get in trouble from your tax authority? [00:13:30] How do we transform bookkeeping from that into a world where you're getting insights about your business that are really, really useful?

Shaun:

Sure.

Rob:

How do you turn it into a [inaudible 00:13:39] thing that a small business owner, and again, thinking about the owner of a really small business where he or she probably doesn't have training in financial reporting, how do we get the system to surface to those business owners the really important bits of insight that are going to change the way your run your day-to-day business, make you more profitable, [00:14:00] eliminate work that's not actually driving toward your bottom line, help you either free up your time so you can grow more or so that you can work less and spend more time with your family? How do we change the whole conversation around business finances from, "Ugh, it's this thing I have to do," into, "Great. This actually provided me with a lot of value today, and I look forward to doing it again tomorrow."

Shaun:

I know from my own perspective, and dealing with very [00:14:30] small businesses. Let's call them solopreneurs. They're particularly people who are makers. They're sitting in their workshop and making stuff and selling it at markets or selling it online. It does feel like an obligation. Really, for me, from the technical point of view, I know the technology's there to just deal with this stuff for me. I'm yet to see that done really [00:15:00] well in accounting and in an accounting app or accounting software. It sounds like you're heading in a great direction there, because if I can virtually make it set and forget and meet with all of my regulatory requirements, that's what I want. I don't want to be poring over that stuff at 11:00 pm.

Rob:

Absolutely. You're exactly right. At a gut level, knowing what everybody knows the technology can do today, we are [00:15:30] all getting impatient. We're all looking at this, going, "Come on. The computer must be able to fix this problem for me." Turns out accounting, especially the regulatory end of financial reporting, is highly nuanced, highly regional.

Shaun:

Yes.

Rob:

It's a very, very difficult thing to just say, "I'm going to write one script, and I'll be done." Nonetheless, that end point is now, you [00:16:00] can see the path to getting to that point. Here at Wave, we've built out our data science team now. We've got some really smart people who are looking at these challenges and figuring out how to move these things forward. We really do look forward to starting to roll those tools and innovations out to our small business customers, and changing their financial lives, like we were talking about. Making it less work and making the investment of your time much more valuable when it comes to looking at your finances.

Shaun:

I think it's an interesting point, [00:16:30] the interaction that you have with you users. I speak to app developers almost every day. Something that is consistent with what they say is that they often have little breakaway groups of their users almost demanding particular features that really just aren't on the road map. Then you've got your people who are incredibly enthusiastic about the app and really helping to drive you in [00:17:00] the right direction. It is hard to balance, obviously, what's possible, what the finances can allow, of course, because no company has unlimited funds. A lot of people listening may not realize that it's really hard to find people to work for you in the development space. It's hard to find the right developers, the right team, and pull all of those people together. There's a lot of challenges that happen in the back end that you may not necessarily publicly [00:17:30] talk about, usually, to your customers.

Rob:

For sure. We're working in a very competitive space, just the financial service, financial technology space. The challenges we're looking to solve are not trivial. Turns out, the really, really, really smart people are looking for really, really, really meaty challenges to solve. We are aligned there. We've got some great challenges available for the computer scientists, [00:18:00] the data scientists, the software engineers to come and help us solve that way, but we are not the only game in town, obviously. It is a challenge, like you said, to get that talent. We feel like we've done a great job here. We doubled in size in terms of the number of people on the Wave team. We've doubled in size in the last year, because we are moving super quickly toward solving those problems in the way that we've discussed, and really bringing about [00:18:30] those innovations.

Shaun:

Is your team remote, or do they all work at your headquarters?

Rob:

We're all right here in Toronto. Everybody's at the Wave headquarters.

Shaun:

Who wouldn't want to live in Toronto, really? It sounds like an easy decision to make.

Rob:

Spectacular. Come and join us.

Shaun:

Before we wrap up, I want to circle back to something that was really interesting. You mentioned your integration with Etsy. I haven't come across this in any other accounting software, to my knowledge. [00:19:00] Can you tell me a bit more about that, and how that came about?

Rob:

Etsy was one of the earliest integrations that we did, where really we were trying to identify what would be a smart first integration to do?

Shaun:

Just for people who don't know what Etsy is, because I barely do. I just know what it is because of my wife. Let's not go into that, but what is Etsy?

Rob:

Etsy is a marketplace for people who make things. [00:19:30] It's a place for them to sell their usually handmade crafts or small-run production items. You're not going to find mass-produced items there. It's often a lot of custom work and really, really small-run craft type goods. It's a place where they can list those goods and sell those goods.

Shaun:

Sure. You identified that as an important sub-group in your customers pretty early on. I think that's quite insightful.

Rob:

[00:20:00] Yeah. The idea really is, when we're looking at integrations, the first thing that we think of is, where are you managing your money? Whether that's money in or money out. On Etsy, obviously, that's a channel for money in. People are earning their income there. If we can automate those flows, bring that directly into your bookkeeping, reconcile it with your banking information, we will have saved you a lot of headaches. I have a high [00:20:30] confidence that our Etsy integration is going to get revisited in the near future and find ways to make it better, but it is an example of the kind of thinking that we have here, which is, like I said, you're tracking money here. You're tracking money here. You're moving money there. How do we bring all of that into one place so that you, the business owner, don't need to manage it in three different places?

Shaun:

Just before we wrap up, for the technical people listening, without revealing all of your secrets, what platform is [00:21:00] Wave built in? What language or languages? Where is it hosted? That kind of thing.

Rob:

Almost all of Wave is written in Django. Our payroll functionality is written in Ruby. That's because payroll began as an acquisition. We purchased a different payroll tool, and integrated that with Wave, but that was already going back to, I believe, 2011?

Shaun:

I'm a Ruby developer, so that's a big tick.

Rob:

[00:21:30] Yeah, we've got Ruby for payroll, Django for pretty well everything else. We're hosted with AWS. We recently, in the last year, made the switch over to AWS because we needed the ability to scale. We needed the security functionality and different things like that, that AWS offered us.

Shaun:

Sure.

Rob:

Really, with an eye to our continuing international growth and the flexibility and the power that we need in order to be able to serve three million plus registered [00:22:00] Wave customers. We're handling billions of transactions right now. There's a lot of horsepower that we need in order to do that job right.

Shaun:

Absolutely. It sounds like a very unique offering in a market that's becoming a little bit crowded. It's, I think it's hard for particular small businesses to differentiate those accounting apps, so I think it's definitely one to look out for. For the listeners, there will be a link in [00:22:30] the show notes so you can check it out. It is free, so there's not really any risk to trying it out, right?

Rob:

Nope. Nope, come on in. Kick the tires. See what it's all about. Easiest first step is often creating your invoice because you can do some customization on it, upload your logo. It looks beautiful. You'll be hooked.

Shaun:

Rob from Wave, thanks so much for your time.

Rob:

Thank you, Shaun. Nice chatting.

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