Mar 6, 2015
Highlights of my conversation with Steven Renwick
Subscribe to Episode # of Cloud Stories on iTunes:
Heather: Hello and welcome back to Cloud stories. Today I’m interviewing Steven Renwick. Steven is the founder and CEO of Satago. Satago is a clever credit control and accounts receivable software that helps companies get paid faster. Satago connects to user’s accounting software and takes over the process of chasing customers for payments as debts age through automated statements and escalating email reminders. Included with Satago is free credit information and payment behaviour data about all of your customers, allowing you to determine which customers you can offer credit to and on which you should concentrate your collection efforts. I first met Steven at Sydney Xerocon, and that’s where he gave me blue sunglasses which you frequently see me wearing in pictures from Xerocons and Xero events, and there are a few of us around there sporting the Satago blue sunglasses.
I started by asking Steven, what did you like to do when you were a 12 year old?
Steven: Wow, as a 12 year old. I was very much into fantasy/war gaming. That’s like these lead models you get. You paint them up and then you play battles against each other or you go into dungeons and explore. So me and my brothers used to play that quite a bit.
Did you ever manage to sell those models for money?
Steven: A few of them I have but most of them I’ve still got in my parent’s attic. They’re now worth quite a bit of money because they’re all out of production.
Heather: My son keeps trying to convince me to buy them, which he does, he buys them and he’s like, “They’ll make money. They’ll make us money.” It sounds like you’re on the same street there.
Steven: Yes, could be.
Can you explain to our listeners essentially what your business, Satago, does?
Steven: Sure, Satago is an add-on for Xero. What it is; is clever control and accounts receivable software. We connect into your Xero account and then we basically take over the process of chasing your customers for payment through automated monthly statements and through customised escalating email reminders which get more serious in tone as the debt gets older. We also automate the sending of hard copy payment demand letters and we also get actual credit managers on the phone for you to call up your customers for payment. You can either be using it as an in-house tool to improve your own credit control, or to effectively outsource your credit control.
Something else we have is credit data on companies. Once you’re integrated with us, you can see the credit score, suggested credit limit and the payment behaviour data for your customers.
In terms of the credit data, is that England specific or UK specific, or everywhere global?
Steven: At the moment it’s only UK specific. We actually only launched that a couple of weeks ago. It’s through a partnership with Experian, which is the big credit data company. It’s quite expensive and took a wee while to negotiate the deal. So we really need to see what the uptake is for that in the UK first of all before we consider doing it around the rest of the world. What’s interesting with the credit data is that the quality of it varies greatly between countries depending on what sort of statutory rules there are for releasing information. One company might have good coverage in Australia but not in the UK and vice versa. So we have to look at it on the country-by-country basis.
What has been the customer reaction to that new feature addition?
Steven: The phrase that kept on getting used is “this is a no brainer” because we’ve actually made it free to integrate … it’s free to integrate with Satago and it’s free to see the top level Experian data. So everybody gets to see the credit ratings and the credit limits and the days beyond terms data for all their customers. Even if you don’t use Satago for chasing customers because it’s not always necessary, you should at least know their credit data. It’s been really good so far. I think, on a daily basis, between about 30-50% of our users are looking at the credit data.
Heather: I’m sure for a lot of small business owners, this is actually the first time they’ve looked at credit data. Would you agree with that?
Steven: Yes, exactly. That’s why I wanted to do it because not enough small businesses look at this sort of data. When it comes to good credit control, although we started Satago and the whole ‘chasing you customer’ payment idea, the first real bedrock of credit control is knowing your customer. That means the very basics like knowing where they are actually based, knowing their real trading name, and knowing the very basic credit data. We’ve just made the very top level data for free because often small businesses don’t really know what they’re looking at when they look at that full credit report. So just the top level data but if you do want the full credit report, you can buy those through Satago as well.
Heather: Okay, sensational. It’s a really interesting add-on and I think from a small business owner’s perspective, they weren’t able to afford it in the past to even consider going down the route because for every new creditor that you took on board, that would be a costly exercise to do a full assessment of them, especially when you’re starting out and your small and you’re trying to grow. It’s like, “Anyone who wants to be my client can be my client.”
Steven: Exactly. I mean if you’re thinking about giving someone a £20,000 line of credit, it’s probably worth spending the £15 or £20 on a full credit report but if you’re doing large numbers of clients, that’s maybe not quite so feasible, so just having the top level data for free is very sensible. Having it integrated with your Xero account makes it even easier. You don’t have to go in there and start searching for all your customers because we’ve already matched it up for you.
Heather: Absolutely. I think it’s an excellent idea. I used to work for a company that standard payment terms were 18 months but the people selling to them didn’t realise that. They were like, “Yes, we’re a big company. That’s our standard.” So it makes things very difficult. Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off.
Steven: I was going to say, 18 months is a bit crazy. That’s the way you put your own suppliers out of business.
Heather: Yes, that was the industry normal for that particular industry.
Why did you start Satago?
Steven: I don’t know what industry you were talking about. Maybe it’s the construction industry because that was my family business background. In Scotland, my dad started a business which ended up installing and maintaining passenger lifts or elevators.
Heather: Like Schindler’s Lifts.
Steven: Exactly, they were the big competition.
Heather: Oh were they? Sorry.
Steven: Yes, slightly bigger than my family business, nevertheless they compete. That’s in the construction industry and they’re at the end of the supply chain more or less. I kind of grew up with this issue of late payment. My dad would come home and say, “This contractor has not paid us yet for this job we’ve done,” and there would some pretty big bills we were waiting on, like £20,000-£30,000 at a time, when they’d finish a job. The payments would drag on for weeks and weeks and weeks and months and months. Then occasionally these customers would just go into bankruptcy and leave you with this £30,000 invoice that you can’t pay.
I always thought it was really unfair how the big guys treated the little guys and I kind of wanted to do something about it for a long, long time. Then years later, I was just thinking about what industries are ripe for disruption. I looked at the credit data industry and I thought, “Well, you’ve got the big guys like Experian and Dun and Bradstreet but nothing new has really happened there for a long time.” I thought, “Well, why don’t we take advantage of the internet and all these new cloud accounting software companies that are coming up, and build a way of encouraging companies to anonymously share data about when their customers pay them versus agreed terms.” I thought, “It will be a bit like EBay where the buyer rates the seller and the seller rates the buyer.”
So basically I actually investigated this idea on my MBA at Oxford. I spent a year doing all the usual business school stuff but at every opportunity possible, I would investigate this idea I had.
So was it a project? Was it an assessable project?
Steven: Yes, I gamed the system a little bit and used it for every accessible project possible which meant I got to have my classmates working with me. I got what would otherwise be quite expensive consultants, these guys were used to charging thousands of pounds a day, but because it was a project for school they were doing it for free.
Steven: I used it for a few projects, used it for a few competitions, and did quite well from it but I didn’t manage … I’m talking by the end of the MBA I would have convinced someone to give me enough money to build a prototype of it just to test the idea out and get started. I didn’t manage in the end, so I had to go off and get a job.
Heather: You’ve mentioned Oxford, so I’ve got to stop and ask you for our listeners who perhaps are going to visit Oxford.
Steven, what’s your favourite pub in Oxford and what beer do you suggest they try? I just know that if you were at Oxford Uni, you’re bound to know a good pub there.
Steven: Yes, Oxford is overflowing with good pubs. I’ll give you two to try. On Broad Street, there’s one called the White Horse. It’s very small. It’s quite compact. It sells a lot of good beers. One I would recommend is White Horse – it’s from a relatively local brewery.
Heather: So White Horse selling White Horse. You just said the name of the pub was White Horse?
Steven: Yes, the pub is called White Horse, I think coincidentally, because the white horse is a famous prehistoric chalk drawing on one of the hills in the Cotswolds.
Heather: Yes, in Denver. Okay. Sorry.
Steven: Or in the Cotswolds.
Heather: Devon not Denver. But anyway, yes, I’ll take the Cotswolds then.
Steven: Yes, so the brewery and the pub is called that. Another one you should look for is called the Turf which is Oxford’s worst kept secret. It’s down some secret little alleyway but then there’s this beautiful big pub which gets very busy because actually everybody knows about it.
Heather: Fantastic. I’m sure some of the listeners will venture there.
Steven: They should.
— Satago (@satagonet) March 4, 2015
So in your journey of developing Satago, what obstacles have you met along the way?
Steven: Well, the first one was raising money. In that respect we’re a normal tech start up, not unlike Xero a few years ago itself, except this is my first company so I didn’t have previous successes with which to finance this one. We were actually quite fortunate in a way, that one of my classmates from the MBA, a year or two before me, actually founded a company in the UK called Seedrs which was basically the world’s first genuine crowd equity funding platform. Everybody will have heard of things like Kickstarter from the US where people crowd fund books or projects and stuff like that.
Steven: Now the difference with Kickstarter is you’re basically just paying in advance for a product. You’re paying for a product to be developed, then you get the product. What’s different with the crowd equity funding is that people are actually buying a bit of your company, so they actually hold shares. When this platform launched I thought “Okay, I’ll put my idea for Satago on there and I’ll see if I can just raise £30,000 to build a prototype,” and it worked. Within two weeks I had 60 people had invested anything from £10 to £5,000. I had my £5,000 to go off and try and build version 1 of Satago.
So you’ve got multiple investors in the company?
Steven: Yes, I mean technically the way it works is that I actually only have one investor listed on my capital table because if I had 60, that would be a mess. So Seedrs actually manages it so that they’ve got like 60 investors in a special vehicle they have but technically Seedrs, the investment company, is the only investor in Satago. But really there are 60 different people who all have rights to the shares.
Heather: Okay, that’s really interesting. So Seedrs is still in existence?
Steven: Yes, it’s doing very well.
Steven: They’re funding millions of pounds every month in companies throughout Europe. I think they’re just getting started in the US.
And it’s an experience reflecting on it, that you took that route?
Steven: Yes, I’m very happy with it because what I think is very important about this crowd equity funding side of things is that it makes start-ups accessible to people. If you read the conventional guidance on how to do a start-up, the first thing they always say is, “You should raise your first bit of money from friends and family.” Now, I don’t know about everyone else’s friends and family but there’s no way I was going to manage to get £30,000 from my friends and family because they’re just not that wealthy. I think the people that make that suggestion perhaps do have the wealthy friends and family, and forget that 95% of people don’t have friends and family with £30,000 lying around.
For me, it almost democratises doing start-ups a little bit, which I think makes it accessible to a broader range of people, which is very important. Yes, it was a great experience for me. There’s no other way I would have got that money so quickly.
Heather: Absolutely. That’s really exciting. I actually hadn’t heard of that company. I always watch the Kickstarters and the Indiegogo’s, etc. It’s always very interesting to watch.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being involved in Satago Steven?
Steven: I guess the most rewarding bit is when you get positive feedback from your users. You’ll have people just sign up, and out of the blue, without you even having spoken to them at all, they’ll get in touch with you and say, “This is amazing. I’ve just sent my first batch of statements or reminders,” or something “and all these people promised to pay me.” That’s great. It’s real internet business. It’s complete strangers somewhere on the internet, somewhere in the world, emailing me to say this thing that you’ve been spending the last two years building has actually made a difference to them. That’s fantastic.
Heather: Absolutely. I signed up recently to the product to have a look inside the product and one of the things I really liked about it was that you have the option to set the emails and the reminder notices so they go out during the week rather than on the weekend. That’s always really important to me because I know that in this cloud based, automated world, people kind of … and I watch them and they’re just working 24/7, which is fine, however you need to have a life as well. To me, I don’t think there’s much of a point for the reminders to go out on the weekend - obviously different industries, etc.
It is such a massive time saver for such a small amount of money, and it’s a massive relief to know that that’s actually working in the background. It sounds like you’ve actually got all of the different elements in place because a lot of small business owners just want to be passionately involved in their business and they want to passionately have this relationship with the client or the customer, and they don’t want to say, “Hey, by the way, you owe me money.” Because I think a lot of people would do it for free if they could do.
Steven: Yes, that’s the thing because we’ve always been saying people start businesses because they love what they’re doing and they’re very good at selling their product or their business. It’s what they love and what they’re excited about. But people often forget that about a third of your businesses function is probably doing credit control and just getting the money in at the end of the day. A lot of people don’t even realise that that’s ever going to be an issue and quite often they only do begin to realise when it’s almost too late. It’s really one of these things you need to get in place really early on.
Steven: Using Satago just makes it easy, takes it out of their hands of having to think about it too much, and it’s all done professionally.
Heather: It is done professionally. As you said before, it is a bit of a no brainer because I always kind of equate the cost to how much is that in minutes of your own time. So over a month period, it’s like nothing at all. Plus it’s not nasty chasing. You can do it very politely and very professionally and still have that in place. I know that clients say to me after a while, “Oh, I actually wait for the reminder and then I pay you because I know it’s coming.” It’s almost like their payment cash flow system that they work on.
So how do you go about acquiring additional customers for your business?
Steven: Well, to be honest, as an early stage start-up, we’re still experimenting and finding out what the best way of acquiring users is. We work with a number of accounting firms and bookkeeping firms, a kind of partner programme similar to that which Xero has itself. That seems to be quite popular. Then to be honest, a lot of our users come direct through the website. I think a lot of them come from the Xero add-on store and I think our organic search engine rankings are quite decent.
We have a lot of people signing up directly, direct end users, and what we have a lot of is people sign up wanting the full credit control service. They want somebody on the phone for them as well. When they do that, we refer them to one of the partners that we’ve got already, and they effectively become the outsourced credit management company for them. They will be doing full service, so they’ll manage their Satago account and they’ll be the one that decides who to phone, who needs to be chased through the courts, that sort of thing.
Heather: Fantastic, so they can just get on with running their business. Two questions come out of that for me.
What has been Satago’s secret for generating enviable press coverage in the Guardian, Forbes, Independent, etc? You’ve done very well that way.
Steven: We put a big effort on that in the beginning of the year. We came up with some interesting stories. We did some research amongst our users and even people who weren’t users of Satago, just asking them what were the excuses they’d heard of for late payment.
Heather: So you shared funny stories of why people …?
Steven: Yes, kind of interesting stories about late payment because in the UK, it’s a very hot topic just now. It’s probably one of the … at least the top three concerns of small business owners is late payment, and the government has been very good about trying to do something about it. Barely a week goes by without there being some sort of story about late payment in the small business press. I just tried to help out with our own bits of research, what we’d found so far, and the journalist seemed to quite like it. They were all very willing to write about us.
Heather: Sensational. It’s actually really difficult in this whole ecosystem, that a lot of the subjects are quite dry, to find an angle that’s actually of interest and to exploit it. People love those stories of the dog ate my invoice, etc. But those stories certainly are of interest and your coverage is amazing. So people, if you are looking for exposure, go and take a look and read at the Satago media coverage that they’ve actually had. Now, I’ll also ask you, you talked about the partner programme.
How does your partner programme work?
Heather: Yes, and cloud integrators probably as well.
Steven: Yes, so we’ve got a few cloud integrators there as well. You get a free account to use yourself to chase your customers as much as you want. Then after you have a certain number of users … we have two different things we do. We will either give you revenue share which you can either take as revenue or pass on the savings onto your customers. But we’ve also partnered, or about to partner, with …
Heather: Is this exclusive news?
Steven: It is actually, yes.
Heather: Very good.
Steven: We haven’t actually started yet but there’s a charity called Buy One Give One (B1G1) . Have you heard of that?
Heather: Well, you explain what yours is in case I explain something different.
Steven: So Buy One Give One (B1G1) is I suppose a charity which encourages you to give away a little bit of your profits I guess, or a little bit of revenue for every time you sell something.
Heather: Oh okay.
Steven: It could be something as small as: every time you sell a cup of coffee, you give 10 pence to this charity. The idea is a large number of these relatively small donations add up to something quite significant.
Steven: The chairman of Buy One Give One (B1G1) is a gentleman called Paul Dunn who is quite famous in the accounting profession, I think particularly in the UK. He now lives in Singapore but he is a quite famous speaker. I saw him speak at an accounting industry event called 20/20 in the UK, and he kind of inspired us to get in touch with this charity and do this kind of partnership. We haven’t started it yet but what we’re going to do is give accountants and bookkeepers the options of either taking this revenue share or giving that revenue share to Buy One Give One (B1G1) where it can have an impact on people around the world.
Heather: Absolutely, that’s a sensational idea. Excellent.
Steven: Thank you.
Heather: So this is my cave man question for not understanding how technology works, okay.
Steven: I’ll do my best.
Heather: Well, you should be the genius here and this is me not understanding it.
Satago offers three different pricing levels which reflect the number of invoices that the solution will chase at each of the different pricing levels. In this automated world, how much extra effort is there in a solution to chase more than one invoice?
Steven: You mean from Satago’s point of view?
Heather: Yes. I didn’t understand … and you’re not alone in this but I didn’t understand if you’re chasing one invoice, why is it more effort … because in this automated world, why is it more difficult to chase two invoices than to chase 5,000 invoices?
Steven: Really from our point of view, there’s no difference in effort. There’s a slight difference in that we have these automated … we also send letters. We give you different number of letters you can send but that’s really by-the-by. I mean to be quite honest with you, it doesn’t make any difference … it doesn’t make much difference if we’re chasing 1,000 invoices or 10 invoices in a month. This is what you would call in your MBA class ‘price discrimination’.
In an ideal world, we’ve got to make money. We would be charging each of our users £100 a month or something decent like that so we can make a lot of money from each of our users. But the reality is that the person that’s only sending 10 invoices a month is never going to pay £100 a month, whereas the person that is sending 1,000 invoices a month has a much greater need and is more willing to pay for it. It’s more of an economic discrimination rather than any kind of technical discrimination at all.
Heather: Very good, I feel like I’ve been professor'd by the Oxford scholar. Thank you for that.
So is Satago based in London?
Steven: We are based in London. That’s right.
Heather: Okay. You’re in Berlin at the moment. Satago is based in London.
Steven: I am today, yes.
What’s the internet connection like in London then for you guys?
Steven: The internet connection?
Steven: It’s okay. It seems pretty fast to me.
Heather: Is it? Okay. I don’t know whether it was going to be fast or not, so that’s sensational.
Steven: We often get told we’re lagging behind the rest of the world. I think our investment in infrastructure perhaps isn’t the best but we’re never going to be as fast as the Estonians or something like that, who seem to be all very wired up.
You recently featured on the cover of XU Magazine. What was the modelling experience like for you?
Heather: Michael from Receipt Bank, yes.
Steven: Yes, it was really cool. I guess that was inspired by the Xerocon down in Sydney where I think the three of us were wearing our kilts. We did a shoot … that was actually at the Receipt Bank offices, had a really great photographer along, and just trying to dream up what would actually make good photos. The Receipt Bank office is quite neat in that they had these airline seats there for some reason.
Heather: As you do.
Steven: As you do. Yes, we drew on some windows onto the chalkboard behind. You may have noticed the windows that were drawn on were square, which any airplane engineer will tell you is a terrible idea. Nevertheless, it made a decent photo, and yes it was a lot of fun.
What effect did it have for you and your business at London Xerocon with your face all over the magazine being handed out to all the attendees and delegates?
Steven: I guess a lot of people did comment on it because I actually wore my kilt to Xerocon.
Heather: Yes, I saw. There were three of you in your kilts wasn’t there?
Steven: There was meant to be but we failed. I actually ordered some kilts to get delivered from Scotland down to London so my two colleagues, Adam and Florin, could also wear the kilts and we’d make a bit of a theme of it but the couriers completely stuffed up. I use the G-rated ‘stuffed up’ there.
Steven: And completely failed to deliver them to us, so it was just me. But yes, it was great. It was really cool being on the cover. Funnily enough, I was standing next to the XU Magazine stand talking to someone and he says, “You look a bit like the guy on the front of the magazine but it’s not you is it?” I was standing right next to it wearing a kilt. It was like, “It really is me.”
Heather: In the exact same kilt?
Steven: In the exact same kilt, yes.
Heather: Goodness. Excellent. It’s always fun to be at those events when you’re such a star from the magazine.
Steven: It is indeed. It helps.
So Satago was reviewed by the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers. They did a big review of your product, produced a very nice and detailed review of the product. What did that mean for you?
Steven: Well, it was just great to have an independent validation, a proper audit. All too often, companies of course will get launched and you’ll get a lot of noise but you won’t have anyone actually take a proper deep dive from anyone that’s properly independent. What was really good was that also shortly after that, we exhibited at the ICBs Bookkeepers Summit in London. That was like 300-400 bookkeepers turned up for this conference and we were literally mobbed for every minute of the two days we were there. Every time they had a break between sessions, we would have bookkeepers three or four deep at our stand, so it was quite phenomenal.
Heather: Excellent. Well, we’re having the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers annual conference in Brisbane this month.
Steven: Oh, I wish I could be there.
Heather: What a shame you didn’t make it out for that.
Steven: That would have been great.
Heather: Brisbane is far nicer than Sydney too.
Steven: Really, I’ll take your word for that. I’ve got relatives there as well I need to visit. Maybe I can pop round.
Heather: Tax deductable holiday to Brisbane.
So what does the future hold for Satago?
Steven: Well, we’ve got a lot more cool features coming out. Our main user interface is going to have a new dashboard on it fairly soon, a lot more on the reporting side of things. We’re going to make more use of the credit data. We’re going to start trying to be a bit more proactive on the sales and marketing side of things because we haven’t really … apart from going to the conferences, we haven’t actually spent on marketing yet. We’re going to start experimenting with that.
We’ll also have to have a look at being a bit more proactive in the international side of things. To date we’ve mostly concentrated on the UK market, largely because we knew that the Experian data was only going to be valid in the UK. But if the demand is there, then I would really like to source data for the New Zealand and Australian markets, because they’re obviously where Xero is most strong, and see how that goes.
Heather: Yes, absolutely. I found when I went in and explored and worked my way round the Satago Solution, it was very clean and an easy to understand interface.
Steven: Thank you.
Heather: I do encourage anyone who’s listening, who’s interested in the product, to jump in and take a look. I reckon you’ll be up and running within about 8 minutes.
Steven: Yes, should be.
Heather: Time to boil a cup of tea and get it going.
Steven, one final question for you, what advice would you have for your 18 year old self?
Steven: Ah, my 18 year old self. It’s a tricky one because I had this weird career path where I started off doing biochemistry. I did a PhD in genetics and now I’m working in internet businesses. Off the top, you might just say, “Skip the biochemistry and PhD bit and go straight into business because I’m not using the genetics anymore.” But the reality is that that path led me to where I am now, so I wouldn’t change anything about that. Maybe what I’d say is, “Start learning German in university because you’re going to end up living in Berlin and not have a clue what anyone is saying.” So there you go. “Learn a language.”
Heather: Didn’t I see you tweeting the other day that you wanted someone to subtitle a Finish programme or something like that?
Steven: Norwegian. My girlfriend is from Norway, so we quite often end up watching this chat show, this Norwegian chat show. When they have guests from English, it’s all in English but a lot of the time it’s in Norwegian or Swedish, and I just don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.
Heather: Absolutely. No, learning a language is very hard. With your genetics background, is any of it applicable? Is it the discipline that’s applicable or the knowledge applicable to what you’re doing now?
Steven: I think what I probably don’t appreciate enough is how it trains you to be inquisitive in the correct way. I don’t literally use any of the genetics or anything like that but it does help me, I think, to understand some of the technical side of what we’re doing and to ask the right questions. A lot of what you’re doing with a start-up business is constant experiments which is what PhD is. You’re testing out this new feature. You’re testing out this marketing channel. You’re testing if I change the headline from A to B, do I get 5% more signup? So it’s a little bit like doing a PhD except almost the stake is about 10 times higher.
Heather: Yes, I guess so. Absolutely. I guess you are … rather than assuming you know the answer, you’re testing it because it is really easy to sit there and go, “Everyone thinks the exact same as me. We should just do it this way,” rather than what you’re saying. Doing a PhD isn’t something you accidentally fall over, wake up one day and have done. That was a huge commitment to do, to then move into something else. But there does seem to be a few people out there who have done that. I just got an email that the head of Dell was a zoologist to start off … Dell Australia started off as a zoologist. I’m like, Okay …”
Steven: I’m in good company then.
Heather: You are. Thank you so much for sharing your time with us and sharing your insights about building your business and what it can do for people. I really, really appreciate it.
Steven: My pleasure Heather.
Heather: Thank you.
End of Transcript