Interview with Duane Jackson (KashFlow)
KashFlow is a web-based accounting application for SMEs with no accounting experience.
I interviewed Duane Jackson, KashFlow founder to find out more. This interview is the ninety third in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Duane for the interview!
How would you describe KashFlow in under 50 words?
KashFlow is web-based accounting software for business owners that are sick of spreadsheets but alienated by traditional accounting software.
There’s no accounting jargon, it’s integrated with lots of other web-based apps like MailChimp and Dropbox. It automates many tasks to make your business more efficient
It’s fair to say you have overcome a variety of setbacks in an extraordinary career so far. Tell us a bit about your background and how you came to start working on KashFlow.
I grew up in childrens homes in the East End of London and left school at 15 with no qualifications and spent a year with a ZX Spectrum and a programming book.
At 19 I was arrested in Atlanta, Georgia in possession of a lot of Class A drugs. The full story involves DEA agents, guns, lap dancers, a serial killer, big piles of cash, death threats and a 6 month police surveillance operation. But that’s one for another time!
I sometimes get asked how I “fell in to crime”. I didn’t fall into it, I’d grown up amongst it. The guys I’d grown up with were running a large drug trafficking operation and I got involved to make some quick cash without giving it much thought.
On my release from a 5 year prison sentence my girlfriend fell pregnant very quickly. I didn’t want to end up like the many men I’d seen in prison only seeing their kids for an hour or two a month and decided I needed to turn my life around.
With no chance of getting a job or any start-up finance from a bank, I turned to the Prince’s Trust for help.
You have met and been praised by Bill Gates for turning your life around. This must have been quite a moving moment?
It was quite a surreal day for sure. It was before Office Live and I was winding him up about Microsoft having not yet moved to the cloud. He assured me they would be.
It was also shortly before he stepped down as CEO at Microsoft. Maybe after meeting me he decided to give up? : )
Are you still involved with The Princes Trust?
I am still involved with the Prince’s Trust. I’d never have got the help I needed anywhere else so I’m eternally grateful to them.
I quite often attend small lunches for them with tech entrepreneurs that have had a big exit with a view to encouraging them to make a donation. So I get to meet very interesting people and occasionally it ends with a big fat cheque for the Trust.
You are the first accounting application in the world to be PayPal certified. How did your partnership with PayPal materialize?
When we first built our API we wanted to build a “proof of concept” app to show what could be done. So we wrote a small tool that connect to the PayPal API, extracted data and imported it into KashFlow to create your financial accounts. It worked but was a bit clunky.
PayPal got in touch and encouraged us to rebuild it within the KashFlow application and make it as easy to use as the rest of our software. They said they’d help promote it to their customers and gave us access to the techies at their end so we could get it done quickly.
PayPal are a great company to partner with and they continue to promote us to their business customers today.
KashFlow regularly beat established accounting software companies at software awards. Congratulations on your numerous awards! What advantages do you offer to customers over your competitors?
Very simply: software that makes sense to non-accountants.
Winning customer or product satisfaction awards when you’re up against the likes of Sage and Quickbooks is a bit like beating the Elephant Man in a beauty pageant.
You have published a lot on the ‘flaws’ of one of your competitors, Sage. They have even threatened you with legal action. To what extent has the controversy around KashFlow and Sage raised the profile of Kashflow?
The Sage battles have been enormous fun and really helped to raise our profile. The whole “David v Goliath” angle is a great way to get your name out there on a tight budget.
There’s an entertaining blog post from one of my friends who was around at the time it first kicked off that gives you an insight into how Sage reacted to us.
As well as lots of media coverage it means we’re also well regarded by city analysts. They often phone for my opinion on Sages’ latest SaaS-related comments and in return we get name-checked in various reports.
What do you wish you’d have known 6 years ago that you know now?
We went through an interesting time in 2011 and I learned a lot. A lot of time was spent in talks with other companies that wanted to acquire us.
I’d always thought there was a “proper” way to build and grow a business. That there are some sort of magical rules that MBAs and corporate know about that I didn’t.
The realisation from talking to these big companies is that there isn’t. The whole SaaS business model is so massively different from the old world of software. The old rules of business and business models just don’t apply.
When I sat and listened to what these companies thought we should be doing differently if they bought us I was amazed at the utter stupidity of some of what they wanted us to do.
So I wish I realised more clearly 6 years ago that I do actually know what’s best for my company and had more confidence in what I was doing then.
Where are you based and who is the team behind KashFlow?
We’re based at London Bridge. There are close to 30 of us now and everyone plays an important role. But there are four people who have been with us a very long time and have contributed lots.
Dominique joined us out of school at 16 at the time when I was first starting up. She was Employee #1. She wears many hats including office manager, running the support and admin teams and was my PA for a long time. She pretty much runs the business whilst I’m front and center taking all the credit.
Michelle built up our accountants channel which accounts for a large part of our userbase.
Sandile is our lead developer. Having a CEO who writes code isn’t fun for him. He spends more time correcting bugs in my code than he’d like.
And Tim is the unsung hero of the support team. As he’s been with us so long he knows a lot about the wide range of features and the inner workings of the system so can quickly resolve complicated problems that would take others a long time to figure out.
Where do you see KashFlow in another 6 years time?
I think we’ve cracked the basic “accounting software is full of jargon and incredibly dull” problem already. We’re gradually adding more and more automation and integrations to make small businesses more efficient.
I think as we move more and more in that direction then KashFlow will become a wider business software application as opposed to an accounting application that happens to be useful in other areas of a small business too.
If there was one thing you could go back and do differently what would it be?
I’d have built a marketing team much, much sooner.
We’ve done very little actual marketing. All of our growth came from word-of-mouth, PR and social media. Whilst that was great and gave us brilliant growth at a very low cost we could have grown much quicker with a more structured approach and actually spending money on marketing.
It’s wasn’t until early 2012 that we actually had people in the company whose sole focus is on marketing.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone looking to startup?
Don’t do it. It’s going to be hard thankless work for a long time. Working silly hours, having no social life. TechCrunch aren’t going to write about you and you’re not going to make any money. Ever.
And if they listen to me and decide not to do it then they weren’t meant to be entrepreneurs in the first place.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
This is going to be a massive improvement to the user experience, be beneficial to our development community and enable us to iterate much faster across multiple platforms.
There’s lot of other exciting commercial things in the pipeline, but it’s still the technology and product that excite me the most.
Can you convince the reader to start using KashFlow in under 50 words?
If they’re not convinced after reading all of the above then another 50 words won’t help. But maybe watching the video (voiced by Stephen Fry!) on our home page will.
Oh, and there’s a free trial.
Finished reading? Check out KashFlow!