Interview with Paul Byrne (Thesaurus Software)
Thesaurus Software is a provider of accounting and payroll software and systems.
I interviewed Paul Byrne, Thesaurus Software Director to find out more. This is the hundred and seventy ninth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Paul!
How would you describe Thesaurus Software in under 50 words?
Thesaurus Software is an Irish company over 20 years on the go. Its main product is payroll software although it also offers accounts software and time recording software. It currently employs 12 staff and has a leading market share for payroll software in Ireland.
What’s the story behind Thesaurus Software and its founding?
I am a chartered accountant, and together with Tom Horan, who had an interest in programming, hatched the plan to develop payroll software over a pint in the late eighties. I operated a payroll bureau for many of my clients using Lotus 123 and macros. We felt there was an opening as many employers were doing their payroll manually at the time.
The initial software took 2 years to develop, a lot longer than expected! Fortunately both of us had other sources of income so we could be patient during the slow build up of customers in the initial years.
Did you experience any technical difficulties in the development of Thesaurus Software?
The technical difficulties back in the early 1990s mainly concerned the distribution of the software. Five and a quarter inch floppy disks were the original media used and these were by no means bullet proof. The software setup program could span as many as 4 of these disks and if one was faulty, we had to replace the whole lot. The Internet and the ability to download software is much better both for the provider and user.
You offer a number of products including Payroll Manager. Which has been the most successful and why do you think this?
The Payroll Manager has been the most successful by far. We were very lucky in that the software was originally launched at a time when most companies were doing their payroll using manual systems. There were only a few competitors at the time and their pricing was very high and easy to compete with.
We were also the first Irish payroll software to offer a free trial period before a code was required. This obviously meant that customers could feel very confident when they purchased. Word of mouth then took over and we have since built up a very loyal customer base.
You offer a try before you buy scheme for every product. How successful are you in turning these trials into customers?
This is a difficult question to answer with any certainty. If someone downloads and uses the free trial, we don’t know who they are. It’s only when they purchase a code that we get to know them.
Theoretically there could be users of the free trial who never converted, we just don’t know. However, we firmly believe that a free trial is one of the best ways to obtain new customers.
You offer training to customers in how to use Thesaurus Software. How much of your resources does this take up?
One of our main marketing messages is that “training is not required”, so we were fighting against ourselves from the start. Training is very much optional and looked for by less than 1% of our customers. Therefore our resources are concentrated in our main areas, development and customer support.
You currently target small to medium sized organisations with Thesaurus Software. Any plans for enterprise?
If by “enterprise” you mean larger business, no, we don’t specifically target large businesses. These tend to have bespoke requirements and to include their required bespoke functionality in our products would only make the software unnecessarily complicated for the ordinary user. Small to medium sized businesses will always remain our target market.
You recently released Bright Contracts, a software allowing you to create and manage employment contracts and handbooks easily. Have you got any other new features in the pipeline?
We also recently released BrightPay in the Irish market. BrightPay has been in the UK market for the past year and uses a more modern user interface and data handling. It is built using Microsoft WPF and has many cloud features. The Irish version of BrightPay will eventually become the main Irish payroll offering although it may take over 5 years for this to happen …. people don’t like change!
What’s the startup scene like in Dublin?
The Dublin IT start up scene is dynamic. I keep telling my kids to get into software. You will never be short of a job plus there are hundreds of potential Googles waiting to happen that they could become a part of. With many of the key industry names having their European headquarters in Dublin, there is always a lot happening.
How do you differentiate yourselves from competition?
Apart from great software, we have hugely experienced support staff. When you phone Thesaurus you get to talk to a real person, a person with many year’s experience in handling payroll queries. Also, because we have been around so long, we know that our software does everything that is wanted by the end user. We know this because we take suggestions on board.
Thesaurus Software has a large user base of over 55,000 and employs 12 people. Did you expect such success and growth when you launched?
In all honesty we did not expect the growth that we have achieved to date. Having said that, this was not an overnight success. We only reached the 100 customer mark a full two years after our initial launch. It has been a gradual increase year on year since then.
What’s next for Thesaurus Software? Where do you see it in 5 years time?
Ross Webster, a masters Computer Science graduate of Queens University, joined Thesaurus in June 2010. We have since been working on our “Bright” suite of products, namely BrightPay and Bright Contracts. We will also be developing for mobile devices and have a keen interest in developing for the Mac platform. Hopefully, in 5 years time, we will have a significant share of the UK payroll software market and will have doubled our staff numbers.
What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?
We were lucky to have existing sources of income to fund the start up of Thesaurus Software. This allowed us to be patient while the company grew. This would be my main message to start ups. Put the funding in place to allow you to be patient. Very few projects achieve short term success. This funding could be from your own resources, another job or could even come from investors. Obviously there is a balance to be struck between patience and foolhardiness. Continuously reassess your offering to confirm that it does have a realistic chance of success.
Can you convince the reader to start using Thesaurus Software in under 50 words?
At Thesaurus Software, we have pedigree. This means that the software will always be the best choice for you. We rate product support as equal to the product. We don’t just sell you a product and leave you to your own devices. We are always there to help you out.
Finished reading? Check out Thesaurus Software!