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A lightbulb moment at the pub

High-growth fintech startup Futrli helps SMEs make smart decisions about their future, using their all-in-one accountancy forecasting and reporting platform. IBS Journal spoke to CEO and founder, Hannah Dawson, to find out more.

Bill Boyle
Senior Editor

Tell us about your company – how was it founded?

I’m perhaps what you’d call an ‘archetypal entrepreneur’. I start with the idea first, then get busy persuading others to come along for the ride. I’ve been this way from a young age, starting at 26 when I upped sticks from Scotland to the Devon countryside and bought a pub. It was during this time that I learned just what running a business entails, not least how hard it is!

This is where the idea for Futrli first came about. What initially began as management software for the hospitality industry became cloud based financial forecasting software for small businesses. While I was running my pub, I had no way of projecting my finances accurately, so many of the decisions I made were based on intuition rather than insight. I knew I wasn’t alone in having this frustration, although there didn’t seem to be anything on the market to help small businesses with their cashflow – everything catered to larger corporations. Fear around numbers can paralyse as well as spur the wrong decisions. On top of that, forecasting is something that SMEs still aren’t using enough. If you’re using Excel to track your finances and predict your next steps, that’s pretty much a full-time job in itself. I knew there had to be a better way to fully understand my business’ financial position. I wanted to see how past decisions would affect future ones. And I wanted to help other small businesses do this too, because no one else was.

This is what Futrli does today. Together with the guidance of their accountant or advisor, SMEs can take charge of their finances and make the right strategic decisions to accelerate growth, using past insight for future business success.

I’m also excited to say that the next generation of Futrli is coming very soon, bringing the power of real-time data to improve SME decision-making. It is set to empower small business teams by providing the freedom to do things their own way, secure in the knowledge that their decisions make good financial sense. Watch this space!

What is your business model?

Futrli’s cloud-based platform connects seamlessly with an organisation’s financial data sources to integrate their daily business data with their plans for the future. It imports data from QuickBooks Online and Xero but goes far beyond reporting, with multiple options for forecasting, performance snapshot tracking, alert systems and scenario visualisations.

As a SaaS business, we’ve always worked with a monthly subscription model – pricing according to our customers’ needs and business size. Of course, we want our customers to be able to make the most of our platform, but we also know that in the small business world money doesn’t always stretch too far. So, we believe businesses should be given the opportunity to pay for the platform they will get the most out of, on their budget.

Monthly recurring revenue is a wonderful thing when you’re an established business, but a horror at the start. There is so much upfront energy and commitment required in those early days, which can lead to a lot of sleepless nights.

We want to encourage and help tech startups in the UK. I think progress would come if we were to shout more about our industry, and what is involved when considering funding options. Traditional banks would begin to understand that the traditional profitability model doesn’t work for us.

We also recently secured £4m Series A funding, which has helped drive further innovation within the platform to continue to revolutionise how small business teams work. We’re building something big and the funding really gave us the boost to help our vision become a reality.

What’s the technology under the hood?

I’m so proud of the innovation from our team, and its ability to tackle any challenge. When it comes to programming language, we’re a Python and React house, although I’d describe us as ‘tech agnostic’. We use whichever technology is best for purpose. Our team has the freedom to play with and introduce the optimal solution to overcome the challenge at hand. We support our engineers with the opportunity for constantly learning and development, which has had a direct impact on the quality of our software so far. We’re also interested in enhancing open source for Python, building tools for the rest of the world to use (and again making things easier for SMEs!). Amazon Web Services (AWS) is also our saviour and we leverage it for all of their bleeding-edge solutions.

What sets you apart from the competition?

I’ve always championed small businesses and felt that despite being the driving force behind every developed economy, they remain completely underserved. Half of all the businesses starting this month won’t be around in five years, even with all of the technology available. Something is broken – the current status quo just doesn’t work for them. But we care about the little guy. We understand that resource is precious, from both a cash and time perspective, so we want to do the heavy-lifting for SMEs. That’s what our next-gen platform does. It consumes data and helps businesses make decisions – not simply to survive, but to thrive. It will outline problems, but also lead users to optimal solutions – revealing consequences through several forecasted scenarios, based on all available actions. And, while our tech is complex, our platform isn’t. It’s simple to set up and use, and very budget-friendly. We have designed everything with small businesses in mind.

What was your smartest move?

We didn’t take funding too early. Instead, we worked hard to create a business that was already primed to scale for success – a proposition that investors would find immediately attractive. Being bootstrapped and hitting profitability as a SaaS startup is rare, and it’s something we’re incredibly proud of, although we strive to help other small businesses achieve even greater feats.

Where did things get tough – what was your biggest setback?

Bootstrapping was one of our biggest challenges. Cashflow was – and is – always on our minds. At every corner we have had to think about how we can achieve what we know is possible, but without the immediate funds available. This approach hasn’t changed because of the £4m injection from Notion, and Firstminute – it has simply allowed us to make more ambitious plans.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

We believe we have a next-gen platform that will change how small business teams make decisions and take action, forever. We want to change the culture and the behaviour of SMEs. I have no doubt in my team’s ability to do this. The people we have working at Futrli are utterly amazing in the integrity and creativity that they bring to the table every day. Marry these things together, with an awesome board and VC backing, and it’s unicorn status we are vying for. We also want the business to champion diversity and inclusion. We’re not doing badly, but I’d love to encourage more women towards tech roles by offering sponsored computer science undergraduate courses, for instance.

What is the most exciting new financial tech you have seen in the last year?

The direction that web applications are going in the financial sector, with the new PSD2 (Open Banking) regulations has been astounding. Much of this data, which was once incredibly hard to obtain, is now connected securely to applications that overlay machine learning, behavioural recognition and decision-making networks. This has created new opportunities and insight potential. Previously this data would have limited availability, but to have it opened up to competitive fintech companies is changing the game in a serious way.

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