Less than a year after writing their first line of code, Belfast-based accounts payable startup Lightyear is now live in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, and plans to get to the US early next year.
Brothers and co-founders Chris and Roger Gregg, come from Belfast, but moved to Sydney 10 years ago and found themselves working in the hospitality sector: “We were running a series of bars and had five bookkeepers who were doing the data entry. It was a very manual, time-consuming and expensive process, so we tried to find a better solution, but there was nothing in the market. So like all typical entrepreneurs, we thought we could go and build it,” explained Lightyear CEO Chris Gregg.
Within a year they had launched Invitbox, their first attempt at an accounts payable processing platform. Just over a year later, Invitbox won the emerging add-on of the year award at Xerocon Australia, and was subsequently acquired by Intuit in 2014.
From Invitbox to Lightyear
Lightyear is a step on from the previous product. “We’ve built a very similar feature set because we knew with our previous product that we had great traction. We were Xero award winners and we know the product was fulfilling a need very well,” said Chris Gregg.
“We have taken all the good things and made it much faster, more efficient and better looking, and it has much more functionality. There is no solution that is doing what we are doing for the larger end of the SMB market.”
Twelve months after founding the business, Lightyear now has staff across the UK and Australia and is currently live in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, with plans to launch in the US in the first quarter of 2019.
According to Gregg, the UK represents a huge opportunity for the software company, which recently established its global head office in Belfast with Invest Northern Ireland support: “We think around half a million businesses in the UK would really benefit from our product. We would like to hit the medium segment of cloud adoption, and we think our timing is perfect.
“Particularly in the larger SMB segment, there are still a lot of desktop users. We think in the next one-to-three years that’s going to be massively disrupted and we are positioning ourselves to capture a lot of that natural client migration.”
Artificial intelligence to end paper trails
Lightyear uses artificial intelligence to get rid of a process that didn’t make much sense to the founders of Lightyear. “We always say that if you start with paper you end up with rubbish,” said Gregg.
The accounts payable flow, typically starts with a business ordering a service or a product from a supplier, who creates a digital record in their system that is then transferred to a document that is either mailed or delivered to the customer’s business. That process can be greatly simplified, according to Gregg: “The first thing the business does with that piece of paper is to redigitise it, which doesn’t make any sense. If the supplier has a digital record and the customer also wants to have a digital record, there is no need for this paper trail.”
To eliminate the duplication, Lightyear gives users a unique email address that lets suppliers send their bills to the Lightyear system. The artificial intelligence built into the software maps the underlying metadata within the PDF file to extract line data in less than a second.
OCR and purchase order functionality
The Lightyear team is busy building new functionality and attending events such as Xerocon to get first-hand feedback from accountants: “From a product perspective, as we are a startup, we have a very fluid roadmap and part of the reason why we go to conferences is to really engage with customers, understand what they want to see and where can we make a tangible impact to their processes.”
In the past year, Lightyear has expanded the solution to include statement reconciliation, multi-currency capabilities and online storage. It also integrates with cloud accounting, stock and point of sale systems to remove the need for data-entry into multiple systems.
In the coming months, Lightyear will also introduce OCR capabilities, which will enable users to handle scanned documents and automate the data extraction for scanned documents. “We are also considering building purchase order functionality,” said Gregg. “At the moment we solve for approvals after the user has placed the order, so the invoice comes in and then there’s an approval flow. Some businesses want to have that approval before they place the order, they want to have the purchase pre-approved, so we will look at potentially build the purchase order functionality within our product.”
Alongside these product enhancements, Lightyear has introduced a partner programme to support and train accountants and bookkeepers to bring their clients onto the system.