In the early 2000s, contractors Dean and Matt were becoming increasingly exasperated with the service they were getting from their accountants. Whilst the advice was mostly accurate, the timeliness was a problem, as were the complex and cumbersome Excel spreadsheets needed to track and manage their finances. As professional engineers, Dean and Matt didn’t like uncertainty and inefficiency, and decisions guided by “rules of thumb”.
Venting these frustrations to James around the kitchen table lead to the idea behind inniAccounts: an online accountancy service designed specifically for contractors and freelancers. It needed to be a single solution for storing all financial information (no more spreadsheets), and most important of all, it needed to work in real-time, with accurate tax calculations available 24×7.
James brought his software development skills to the table, and the three set about designing and building their dream online accountancy service. (The image above shows one of the earliest Powerpoint prototypes of inniAccounts).
An industry that was reluctant to change
Recognising that whilst the three co-founders certainly knew a lot about running businesses, none of them were accountants: which is problematic when you want to build an accountancy practice! Whilst software development was underway, the team set about finding an accountancy partner.
This proved to be the biggest challenge in getting inniAccounts off the ground. Over the course of three years, inniAccounts worked with three local accountant firms in succession. Each time the relationship broke down because traditional accountants were simply too set in their ways. No accountant thought software would be able to interpret the complexities of the tax system in real-time. No accountant thought clients would want email support (it was 2005 – what were they thinking!). No accountant understood the efficiency benefits of technology. And some of the accountants were incredibly greedy: they were too preoccupied with selling financial products, rather than giving sound, impartial advice to clients.
The end of this three year period marked the lowest point in the story of inniAccounts. We had a working product, and we knew how we wanted the support model to work, but we couldn’t find a partner to help make it happen. Our personal savings were depleted and we were close to giving up and returning to our corporate jobs. But then we had a breakthrough: Paul and Rowena joined the team.
A refreshing outlook from experienced hands
Paul was a contract software engineer working on a web-based app at Vodafone, where he and James crossed paths. Paul was an incredible engineer, and could bring the quality and technical leadership that inniAccounts would need to grow, and deliver the accurate and reliable service that our clients would demand. When Paul’s contract at Vodafone ended he joined the team.
At a similar time, Rowena joined the inniAccounts team as a part-time accountant to support our small, but growing, client base. Rowena had previously built and sold two accountancy practices, and brought with her an incredible depth of knowledge, but more importantly, a refreshing outlook. Rowena understood exactly what we wanted to achieve, and could see the benefits for clients and inniAccounts alike. It soon became apparent that Rowena was the partner we’d been searching for over the last three years.
These two heavy-hitters gave the team the confidence to make a bold move: they bought out their accountancy partner, took control of the entire inniAccounts operation, and ushered in a new business model. Paul was made Director of Technology, and Rowena became Director of Client services. The stage was now set with five experienced and innovative directors, who had complete control over the inniAccounts service.
The hockey-stick moment
The impact was immediate and profound. The team drew upon renewed energy and set about driving awareness of online accountancy, whilst building scalable support systems and technology to deliver the vision of inniAccounts.
Many successful start-ups talk of a ‘hockey-stick moment’ – a point where investment in product and service development bears fruit, in the form of explosive growth. inniAccounts was no exception, and over a period of 12 months our client base grew from tens of clients to hundreds of clients, and has continued to double every year.
Whilst you would expect a business experiencing such growth to have major teething problems, this simply wasn’t the case for inniAccounts. Remember that many of the directors came from industries (such as aerospace) where failure wasn’t an option, meaning that reliability and scalability was built in from day one. They’d successfully taken innovation and best practice from other industries and applied it to accountancy.
Building the next generation of innovators
Over the last 10 years, we’ve provided accountancy services thousands of contractors, consultants and freelancers. We’ve helped people make a break from unfulfilling corporate jobs to life as valued independent professionals. We’ve also helped many old-hands retire their spreadsheets and regain control of their accounts. Along the way we’ve picked up awards including being named Contractor UK’s top contractor accountant, and in April 2016 we received a Queen’s Award for Enterprise Innovation.
Today we have a thriving and diverse team, spanning accountancy, development, operations and marketing. We’re particularly proud to be creating opportunities and careers for young people, from school leavers who will, over the next decade, become chartered accountants, through to university interns who are keen to put their software development knowledge into practice.
We combine this with the grey hair of experience, and it’s a winning combination. We have the energy, creativity and open-mindedness of youth driving the business forward, with experienced hands on the tiller, always navigating us in the right direction.
The result? A brilliantly talented, friendly team who are capable of delivering market-leading innovation and service quality that’s second to none.