What would you do if you had 10 days in hand before setting off to join the MBA course at Indian Business School (ISB), Hyderabad? Most likely make the most of every moment before committing to some serious coursework. But not Rehan Netarwala and Mihir Lunia. The childhood friends decided to start up and begin the ground work on their tech-based accounting consultancy Savage & Palmer (S&P). The Mumbai-based startup helps SMEs and other companies with their accounting, taxation and reporting needs.
The 30-year-olds would shuttle between cities: attend classes in Hyderabad Monday through Thursday, and be in Mumbai on Friday and Saturday to meet clients and build their startup. Sunday saw them rushing back to their B-school to get set for the week ahead.
The duo officially bootstrapped Savage and Palmer in 2017 with just Rs. 5000, after completing their MBA course.
But why an accounting consultancy?
The idea first struck Mihir after he completed his bachelor’s in management studies course at Mumbai University. Before his MBA, he had over eight years of experience in the financial services domain, having worked with Edelweiss and Themis.
This stint led him to realise how difficult it was for entrepreneurs to run their own accounting operations.
The duo also found that most small and medium businesses rely on building their own team for accounting or outsource work to CA firms. These do not look at customer experience or leverage technology to improve how accounting/taxation/reporting works; they remain focused on basic audits.
He discussed the idea with Rehan, and they realised that together they could run accounting operations and tap technology to provide meaningful financial reports to clients.
How does it work?
A lot of mundane, manual work goes into accounting, reporting, and taxation at present. The Savage & Palmer team begins work by preparing a complete checklist of data needed from the client. This data is collected at the beginning of the month, and put up on their platform.
“Every customer is assigned a point person, who is assisted by the on-boarding team in the initial days and a customer service team in perpetuity,” Rehan says. He adds that their team uses WhatsApp at present to ensure seamless communication. They also use Basecamp to keep tabs on ad-hoc tasks so that nothing gets missed.
The data fed into the system is run by the proprietary algorithms, based on which an MIS report is generated for the client. This detailed monthly report contains information and insights on total revenue, expenses, payables, receivables, and profit and loss.
“We also work to ensure that there are no gaps with processes, compliances, and regular reporting. We essentially operate as a third eye on the books of accounts for our clients and share quarterly reports,” Rehan says.
The clients are charged based on their requirements and services. For end-to-end solutions, the team has five monthly subscription options starting from Rs 5,000 and going up to Rs 25,000. For quarterly quality checks, the team charges between Rs 7,000 and Rs 17,000 per transaction.
Mihir adds that their pricing is competitive; in fact, he claims it is 25 percent cheaper than other consultancies.
Starting with feet on the street
Rehan says they started their business by sending staff to customer locations to serve them.
“It made it harder to scale as we found ourselves very dependent on the resource on the ground. We pivoted our model to centralise how we serve customers and that has helped us greatly,” he says.
He adds that accountants by nature are people who are not very communicative or outgoing. “Getting them to adopt a culture that believes in the fact that communication and representation of work is as important as doing it was a huge challenge.”
Today, Savage & Palmer, which began with two people, is a team of over 150 people.
Market and the competition
Accounting for SMBs is a growing global need. A Global Accounting Services Industry Report, by IBIS World, says close to $495 billion revenue was generated from accounting services in 2017.
The startup currently serves over 250 clients across more than 25 sectors.
But it’s not the only one out there. Several startups are working on accounting and taxation. Cleartax even looks at B2B taxation; this side of their business contributes to more than 80 percent of its revenues. The company aims to reach $20 million in turnover by FY20.
There are other players such as Quickbooks, Wave, GruCash, and Freshbooks.
But the co-founders believe their startup stands out due to its USP: using tech to ensure transparency.
The fact that a contact person is available on chat for customer queries, and their checklists to track and ensure deliverables are on track help create transparency, they feel.
“We want to help entrepreneurs save time and money by taking over the day-to-day operations of running an accounting and finance department, which can be time consuming and low returns” Mihir says.
The future is automated
The team claims to be profitable and is targeting $1 million in sales in FY20. The co-founders also claimed the startup has been witnessing 5x revenue growth since its second year.
The team has actively invested in and successfully automated a lot of its tax and reporting functions. It is now on the lookout for funds to invest further in automation and growth of business.
“Our focus as a company is on automation and growth. We believe that there will be a time when you should literally be able to upload all your data and the software will do the rest. With existing software getting smarter, we feel it won’t be long until an accountant is only needed for review and finalisation,” Mihir says.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)