A Q&A with Clear Books founder and managing director Tim Fouracre. The London–based company was founded in the summer of 2008 and raised £300K in its first round of outside funding in early October.
SUB: Please describe Clear Books and your value proposition.
Fouracre: Clear Books is the champion of small businesses. Our mission is to create a quality business software platform to provide small businesses with the tools previously only available to big businesses. Our team believes in changing how small businesses do business by being more innovative, fun, simple, efficient, beautiful, fast, accessible, open and collaborative. Our first software application is the self-named Clear Books, online accounting to free your time. Clear Books has also reinvented payroll with our cloud based Open Payroll. Every application we develop and use internally to run our own business better we will make available to our customers.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Fouracre: Small and micro businesses. Everything from your one-man-band up to companies turning over several million pounds with 20-plus employees.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Fouracre: The main competition in the UK is Sage who dominate the SME business software market although they are a bit of a dinosaur in the industry. Clear Books is developing next generation cloud business software so it’s really interesting to see our growth disrupt the status quo.
SUB: What differentiates Clear Books from the competition?
Fouracre: The Clear Books team is the champion of small businesses. As a small business ourselves, any business software we develop to run our own business better we will make available to our customers so that they benefit too. We want to equip our customers with the next generation tools previously only available to big businesses.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Fouracre: Clear Book Limited was incorporated on 2nd July, 2008. I was still working as an equity research analyst in London at the time, but once I had served my notice, I started developing Clear Books full time from August 2008. The first steps involved working day and night from my living room to get the core of the system coded. I worked from home as a one-man-band for 15 months.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Clear Books? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Fouracre: I had developed a simple online double entry bookkeeping system to do the books for a small web development company that I owned, and a friend at my co-founder company Fubra had developed a simple online invoicing system for his brother’s construction business. The ‘aha’ moment was when we both realized we were working on synergistic projects that could be stuck together to form the crux of a full blown accounting system.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?
Fouracre: We had lots of great names, but these were whittled down based on whether the corresponding domains were available, and many were taken! Our idea was always to develop a simple accounting system understood by business owners rather than filled with accounting jargon so we were really happy with the name ‘Clear Books.’
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Fouracre: There have been countless obstacles and I anticipate there will be countless more. They are all learning experiences though, and incredibly valuable. Obstacles I had when I was building the company on my own from my living room included: fretting over getting our first customer. Is it ready to launch? Would anyone pay for it? Is the subscription system going to hold up?
Obstacles now that we have a team of 20 are very different: do we have good communication? Are the goals of the team aligned? Is there a clear strategy?
SUB: You just raised £300K in new funding. Was this your first round of funding?
Fouracre: This was our first round of new equity investment. Clear Books was founded as a 50-50 joint venture and had been funded previously through shareholder loans.
SUB: What are your plans for the funds?
Fouracre: We are expanding our team in anticipation of further growth as well as increasing our marketing spend.
SUB: Why was this a particularly good time to raise more outside funding?
Fouracre: We knew the investor extremely well so that made the round a straightforward exercise.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Fouracre: Revenue is generated by charging a pay-as-you-go monthly subscription fee to small business customers who use our accounting software. We have over 4,000 customers paying us on a monthly basis.
SUB: What are your goals for Clear Books over the next year or so?
Fouracre: The goal in the short term is to ramp up customer numbers through some key partnerships. The long term goal is to become the leading provider of small business software in the world.
Clear Books – www.clearbooks.co.uk