Startup profile: Richard Francis from Spotlight Reporting

Sep 30

Startup profile: Richard Francis from Spotlight Reporting

We met Richard Francis first at Xerocon Melbourne. Richard is the founder of Spotlight Reporting, the best add-on for Xero at Xerocon Auckland 2015. In September 2015, Richard visited us here in Singapore. Spotlight is charting growth in Asia, and also speaking to VCs in this part of the world.

Q: What is the mission behind Spotlight Reporting? What problems are you solving?

The Spotlight Reporting company and products exist to give accountants, advisers, CFOs and bookkeepers the tools to do valuable work for clients or their own organisations. Valuable work means such things as forecasting the future, providing clarity over non-financial as well as financial performance, improving decision-making, and focusing on KPIs that really matter.

My personal mission is for the global accounting industry to do “useful shit”. Who wants “They Added No Value” on their tombstone?

Unfortunately, too many people in the industry – millions in fact – are grinding away doing paperwork and number-crunching that adds no value. This is a major problem because it is a problem of relevance, of lost opportunity – for accountants and clients, lost GDP, lost wealth and lost aspirations.

We can do better. Cloud software and a fresh attitude are two key components for doing better.

Q: What is a typical use case for Spotlight Reporting that you consider shows the system to its full potential? Any stories to share?

We have over 15,000 organisations using or receiving a Spotlight Report, Dashboard or Forecast each month. Some are massive companies with multi-currency consolidation needs, franchises with hundreds of entities wanting to benchmark and compare in Multi, businesses trying to raise finance who need full cashflow Forecasts, or just simple businesses that need a tight focus on a Performance Dashboard.

So there really is no typical use case across our four products – just a lot of businesses and advisers interacting and using our software as the fulcrum for this.

Q: Which part of Spotlight, Budget, Forecast or Scenario is getting maximum developer time now? What can we expect from Spotlight Reporting v2.2?

Good question. We’ve had a massively positive response to our Forecasting v2 release – it really is something new to the market in that it is a full Budget/3-Way Forecast/Scenario tool in the cloud, developed by progressive accountants, for progressive accountants.

Right now we are in “hotfix mode”, which means we are responding to client requests, tweaking things etc. But we have a very ambitious roadmap of new features for Forecasting…but all a bit hush-hush 😉

Q: Which industries does Spotlight Reporting work with best? How?

spotlight-reporting-logoOur software works across hundreds of industries, from services, retail and hospitality through to large trading ventures. One niche, I think, that adopts our software really easily is, unsurprisingly, the technology sector and also creatives. Most of our accounting firm subscribers also use our tools for their own practice.

Q: Is Spotlight Reporting planning aggressive growth in Asia? What factors would drive that?

Growth in Asia is a given, but the market is still quite new to cloud. Xero firms like Futurebooks are emerging, but slowly. I love Singapore, so hope this will be a place we can grow from in future years.

Q: Talk to us about the company relations between Xero and Spotlight. A previous product from your company, Spotlight Workpapers, was acquired by Xero and made into Xero Workpapers.

My boutique consultancy practice in Wellington – Francis Consulting – was one of the very first Xero Accounting Partner in the world. I knew Xero co-founder Hamish Edwards (a Wellington accountant) and Rod Drury (the mercurial CEO), so when I saw how good the software was looking, I was in boots and all, eventually becoming a Gold Partner.

Fairly quickly, I turned my attention to software, as the masterstroke of Xero was opening up customer data via an API. In 2011, we launched Spotlight Reporting at Xerocon 2 (Rod called us “reporting on steroids” and made me do a live demo – always scary as accounting audiences can be unforgiving).

Xero remains a key partner, and whenever I travel I pop in and see the likes of Gary Turner, Russ Fujioka and also the teams that are doing such great work in the field. For Asia, you’re lucky to have Shaun and Johnny, so Xero firms here are in good hands.

It was great to be awarded the Xero Add-on Award of the Year earlier in 2015 at the Auckland Xerocon. It’s tough competition, but I felt like, after 4 years of hard work and with a fab team behind me, it was something that we should be proud of.

Back in 2012, Julie, Hamish and I founded Spotlight Workpapers. Eventually we sold this to Xero, and Julie and I continued to work for Xero (and Spotlight Reporting). It was great to be involved with this new venture and I think the practice tools at Xero present a great opportunity for the future.

Q: Has the company raised external funds? Is there a new round planned? Who would be the ideal investor?

Yes, we raised just over $3m in early 2014 and are currently raising funds again to fuel expansion. We have a mix of very smart investors – guys like MYOB founder Craig Winkler, and ex-Xero board members such as Sam Knowles and Graham Shaw, as well as technology entrepreneurs such as Stuart McLeod (of PayCycle and PracticeIQ fame), Vend and Xero heavyweight David Wilson and super-cool Australian accountant Steph Hinds.

I’d love to see two to three more of the best and brightest software innovators and/or leading accountants join our Shareholder Register. I can guarantee an interesting journey, and our shareholders really are part of the team.

Q: Personally, what drives you Richard? What makes you come to Singapore even in such haze?!

Richard Francis from Spotlight ReportingSuccess – and the mission. I really believe we can make a difference and that, if I execute the strategy successfully, not only will progressive accounting firms contribute more and be more successful, but so will their clients.

I’m blessed to have a team of passionate and experienced people who allow me to travel to exotic locations like Singapore to check the temperature of the market. I’ve loved my short time here, so will be back soon.

Q: Talk to us about the Spotlight Reporting team. Where are they based? Who are they?

Futurebooks and Spotlight ReportingThere are 21 staff now, but the journey wouldn’t be possible without my experienced leadership team. Julie, of course, has been a big contributor across Workpapers, Forecasting and CFO duties. The sales effort is led by Darren, Jason, Leslie and Abraham in each of the UK, Australia, US and NZ respectively.

Nik and Matt will be well-known by first names to many Spotlight users – these two handle Support, while Nik is also Product Manager. Nik works with me, Julie and our talented developers to make, improve and deliver our products.

Some of the team have an accounting background (a big competitive advantage in my view), software sales (principally Xero, but also CCH, MYOB, etc.) and software companies (of course).

On the picture: Futurebooks team with Kat Maher of Spotlight Reporting at XeroCon Melbourne 2015.

Q: What sort of growth has Spotlight Reporting seen so far? Any metrics you can share?

All of our growth stats are well over 100% – in some cases a multiple of that. We’re also securing a lot of exciting enterprise deals, so it’s great validation to know that not only did Xero award us with Add-on of the Year, but Deloitte, KPMG etc trust us with their reporting and forecasting needs.

But the growth that gives me the biggest thrill is when smaller firms, built on passion, hard work and innovation – look at you, Futurebooks – join us on the journey. It reminds me of my boutique firm, joining the Xero revolution all those years ago, and even Spotlight Reporting, which is still a cheeky but successful start-up.

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