From Belfast, via Sydney, to global software leaders within a Lightyear!

How two NI brothers build the world’s best accounts payable software with no external funding...they reveal their achievements, awards and plans for the future

Tuesday, 25th May 2021, 6:00 am
Belfast brothers, Chris and Roger Gregg

Lightyear is a multi award winning global fintech company set up by two entrepreneurial Irish brothers, Chris and Roger Gregg, back in 2017.

Headquartered in Belfast, the company has bucked the fintech trend by declining offers of external funding.

Instead, the brothers have organically grown a successful global Procure to Pay platform which has been recently recognised as the best Accounts Payable solution for customer satisfaction, value for money and ease of use by Gartner, Capterra, GetApp and Software Advice. Not bad for a three-year-old bootstrapped startup.

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The brothers are anything but your typical fintech founders. Born in Northern Ireland, they found themselves living together in Sydney, Australia in 2009. It was there, whilst working in operational roles in a hospitality group that they had their lightbulb moment.

With no experience in software development, they set out on their first fintech adventure, determined to turn the world of Accounts Payable upside down with the world’s first AP automation platform, invitbox. By their own admission, from that time in those early days of cloud fintech, they could write a book on how not to do a startup, but after a lot of blood, sweat and tears, the brothers and their co-founders created a market leading product which they sold to US accounting powerhouse Intuit (NASDAQ: INTU) in 2014.

Fast forward to 2017, and after a few years working with Intuit in Sydney and Silicon Valley, Chris realised that SMEs and mid-market businesses were still missing an intuitive, feature-rich option for automating Accounts Payable. The market was wide open for an affordable AP automation platform.

Today the overall cost to process one bill is still as high as $15 and on average it takes 40 days to complete. The Payables Insight Report 2019 highlights that only 27% of mid-market businesses and 14% of SMEs use an automation solution in their Accounts Payable function.

Chris explained: “Most businesses do not realise the true costs of their AP process. A lot of time-consuming tasks such as manual entry, approvals and error handling do not appear in a company Profit and Loss statement, but the cost is there, buried in rows and affecting the bottom line. “Problems such as duplicate or fraudulent payments, manual data-entry and lost/damaged supplier documents are problems that every business has. After building our first product to initially solve for hospitality, it had become clear that those industry problems were the same as in retail, manufacturing, construction, healthcare, education and virtually every other industry.

“Global infrastructure developments in the past decade have made global markets much more accessible for SaaS companies to scale to service. We kind of woke up one morning, realised we were sitting on a massive global opportunity and that we were well equipped with our previous experiences and networks, to create a strong product and company.”

Over the last two years Lightyear has rapidly evolved from a product offering data-extraction with an approvals workflow, to become the world’s leading AP platform offering all of that plus procurement, mobile approvals and synchronization with leading ERP, accounting and inventory systems.

This has allowed SMEs and mid-market businesses to consolidate their bookkeeping, bill approvals and purchasing into one easy to manage system. There is much industry anticipation and excitement surrounding Lightyear’s upcoming feature release - automated Line-by-line PO to bill matching.

Chris continued: “Larger businesses and multi-location businesses in particular need the control and security of a purchase order system to ensure supplier orders are raised and approved appropriately, and within budget. But the disconnect between their PO data and supplier’s bill data means that too much time and money is spent reconciling their POs to the supplier’s bills, and furthermore to their Goods Received notes if they are purchasing stock. We are launching what we believe to be a world-first for Cloud AP - fully automated line-by-line PO to bill matching. We have heard loud and clear that 3-way matching is the most costly and time consuming purchasing task for large businesses. We’re excited to revolutionise this process for businesses around the world.”

As the pandemic has taken hold, Lightyear has seen growth accelerate across its core markets of USA and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, UK and Ireland and South Africa. Remote collaboration platforms such as Lightyear have never been more important to a business’s ability to survive and thrive. Lightyear’s client list is already impressive with more than 3500 businesses processing more than $500M USD worth of bills each month across five continents.

Within two years of Lightyear’s launch, the team have hit some impressive milestones:

Processed more than $10B USD of bills and 10 million documents

Saved customers more than 1 million hours of manual data-entry

Added 15K+ active users

Saved more than 10,000 trees

The company is particularly proud of the impact their paperless solution is having on the planet and removing the Accounts Payable process of paper is one of their BHAG’s.

From 2019 to 2021, Lightyear have both won and been nominated for many awards, from the Global Sourcing Award, Accounting Excellence Award and Gartner FrontRunners to Capterra AP Shortlists and GetApp and Software Advice Category Leaders.

Chris explained: “These wins are a great honor because not only are they awarded by some of the most recognised and trusted research organisations, but also because we couldn’t have won them if it weren’t for all of our fantastic customers sharing their honest views about our product.”

Lightyear is a proudly bootstrapped success story, and spurred on by impressive early growth numbers, they are now accelerating customer acquisition across the world, fuelled by their organic revenue growth.

“It was a novel approach for a fintech startup, but we decided to back ourselves and put our own money on the line. We knew how to build a product quickly, one that added lots of customer value, creating features that we could monetize early. We went narrow in our product development and we focused on delivering the biggest benefits first, which gave us a quick payback. We are really happy that we were able to create a product which SMEs saw value in, and even more proud when we surpassed $1M USD Annual Recurring Revenue within our first 15 months. And now, 30 months in, we have more than doubled that on a modest budget. We feel like we’ve done a lot of the hard work being smart with funds, and the early success now puts us in a really nice position to start to expand our teams across the globe and put more rocket fuel into the tank. The opportunity ahead of us is massive with some estimates putting cloud AP penetration at less than 4% in the US.”

Chris goes on to say that the company is repeatedly fielding queries from Venture capitalists & Private Equity firms looking to help fund the business with multi-million dollar tickets: “Accounts Payable is red hot right now with other companies in our space raising money or listing at 50x revenue multiples. It’s really tempting to take funds on to accelerate growth but we have now reached a natural point of inflection with our revenue growth where our growth is now able to fund the businesses global growth plans organically.

“There is a dangerous ‘Boom or Bust’ mindset within Fintech which can lead to excessive risk taking, but we are proud to be delivering a customer focused business that is here for the long run, and we are seeing that we can still grow rapidly without a massive warchest. Having said that, we are always evaluating if and when may be the right time to take on external funding.”

Since its inception Lightyear has gone from strength to strength, they are now key players in several major markets. The company is targeting new partnerships with Sage and Microsoft Dynamics in the near future and plans are underway to put teams on the ground in the US and Canada as well as aggressive team expansion in the UK and Australia.

Chris added: “There are 40 million businesses in our immediate target markets, and we don’t plan on hanging around. Our ambition is to be the leading cloud Procure to Pay solution in all our target markets within three years. In a remote world, where rich data automation is becoming an expectation, rather than a luxury, we have all the ingredients to make that happen.

“Good software shouldn’t be difficult. The Lightyear approach is simple: Build great products, great teams and always respect our customers. All the rest will fall into place.”

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