Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Vodafone Xone. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt. This week Simon talks to Miriana Lowrie about tackling a previously unexplored trade credit problem.
They say where there’s mystery there’s margin, and one thing that is deeply mysterious is trade credit. What’s trade credit? It’s the second biggest source of loans in the world after banks. It’s like when a business wants to buy something from a supplier and pay them 30 days later. And so much of business operates on these trade terms, but so often not on the actual terms. People are late, people need to be trustworthy, people need to guarantee they will pay.
It’s a grunty one to even think about. If you have a business and have anything to do with trade accounts, as a supplier or as a creditor you will know they’re a nightmare.
To get a single button for your business you have to fill in your every last detail, give references, fill in pages and sign and witness, and then if there are any changes at the company, they get you to do it again. The terms aren’t standard, you might be signing a lot more away than you thought. And if you’re the people getting the signatures -are they up to date and what you need? Do you even have terms of trade – did you just copy someone else’s?
Well, one person who looked into this abyss of paperwork is Miriana Lowrie. After a career in banking and looking at strategy and ways to improve business for outfits like ASB, she saw an improvement that could be made here and launched 1Centre. The app has gone through incubation, setting a record funding round for an product at the Flux accelerator, was part of Vodafone xone and is helping solve the hard problems, with customer usage doubling month on month.
To talk making life easier on both sides of the ledger, growth, SaaStr, Iwi investment and what’s next, Miriana joined the podcast.
This is a huge problem because every business that supplies credit and every business that seeks credit should have some sort of agreement in place.
Yeah, they should. Trade credit is the second largest lender in the world behind banking, and no matter what business you’re in you’ll have a type of supplier, so whether it’s construction, or food and beverage, which are the industries we’re targeting.
What were your first steps from seeing what is a grunty problem to launching the business?
One of the things I learnt pretty early on is you can convince yourself that something’s a problem when it’s not actually a problem. You need to understand the size of the problem. I actually bootstrapped for about a year and a half researching the problem in my spare time which was quite hard but I had a very understanding employer at the time, ASB bank.
I set about interviewing as many suppliers and consumers that I could. I interviewed about 300 to understand the size of the problem, what the problems were, and what a potential solution for them might look like. That’s where it essentially started. It was pretty scary at the beginning I’ve gotta say.
Was that calling people up out of the blue?
Yeah, literally. Whenever I walked into a store, so Mitre 10 and Placemakers. I got myself into LinkedIn and got myself in front of some pretty hefty businesses to understand this problem.
You have a perception that big businesses have digitised this process but they haven’t. It’s sort of like receipt banks, it’s a problem they don’t really think about till it comes to balancing your accounts. The problem was then, how do you start a startup.
I didn’t have a lot of people around me, very few actually, who were in this space, so I had to research what it is about the problem that would differentiate me in market if I were to use this and the one thing that stood out to me was design, so the user experience, the user interface was really important. You don’t need an instruction manual, it’s all straightforward.
I jumped onto LinkedIn and found the best designer I could across Australasia and a few months later got in front of him and he ended up being my first investor, loved the idea off the bat. That was Sven Baker, the group CEO of Design Works, and he mentored me at the early stages of what I needed to do to get going before I give up my job, I mean, who can give up their job in Auckland?
Business is Boring is brought to you by Vodafone Xone, a NZ-based Innovation Lab and Startup Accelerator helping to bring the best startup and corporate ideas global.