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How Float helps SMBs understand their cash flow

Posted 3 months ago in Apps by Kaye Harding
Posted by Kaye Harding

Xero’s app marketplace has over 700 apps which help small businesses and their advisors reach their goals. Each month we celebrate an app partner who stands out for helping small businesses thrive – find out more about Xero’s app partner program here.

Introducing Float, our March app partner of the month

Float’s proposition is simple – intuitive, visual cash flow forecasting that anyone can understand, empowering businesses and their accountants to make decisions with confidence.

With almost 200 five star reviews on the app marketplace and several recent award wins under their belt, Float is a cash flow forecasting and management tool which helps its users to understand the future of their business. Xero spoke with CEO and Founder Colin Hewitt about Float’s journey to success.

“We specialise in short-to-mid term, accurate operational cash flow forecasting. We answer questions that plague every business, such as ‘What if that invoice doesn’t get paid in the next five days?’, or ‘How much cash am I going to have in the next three months?’”

Colin believes Float’s growth comes down to giving SMBs the ability to understand their cash flow without having to call their accountant every day.

“By answering these questions we help accountants to better engage with their clients and build upon their advisory services. One of the most popular features in Float is our scenario planning tool which allows users to quickly and easily model the effects of different future outcomes or decisions to their cash, such as a new hire, a new client win, or a drop in sales.”

With its daily import of invoices, bills and actuals from Xero, Float uses the direct method of forecasting to help businesses to understand how much cash they’ll have next week, next month or next year. Users can update expected payment dates on bills and invoices and plan for cash that’s not yet in Xero, which makes their forecast all the more accurate.

From humble spreadsheet beginnings

The idea for Float had been brewing in Colin’s mind for some years before launching. In 2010 Colin was running a digital agency where all the accounting was done in spreadsheets. When that company made the move to cloud accounting, he realised the forward-looking forecasting piece was missing and the idea grew from there.

“We thought with access to all the bank statements, invoices and bills, it’s just a case of doing an integration. We thought that would take us a couple of months, but realised pretty quickly it was more complicated than that when you factor in scaling.”

Colin went full time on the project in 2012 when Float launched in the UK. It was then that he started to hear more about Xero.

“Back in 2010, Xero had about 20,000 customers globally, so we didn’t know if it was going to be big. Later on, as we heard more people were using Xero, we decided we had to build for this. It was a big risk in a way because it took us a long time, but now we’re so glad we did it.”

After building to Xero’s API, Float relaunched on the Xero platform in 2013. The next year Float embraced Xero’s ecosystem fully.

“We launched in Australia in 2014 and went over for Xerocon, where we won the Best Emerging Add On of the Year award. That’s when we realised there was a need for Float on a global level.”

Designing for SMBs first

Float’s mission is also their point of difference, Colin explains.

“Our north star has always been if we show this to a business owner who’s not financially astute and they don’t understand what we’re showing them, we’re not succeeding.”

With SMBs being Float’s first target audience, Colin focussed on user experience as much as possible to make sure business owners could understand something as potentially complex as cash flow. Some tools which solely focus on accounting partners as the end users can end up having overly complex requirements, features and dependencies. Colin found when those were put in front of businesses, a lot of those products fell flat.

“We like to drill into the why, and see what users are trying to achieve. It’s often the case that what people have said they want isn’t actually what they need, and there’s a better solution.”

Colin believes it was Float’s approach on usability and simplicity which helped them to grow, gain users, and achieve the success that they have today.

“We found accountants might be signed up with competitors initially, but after a year they’d come to us and say their client just wants something they can use.”

Colin says this approach comes from taking a page out of Xero’s playbook.

“What Xero’s done very well is that I can use the product as a business owner, but I might use it differently to the way an accountant will. We’re now thinking a lot like that – there may be a set of problems that a business owner will have, and those are separate to the ones an accountant will have.”

The biggest wins and floating upwards

Despite winning a multitude of global awards, Colin says the most rewarding thing is solving a problem for a business.

“It sounds cliche, but every time we get a positive review it’s so validating. We’re working on a problem that means something to businesses. We’re really proud of the reviews we’re getting, where people say ‘This is helping me sleep better at night’, and ‘This is saving me so much time’.”

Having focussed on SMBs in the past, the Float team are now looking to how the product can best serve advisors, accountants and bookkeepers.

“We’re now really focussing on working with progressive accountancy firms around the world to really understand what their and their clients needs are and how Float can become a valuable tool within their app stack. We’ve always taken a problem-solving approach to Float, and who knows better which problems need solving for their clients than accountants?”

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