Age-old processes often have a way of encouraging people to stick to the status quo.
And perhaps no business process is grounded in tradition as much as small-business bookkeeping. At Neat, we believe in challenging and disrupting the bookkeeping status quo — as you can see from the transformation of our company over time.
Whether you know us as a scanner company or a software company, we’re excited to share our story. Neat’s mission has always been to help small businesses succeed, and we’ve adapted our product to fit the ever-changing needs of you, the small-business owner.
Read on to see how we’ve evolved from a hybrid software/hardware company to a SaaS company to better serve our customers. We also hope that our experience not only gives you insight into the new small-business bookkeeping world that we’re building at Neat but also provides takeaways that you can apply to your own business.
Our back story: A tale of software & scanners
In 2002, we planted our roots as a small business, a father-son team. What might surprise you is that we actually began as a software company — desktop expense-reporting software. From there, we evolved to sell fully integrated software/scanner bundles (the first company in the industry to do so, as a point of pride).
Our mission? To help customers save time by removing inefficiencies with paper documents. Customers could scan their documents with the scanner, and the connected software helped them organize the digitized documents.
We originally sold our product through airport kiosks, but around 2008-2009, we eventually branched out into selling scanners through direct response channels (e.g., short- and long-form TV ads). We gained traction with big-name companies like Staples, Fujitsu, and OfficeMax, moving Neat into the mass market.
Neat grew into supporting nearly 2 million consumers and businesses through the scanners connected with our software. These customers included homeowners who needed ways to scan and organize their documents, as well as sales reps/business road warriors — an audience that had lots of receipts and needed a way to quickly record expenses.
While Neat’s scanners were game changers for our target audience (especially before expense documents became digitized), we realized over time that the software itself had the most potential for helping customer businesses succeed — as you can see from our transformation timeline.
In short, the software, more than our scanners, provided extra value to our customers in terms of efficiency and saving time. Andy Schaps, VP of development, agrees that the software has been the true value add for Neat. “We offered scanners, but Neat has always been a software company. The scanner hardware itself let Neat break into the market, but it’s the software that automated the process.”
Why did we move completely to SaaS?
We needed to evolve for our customers. Neat’s software/hardware bundle gave customers a place to scan and simply store paper documents, but the world was growing increasingly digital.
Paper was no longer necessary for business documents like receipts or bank statements. Documents were managed online as free cloud-based storage options like DropBox and EverNote came to the fore. To truly help customers, Neat needed to be more than a digital filing cabinet.
As Garrett Baird, president and CEO of Neat, says,
“The company recognized that we needed to augment service and reconsider the hardware piece.”
We also wanted to grow at Neat — the SaaS side was simply more economical to scale than the scanners.
SaaS is in our blood
SaaS wasn’t new for us — it was always part of our identity — but we were faced with new challenges. Our turning point was, simply, listening to customers.
We interviewed and surveyed small-business owners. We read customer reviews and asked for feedback. We dug into many conversations with Neat’s audience. These honest discussions led to important discoveries. “We found that sole proprietors and small-business owners were using the tool to manage the documents in their business,” says Jeff Gove, VP of customer operations and IT at Neat. “But they also wanted to be able to automatically parse the data from invoices or checks or bank statements.”
It was a seemingly small ask, but one we recognized we could provide. We began revamping the software to become a bookkeeping solution, moving past our traditional desktop software for storing and managing digitized documents. We embraced Neat’s cloud-based SaaS application to develop an automated bookkeeping solution in a SaaS and mobile framework — a solution that lets small-business owners easily reconcile their books all in one place.
Of course, as is the case with any transformation, the change hasn’t been without bumps in the road, Jim Conroy, CFO of Neat, admits.“It was a difficult transition. Once we got out of hardware, Neat went from being a $100 million hardware company to $8 million-$10 million software company,” he says. “It was harder to onboard customers as they understood the hardware but not the software. It took a while to demonstrate how the SaaS side worked, but we settled on a two-pronged approach to educating customers about our product.”
Not only are we having discussions with new or current customers about the capabilities of Neat, but we also continue to serve customers who still use the Neat scanner. Thanks to efforts of the Neat team and support from our customers, we’ve slowly transitioned into a B2B SaaS company.
How we’re helping small-business owners
We continue to evolve at Neat as we see the frustration that small-business owners face with old-fashioned bookkeeping challenges; it can take small-business owners hours to organize their books, sort transactions, match transactions with journal entries, and find receipts and bank statements. The process is ugly.
Traditional bookkeeping solutions with sheets and sheets of revenue and expense categories don’t cut it — they’re too complicated and cause small-business owners to push off the process for months (not the best idea since you have no idea about your business’s real-time financial health).
Neat’s cloud-based platform simplifies the entire bookkeeping process. It offers a way for small-business owners to efficiently organize their books as well as gain valuable insights into their business.
Neat takes what was once a tedious eight-step accounting cycle (for example, manually matching transactions with journal entries) and makes it easier to maneuver and access. Our solution, which can be accessed by computer or mobile phone, whittles the bookkeeping process down to three simple steps:
- Record and verify transactions from bank statements, receipts, and invoices (and ensure they’re legitimate).
- Categorize transactions correctly and automatically by the right account.
- Match documents like receipts and bank statements automatically with the right item (our OCR technology captures the data with 99% accuracy).
This effortless process means less manual labor for small-business owners because they don’t have to sort paper receipts from a filing cabinet or fix journal entries manually — it’s all digital and automated. On top of that, business transactions can be sent to your phone so you can approve them wherever you are. Data and transactions can also be found directly in the cloud without having to constantly update a desktop solution.
And because transaction data is pulled directly from bank statements, bookkeeping data is accurate (crucial, especially during tax season). Not to mention that data and transactions are held to the highest security standard at Neat, so you can rest easy knowing that your business data is secure.
But perhaps most importantly, with Neat, small-business owners are always on top of their financial health, which is extremely important during these uncertain times. The platform offers real-time transaction insights as well as helpful reports instead of having small-business owners find out about inaccurate transactions months later. According to Garrett Baird,
“Small-business owners can use Neat to look around the corner of their business and have insight into the road ahead. That’s real value for a business owner.”
Neat offers a bookkeeping solution that you just don’t get today from other services. It puts the small-business owner in the driver’s seat for managing and understanding their business transactions.
What we’ve learned
We believe the lessons we’ve learned can be applied to any small-business owner.
- Meet your customers where they are. At Neat, we value customer feedback, which is how our solution evolved into what it is today. Interview your customers. Send out surveys. Ask for ideas through an ideas portal. Be open to evaluating what’s out there currently. Read between the lines on what your customers’ core pain points are, and determine how your product/service can meet these needs.
- Rethink the status quo. Just because a process “has always been done this way” doesn’t mean that it’s the best way. At Neat, we’ve continually looked past the status quo with traditional small-business bookkeeping and are striving to improve a centuries-old process with a streamlined bookkeeping solution.
- Don’t lose sight of your core values. Hold fast to the values that your business was founded on. As we doubled down on our value proposition for small-business owners, particularly those concerned about their financials, we had to shift the core of the application away from just this generic sort of document storage and organization. But throughout the whole transformation, we continued to keep customer needs at the forefront of new and improved features.
The Neat way: From one small business to another
Neat might have changed product focus, but in the ways that matter, we’ve remained the same since we began as a father-son team in 2002. Our mission, first and foremost, is to still help customers achieve efficiency in their businesses. But we’re also here to help small-business owners gain more insights into their businesses’ health and future.
From our beginnings as an expense-reporting solution to the small-business bookkeeping software that we offer today, the team here at Neat is dedicated to always evolving and improving based on your small-business needs. We hope that your small business will continue the journey with us as we change the game of small-business bookkeeping.
Stay tuned for the upcoming small-business bookkeeping features here at Neat!