“Being ‘good’ is never enough.” CEO Q&A: Tony Connolly, CEO, AccountsIQ

Business, CEO Q&A | Wed 23 Jan | Author – Business & Finance
Tony Connolly, Accounts IQ

In our next CEO Q&A, Tony Connolly, CEO of AccountsIQ speaks to us about scalable on-boarding, customer relationships and addressing challenges.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

Ensuring our customers continue to receive the highly personal service that we’ve become known for, while implementing a scalable on-boarding methodology and support infrastructure to handle our growing user base. Close relationships with our customers is vital to helping them get the best out of our product, but also for them to provide good feed back to drive our product development roadmap. The more structured and systemised we become, the harder it is to maintain that close relationship. Fortunately, our client retention rate is very high with many of our early adopters still using AccountsIQ ten years on. I want to keep it that way as we grow.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

AccountsIQ is very much built on a culture of teamwork and collaboration. My door is always open, and I encourage all staff to talk to me and ask for advice when needed. It’s key that everyone feels part of our roadmap to success and can see how they contribute towards it. We hold an annual company overnight conference where all staff share any challenges they face and we all collaborate on finding solutions.

While there are always challenges to address, it’s important that everyone feels part of a team and can see that they contribute directly to our success, whether its signing up new customers, developing a new function in the system or supporting an existing user with a problem. Customer success is our mantra and everyone from our most junior member up contributes to that.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

The tech landscape is evolving fast and there is a huge amount of noise with environmental and legislative changes and new tech developments, which can be hard to decipher. Customers are constantly bombarded with news about the latest technology, GDPR and high profile issues around data security, such as the recent Ticketmaster data breach, which can undermine the perception of software and the Cloud in general. This creates unnecessary anxiety about adopting Cloud based systems, despite the fact that Cloud is usually way more secure than the alternatives.

Another challenge is finding quality people to fuel our growth. Dublin is now the Silicon Valley of Europe and good developers are highly sought after and can easily be attracted to the “perks” big multi-nationals offer rather than smaller growing indigenous software companies. Luckily, when we get people we’re pretty good at retaining them, in fact most of our early staff are still with us.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

There is a huge amount of change in the Fintech sector, with the new PSD2 legislation opening up integration opportunities with banking data, allowing significant improvements in how business make payments, collect money from customers or simply synchronise their bank accounts. All of these impact on the business’s accounting system, which creates a massive opportunity for us to offer more integrated solutions.

Efficiency is also a key driver behind the major trends in the accounting world today. Mobile apps for interacting with accounting software on the go have become increasingly popular, alongside other time-saving technologies like OCR and document management, to speed up data capture and provide easy access.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

Low-end accounting packages have created a low perception of value, which can be hard to overcome. While a couple hundred Euros can buy a perfectly serviceable off-the-shelf solution for micro businesses, growing businesses often have more complex requirements and need more support. Our software has over 60 man-years of development and offers powerful and sophisticated accounting and reporting capability that is scalable to suit the needs of dynamic medium sized businesses.

However delivering and implementing a solution to properly realise its potential does cost more than the perceived low value that low end systems create.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

Exchange rate fluctuation as a result of Brexit has had a significant impact on revenues. When we first started selling into the UK in Sterling the exchange rate was almost 70p to the € and now its 90p so major impact on the Euro value of our revenues. We stuck with it though and have made a strong effort to grow there and now almost 50% of our revenues are in the UK. We’ve set up a UK hosting site and UK based sales and Customer Success Team to ensure customers are fully supported.

Q.  How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

We launched AccountsIQ in the teeth of the recession in 2008, with unemployment rising to over 14% in the next 3-4 years. It was hard to sell a new concept when businesses were struggling to survive. We were very grateful for early adopters and invested our absolute care and attention in them, to ensure extremely successful implementation and onboarding. We also worked really hard on our product, refining it and making sure it was absolutely as good as it could be. Ultimately we’ve realised the benefit of this strategy many-fold, as the product was very robust when the market eventually did take off and we didn’t need to invest heavily in marketing, growing organically, largely from customer referrals.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Success for me is always about Customer Success in using our product. We are constantly driving forward and looking for improvements. Being ‘good’ is never enough; I’m always looking to make sure we are delivering the most robust solution, even in the more complex business environments. Seeing our product being used by a multitude of clients across a wide range of industries, with users in over 48 countries is immensely rewarding.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Never give up. Set your goals and stick to them. Don’t be put off by difficult things; find a solution and be open to finding the ways and means to get it done. Be open to adapting your strategies to meet challenges you face as you go but don’t lose sight of your goals. I very much adopt that approach in life – I’m a big fan of sea swimming and even when the weather is awful, the kind you only really get in Ireland! you always get in and are always glad you persevered.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

We opened an office in Kings Cross in London in 2017 and have now hit a point where 50% of our growth is coming from the UK, despite Brexit. Official recognition of our success is also gratifying in ranking in the Deloitte Fast 50 for three successive years and going for a fourth this year, being short-listed for the UK Enterprise Accounting Software of the Year Award to be decided next month and even getting funding from Enterprise Ireland towards further product development, which is a significant endorsement, after extensive due diligence of our product, foreign customers and the uniqueness of the AccountsIQ offering in the marketplace versus highly recognized international brands.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

AccountsIQ is becoming better known for its powerful accounting and consolidation capability. We want AccountsIQ to be the brand name that first springs to mind when finance teams and accountancy practices need something more sophisticated to solve their own or their clients’ accounting challenges and to enable their growth.

Don’t be put off by difficult things; find a solution and be open to finding the ways and means to get it done.