Online accountancy Crunch launched last year, and we caught up with MD Darren Fell to ask about the company’s progress since then… 

How has Crunch been doing since the startup Q&A?

We’re still growing, we hit 1,000 clients in March and we’re now up to around 1,700. We’re on course to be somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 paying customers by the end of the year, which is exactly where we wanted to be.

According to our Head of Accountancy we’re now a “medium-sized firm” , which means we’re close to breaking into the UK top 100 accountants.

How has the company itself grown?

The larger customer base has allowed us to expand our team significantly. Since we moved into our larger office last December we’ve more-or-less doubled our team. We’ve now got a dedicated marketing team and some designers, and seven full-time developers working on the system.

We were determined our customer service wouldn’t suffer as we grew, so we’ve increased our customer-facing team in proportion to our client base.

This means none of our Accountants or Account Managers get swamped and every client gets one-on-one time as and when they need it.

Any important new additions to the system?

We’ve added some great new functionality in the last few months, as well as a complete overhaul of our core UI, which allows Crunch to work on tablets. 

One inherent problem with cloud software is a lack of personality, so we’ve been trying our best to put the human team front-and-centre.

Our clients now have an area called “Your Crunch” which shows them all the members of their team that work on their account, and we recently tied up with Skype to integrate video calling.

We vastly expanded our customer support area in the Crunch system recently. We’re currently in the process of populating it with all kinds of articles and video content explaining certain aspects of accounting for our clients.

It’s going to turn into a huge knowledge base that we can reference and link to whenever it’s needed. We also launched a user feedback area where our clients can vote on what additions they’d like to see implemented next.

As a little side project we also developed a really quick and simple company formations system internally and released it publicly a few weeks ago – We’ve totally ditched the upsell and optional extras most formation agents use to make money, and just sell incorporations at cost.

As it’s completely software-based the running costs are practically zero. Most company formations agents say they can have incorporations done in three hours – our record is 23 minutes!

What are the biggest challenges facing your business?

We’re still seeing a lot of scepticism from traditional accountants. One of the larger industry magazines ran a piece recently trashing the idea of accounting software with a cartoon of a guy sitting next to his PC while it loaded the “customer relationship software”. 

It’s slightly confusing to us because we’re not trying to replace the accountant – we’re just trying to streamline the time-consuming parts.

Because all our clients are listed at Companies House, other accountancy firms can get their business addresses and every so often we get reports our clients have been sent mailings from other firms trying to tear us down. To our knowledge nobody has taken them up on their offer yet.

To date we’ve never had any security issues with our system, and we’re trying to keep it that way. We recently added VeriSign certification to our encryption, which is 256-bit SSL – the most secure on the market. We’ve also increased our server redundancy, so if one of our data centres is knocked out others will pick up the slack. With these additions we’re confident we’ve got the best security in the market.

We’ve had to work really hard to gain the confidence of our clients, and we’re not looking to do anything to jeopardise that.

How are you keeping the business agile as it grows?

When we were smaller we had the team organised by function – Account Managers in one place, Accountants in another, Advisors in another. Now we’ve reorganised into what we’re calling “pods”.

These consist of one Advisor (the first point of contact for new clients) two Accountants (usually one senior and one trainee), and two Account Managers. 

This means once a client comes on board they will stick with this pod through the life of their account. The client gets to know our team better, and each pod gets to know their clients.

We’ve set up tracking metrics in our CRM software and every month the best performing pod is rewarded – it keeps things lively and really motivates each team to outperform last month.

We’ve also decided we’re not going to move into premises bigger than the one we’re in currently. We’ve begun planning our next expansion by leasing another 4,000 square foot office which will become “Crunch 2”, where another couple of pods will be based. This way we can centralise the marketing and development teams here and add in more pods as we need them.

We think the best way of working is in small, friendly office of no more than fifty, so nobody feels lost in a giant corporation – that’s why we decided to expand in this “modular” way.