Amsterdam-based Tellow is an automated accounting program specially designed for micro-businesses and self-employed people. The company started as an internal innovation project at Dutch banking giant Rabobank but spun-out from the bank in 2018. It was one of the portfolio companies of Rabo Frontier Ventures – the strategic investment fund of Rabobank,
Back in June 2020, Rabo Frontier Ventures invested in fast-growing online accounting and bookkeeping marketplace Ageras. Part of the deal was the acquisition of Tellow by Ageras Group as part of its international expansion plans.
According to Tellow, it enables its users to have control over their own records at all times, by making their accounts understandable. Users can use its app to send quotes and invoices and keep track of their finances. They can also scan their receipts and invoices, after which they can submit each quarter in the VAT return to the tax authorities in one click, claims the company.
At the time of the acquisition, Rico Anderson, founder and CEO of Ageras Group, mentioned in a press release that “Ageras Group will continue to invest in Tellow in order to create a combined ecosystem which can deliver 360-degree accounting services for small and medium-sized companies in the Netherlands.”
Ageras raises €60M
In a recent development, Tellow’s parent company, Ageras, has raised $73M (nearly €60.2M)in growth capital from New York-based technology fund Lugard Road Capital. According to the company, this capital injection will be deployed to accelerate the group’s international growth, product development and to continue the buy-and-build strategy.
Founded in 2012, Ageras Group is a B2B technology company that connects SMEs and microbusinesses in Scandinavia, Western Europe and the U.S. with professional service providers such as accountants and bookkeepers.
Investcorp, a leading global private equity firm, acquired the majority of Ageras in 2017. Since then, the company has expanded its ecosystem actively through acquiring Danish accounting software firm Billy, servicing small and medium-sized companies, and by developing Meneto, a fully automated bookkeeping tool for micro-companies.
The company, which offers its services through a traditional SaaS model, is active in six countries in Europe (the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia) and the US. Last year, the company doubled the number of employees as a result of the rapid growth to more than 200.
For the Dutch market, the round will be used to further develop the accounting app Tellow and become market leader. In order to execute this mission, Tellow has appointed Thomas Vles as its new CEO.
Meet Thomas Vles
Thomas is a true entrepreneur at heart, having founded and managed several companies, including Poopy Cat and Wedoido. Last year he was active as director of the Dutch Startup Association.
Vles is taking over from Roel Smelt. According to the company, he will use the investment round to evolve the software and build a one-stop shop to where small businesses and the self-employed can easily arrange all their financial affairs.
We caught up with him to understand this journey, his goals and vision for Tellow, and passion for the Amsterdam startup ecosystem. In this candid conversation, he talks about his all these aspects and much more.
Here are the edited excerpts:
SC: When did the entrepreneurial bug bite you?
Vles: I am an entrepreneur at heart. Together with my brother I started my first company in 2009 and I have founded 7 different companies since. You could say I am born to look at the world with an entrepreneurial mindset: I always look for ways to innovate in anything I do.
If I’d have to pinpoint the exact moment in which the entrepreneurial bug bit me, it must have been when one of my cats answered her call of nature inside a bag of cat litter. I had an epiphany, a moment in which it all was very clear to me and I could only see opportunities rather than obstacles. The idea for an innovative, disposable cat litter box was born and I founded Poopy Cat.
SC: Are you content with the journey of Poopy Cat under your wings or do wish you could have done more and taken it to even greater heights?
Vles: We reached major milestones with Poopy Cat and took the company to greater heights than anyone ever imagined possible. Rick, my co-founder, still has the poster of the Poopy Cat Dolls, our cat pop group, in his apartment. We sometimes look at it together to take a trip down memory lane. We then talk about how we once thought of a new cat video at 09:00 am, shot it two hours later and ended up getting over 10 million views within a day. Our marketing took us as far as Oprah Winfrey!
We got everything out of the experience that we wanted and so much more. It taught me to trust my intuition while making business decisions, what feels good is good. It showed me that being yourself, open and authentic, with customers, employees and investors is possible. This is essential as being able to build genuine and meaningful relationships is what makes or breaks your business.
SC: It must have been hard when wedoido’s operations ceased last year due to the pandemic. What lessons would you like to share with your fellow entrepreneurs regarding this endeavour?
It is of course never easy to let go of a project that you have poured your heart and soul into. However, what matters the most in these situations is the lessons you take from the experience.
When we ceased wedoido’s operations I made a bold move by also sharing these lessons publicly with other entrepreneurs. We celebrate the life of entrepreneurs, but rarely do we speak about unavoidable business failures. Failure is part of being an entrepreneur, failure is crucial to innovation, and it’s an important factor for success. But somehow, failure is still a taboo.
In the blog I wrote (“How wedoido turned into we do I don’t”) you can find three takeouts. First of all, your founding team is vital for success. We wanted to disrupt a female oriented industry with two guys at the helm of the company. Although it does sound like a good story, it wasn’t a strong move. It is important that your founding team reflects the market you operate in.
The second lesson might sound simple. If you are developing a complicated tech product, raise enough funds to build your MVP. In order to further develop our product that was up to par, we needed revenue. We got caught in a vicious circle in which we couldn’t scale, but scaling was our only option to improve the product.
Last, but definitely not least, it’s important to see traditional players in your sector as possible partners. We wrongfully assumed that they would either not be open to talk to us, not innovative enough or even would show hostility towards us. Neither of these things was the case. When we decided to end our wedoido journey due to COVID-19, we started talking to traditional players for possible mergers and were pleasantly surprised by their willingness to work together. If we would’ve explored these possibilities at an earlier stage, we would have saved a lot of time and resources to reinvent the wheel and create our own vendor database.
SC: What are the things that you wish you should have handled differently that would have ensured the survival of wedoido?
wedoido ended on factors that insurance companies describe as an “act of God” and that were out of our control. Simply put, all weddings were canceled and no one knew when the market would pick back up again and the next proper wedding season would be. Looking back there are always things that you would have approached differently, but the outbreak of the pandemic weighed too heavily, which led us to the decision to pull the plug.
Anyone in our shoes would have probably done the same. We worked hard for well over a year to close our first clients. When those first customers dropped couple by couple we were running low on funds, with an unfinished platform this was the only decision to make. To quit ahead. Nevertheless, we look back with pride at all the things we achieved in such a short period of time.
SC: Congratulations on being appointed as the new CEO of Tellow. How did this happen?
I am extremely honoured to be the new CEO of Tellow! It was around last year that my profile stood out to headhunters and Tellow got in touch accordingly. Many trips to the headquarters in Copenhagen and inspiring conversations about the future of Tellow followed.
It is with great excitement that I start this journey together with Tellow and the Ageras Group. Tellow has an amazing product in an ever-growing market. I am convinced that our talented team, potential of the product and available funds at hand are the right ingredients to grow into a market leader position.
SC: Will you be continuing as the Managing Director of the Dutch Startup Association, now that you have joined Tellow?
The role of director at Dutch Startup Association is rotating and limited to 12 months. I came on board to reorganise and professionalise the DSA and that mission is accomplished. I am happy with the achievements that the team realised over the last year. We doubled our member base and social following, became 65 times more visible in the media and assisted in the creation of the emergency loans for startups (COL). It would be a shame to fully leave this organisation behind, as it’s truly the voice for all startups in our ecosystem. That’s why I will remain involved and will join the board.
SC: What are your immediate and long-term plans with respect to Tellow?
When you’re joining an existing team, it is important to first get to know everyone involved and co-create our vision for the future.
Of course, we already have got some great plans that are already in motion. For example, we released our new full service bookkeeping product. This product is unique in the Netherlands, because we are the only player servicing all aspects of bookkeeping, for example we even offer the complicated combined business-personal tax declaration for self employed (zzp).
In the long term we will continue to enable the self-employed and small businesses to handle all their financial matters. In what way, shape, or form I cannot disclose yet, but it’s going to be exciting. Stay tuned!
SC: How will the recent $73M funding round of Tellow’s parent company, Ageras, help towards the scaling of Tellow?
The investment round will be used to further innovate the software to create a product that fully services our customers. Next to that we will invest in marketing to grow our market share steeply in 2021. Cliches are often true, also for businesses. You need to spend money to make money. With the funding we will be able to accelerate our growth and speed up our product development roadmap.
SC: Currently, how big is your team in total? Are you currently hiring, if yes, what roles are you looking for?
The team now consists of 17 people and yes, we are hiring! We are looking for great performance marketeers, developers of all kinds and customer success staff. Over the coming weeks we expect to start releasing the vacancies on our channel. If you are looking for a cool opportunity at a fast growing fintech, please do not hesitate to drop me an email with your resume and motivation. We love proactive talent!
SC: Which sectors are poised for growth in Amsterdam in 2021, and why?
I can’t foresee the future, but what we currently see is that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the ecosystem, but some sectors, like e-commerce, fintech, and foodtech have shown great resilience. Companies like Mollie, Picnic, and Bol.com are thriving and I expect that some of these effects will be permanent and that these companies are the new incumbents in their sector.